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, December 21, 2009

Amherst school study highlights declines in enrollment, services

Hampshire Gazette

AMHERST - A new study of trends in the elementary and regional schools over the past five years sheds light on declining enrollment and staffing at a time when budgets for next year are facing further cuts.

The study - distributed Tuesday at the Amherst School Committee meeting - was requested by the committee and executed by the administration.

Enrollment in the elementary schools has steadily declined since 1998-99, when it was 1,592, to 1,268 this year. The study projects continued declines in the next two years.

The regional school enrollment, which peaked in 2001-02 at 2,068, has been declining since then and is currently 1,691. It is projected to continue declining to 1,480 in 2014-15.

The number of Amherst elementary children attending charter schools has jumped from one in 2007 to 11 in 2008 to 25 in 2009, according to the study. Enrollment in charter schools by residents of the Amherst-Pelham region, however, has stayed relatively constant.

The number of families choosing to send elementary-age children to schools other than Amherst's has increased dramatically, the study showed. It has jumped from seven in 2001 and 15 in 2002 to 26 in 2008 and 34 in 2009.

Enrollment in vocational schools is up from 32 last year to 40 this year.

The percentage of students receiving special services, such as special education and English language instruction, has stayed constant over the past five years. But the number of special-ed out-of-district placements has fallen sharply from 2002: from seven to three in the elementary schools and from 56 to 18 for the region, according to the study.

Budget cuts have totaled $2 million in the elementary schools and $3.79 million in the regional schools since fiscal 2007. This has resulted in the loss of the equivalent of 60.6 full-time positions in the elementary schools and 69.5 in the regional schools, according to the study.

These cuts have resulted in a wide variety of consequences, according to the study.

Since 2007, elementary class sizes have increased, instruction in art, music and physical education has been cut back, and there has been less support to struggling students. There have been cuts in hours for aides, custodians and librarians.

At the Regional Middle School, teachers have less preparation time and more students, the study says. Classes in non-core studies have been greatly reduced, and there have been cuts in guidance and assistant principal positions.

Among the many changes at Amherst Regional High School are a narrowing of social studies offerings, limited opportunities to start a world language in ninth grade, elimination of an American Studies course, and the ending of courses in technology and computers. Access to music education for those not in ensembles has diminished, according to the study.

The schools have adopted several computer systems that have improved efficiency, according to the study. All schools improved lighting efficiency in 2008, saving $33,000 since then, and regional school oil burners were converted to dual fuel in 2007, saving $75,000, according to the study.


Note from Catherine: I wanted to add a few things to this article which I believe will help give readers a clearer sense of the information presented.

1. Given the enrollment declines (over 300 students fewer at the elementary level over the last 10 years, and an additional over 300 students fewer at the regional level over the last few years), budget declines would be expected to offer the same services: fewer classroom and specialist (intervention, etc.) teachers should be needed, and potentially fewer administrators. Thus, some decline in budget makes sense, in light of this relatively major decline in enrollment.

2. The numbers presented in terms of who is choosing to attend a school other than Amherst's are misleading -- they include ONLY students who choose to attend a public school other than Amherst via School Choice. Students who have chosen to attend private school or to be homeschooled are not included in these numbers.

3. The report notes that budget cuts have increased class sizes in the elementary level, but does not report what these increases amount to. So, I checked budget numbers for the three years for which I have data (2007 to 2009). In 2007, there were 1382 kids in the Amherst elementary schools, and 70 classrooms were used, for an average of 19.74 kids per class. In 2008, there were 1316 kids in 69 classrooms, for an average of 19.07 kids per class. We've heard this year (at the most recent meeting) that class size averages are now 19, and will increase to 20 next year if the worst case economic projections occur. But it is hard for me to see these numbers as showing that elementary school class size averages have increased -- at least over the last 3 years -- nor do I believe that average class sizes of 19 or 20 in the elementary schools should be a concern.

4. At the middle school level, teachers used to teach 4 classes a day and now teach 5 classes a day. At the 7th grade level, class sizes have not changed (20), but at the 8th grade level, class sizes have increased this year from last (20 to 25). Non-core electives in family/consumer science, technology education and reading/writing/research have been eliminated, although classes in health, computers, drama and art remain (two of these are taken in 7th, and two in 8th). In addition, students do have option to have music (chorus, band, or orchestra) every other day -- which will increase to every day next year (even at the worst case economic projections).

5. A number of classes at the high school have been eliminated due to budget cuts. These include classes in ethnic diversity, death and dying, American West, Digital Electronics, Computer Networking, and Stained Glass. Students who do not choose to take a world language in 7th grade are limited to choosing between French (at the honors level only) and Spanish, unless they are able to work independently with a teacher on another language. Students who take a world language in 7th and 8th grade have the same option of 6 different languages to continue with in high school (French, Spanish, German, Russian, Latin, Chinese). But I think the biggest concern about the current (and projected) high school schedule is that students are now spending two of their 15 periods in a study hall -- and the high school administration presented a proposed budget at the last SC meeting that would increase that to three study halls a year. That strikes me as a much more significant problem than the elimination of some computer and social studies electives.


Anonymous said...

What is the current estimate for the school age population and is the trend since the last census?

Anonymous said...

I just read in the paper regarding all the budget cuts and posts regarding teachers contracts and enrollments declining. While I am BLESSED to live in a town like Amherst where education is valued, I also am amazed with some of the fluff we actually fund and how the stewardship of our tax paying money is wasted. In case people haven't been listening to the news UMass is possibly going to go through massive cuts as well, are people listening? The economic situation really is just not getting better no matter how we paint it. Teachers, staff and our school very, very sadly will be effected in layoffs and programs that are NOT essential to core curriculum really should be seen as an opportunity to reevaluate what is important just like we at home have had to do.

Staff being cut would definitely have to adjust, just like the rest of the world out there that have lost jobs and have had to maybe look for work elsewhere. Our town has got to come to grips with adjusting in shifting sand. Adapt is a trait of survival right?. Individuals like my husband and I who are not connected to the Uni have been effected for over a year as we are in publishing, the arts and small business. If 20% of the positions at Umass will be cut, you bet our town will feel it all the more. I support our teachers- they have a tough job but the end result is education our kids.

I am astounded that in High School we have courses that are not geared around more classical requirements and we are wasting money with classes or programs such as "ethnic diversity, death and dying, American West, Digital Electronics, Computer Networking, and Stained Glass"? While these subject sound important...they are not to core subjects of Math, English and Science. We live close enough to Liberal Arts colleges (5 of them) that I believe that's what we are saving what little money we have to send our kids to college to experience. I went to a high school that taught core subjects (History, Math, Science etc) plus Art, Music, PE and Home Economics... I never had and ethnic diversity class, or death and dying? We had teacher sponsored clubs that opened opportunity into special interests, even LANGUAGE because we didn't have the money to fund it in the classrooms.

I moved here for top notch schools in a setting such as this, I pray and hope that kids that are at risk get the help they need in the core areas that get them to college so they can take those exploratory subjects. While I deeply feel for the lower grades, where my 3 kids are attending Music, Art and Physical Ed are core subjects. I feel world language are important and so much that we should cut the languages in High School back to 3 core important WORLD languages that make sense. Couldn't we share the program down to the elementary, so that if they are learning a language they can continue into the higher grades to maintain and be challenged in language?

Gov. Patrick wants to double the amount of charter schools in our state, that's a fact! We need to see our schools as investments, a place where good stewardship and basic core priorities are manifest.
This also includes the support of Prop 2.5- and other reforms, but if their is territorial attitudes in how and where funding goes beyond the basics I think even as someone that is passionate about keeping our schools successful- I would question these methods.

We should really be looking at nationwide programs how we get our children the most bang for our tax payer buck, while maintaining help for kids who need it to succeed. This also would be my argument for supporting a prop 2 and a bit. I certainly would be looking into less support if I knew the programs going into areas that just don't make sense NOR do they prepare them to succeed in the areas of academia in higher levels of education long term.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:02, is what you are saying that you would support an override if the money were going to directly to support core academics like math, science, and English? I am just not sure what you meant. Thank you for clarifying for us!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I would support an over ride that equals $150 per household to support Algebra, Trig, History, Biology etc but not Stained Glass unless it was incorperated into ART as a media...not ethnic diversity- that could be a staff sponsored "club" not a core subject. American West- should be in History...American History. Death and dying? Russian has 6-9 students enrolled, Latin is more useful than Russian. That's it. I would vote for a prop 2.5 and sandwich board my kids on the street and go door to door to gain support if I knew we were not putting money into programs that really just don't build our kids with skills that push them to succeed. All my high school clubs that were NOT funded seem to be called "electives" here. This is not world class education...I also would support the funding of additional help for kids that need it to succeed in things like reading, math etc. But efficiency is key too- homework and accountability over long breaks keeps kids fresh and quite honestly doesn't cost any money like a summer reading program that crosses over from grade to grade. Lots of schools do that across the country, why we are not doing these creative problem solving approaches at bring up our MCAS scores AND saving money is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but will you refuse to vote for an override if it does not specify where the money will go? I think that is key. If you are asked to vote for a $2M override to "support the budget deficit of the town of Amherst, including schools, libraries, and town budget," would you? What if you were asked to support a $2M override "with $1.5M of that going directly to the schools?" Would that be enough for you to support the override?

I think many people in town would support additional money for very specific things but the town is unlikely to have us voting on very specific things. I don't want my money going toward stained glass either!

Rick said...

Anon 2:02:

“…should be seen as an opportunity to reevaluate what is important just like we at home have had to do.”

That’s exactly what is going on right now.

"…they are not to core subjects of Math, English and Science.”

I think most people would argue that the arts should be included in core.

“I went to a high school that taught core subjects (History, Math, Science etc) plus Art, Music, PE and Home Economics.”

No languages? Family and Consumer Science is being cut along with all other vocation classes in the proposed 2011 budget. PE is being cut back more.

“I pray and hope that kids that are at risk get the help they need in the core areas..”

Me too; that’s being cut though – intervention teachers.

“I never had and ethnic diversity class, or death and dying?”

If we had these classes (which we don’t) topics classes help teach kids to think and to write well about their thoughts. When I went to HS in the 70’s one of the best English courses I took was “Alienation in American Literature” where we read and wrote about books by Steinbeck, Roth, etc. My wife took a course in “Protest Literature” which she said really taught her to think out of the box and not just accept what people (or government) says is true.

ARHS has a great set of English courses:

Ditto for Social Studies:

It’s not “fluff”. It’s what I call excellence.

Anonymous said...

I agree- and it is sad that it is the current economic control that basically has led to the reform of our priorities in our schools. It's really like cutting someone off from chocolate....cold turkey.
I applaude the current SC for really trying to tighten spending such as this. Not a popular thing for the staff teaching them. I am an artist and the arts are important...but you can't get into art school and stay in it if you can't write a paper or do the math. My kids might not go into the arts, or they might so I think art is important. Physical Ed is just as important for the health of our country.

I would vote for an over ride for the town- open the pool so the lower income kids can swim and not drown at Puffer's Pond, libraries are important. I think the town also needs to realize that if our schools are at the TOP of our priorites and score high it brings people like me from NYC and Boston that find Amherst a deal of the century. If the schools suck when looking at this area to live, they drive right through and MCAS scores are how parents judge the school system too. Most NYC schools have gone through this reform, thus the specialized high schools and they preform top notch...they are all a result of charters. I think Deval Patrick is aiming in the same direction...think about a Science/Technology High School in this area and what that would mean for our local school? It would force them to compete in that area. But people are stuck in their ways here and more conservative than they portray. That's the lesson I've gained by living here. I still say Puffer's Pond, no barbed wire and metal detectors make Amherst the deal of a century! Let's keep it that way!

Anonymous said...

This came across my desk ironically today if anyone is interested...

Anonymous said...

I had American Literature- which encompassed ALL topics within a semester, but it appears that they are classes that are seperate. The problem I think I have are that kids have the ability to go through 4 years of school and never get the classics LIKE Stienbeck, Roth, etc. as a standard which is a shame. We had composition, creative writing and the topics were "death and dying" or other controversial issues all within the structure of ELA and all the other facets. Most countries like Australia, UK and other western highly educated societies educate their kids around these core principles of classics. The don't have liberal arts "subjects" in high school as choices the standards are set with classics. There IS a difference. It's up to the student perhaps to write a paper about death and dying in Lit, but I don't believe it should be a standard subject that we put money behind and cut other things like Phys Ed or Art. Really we can have it both ways I might boil down to cirriculum, or instructors or narrowing the choices down but why phrase it like American West is cut, or stained glass is cut, or death and dying is cut if we aren't putting money behind it? If it's the trimester system vs semester then I would be for a semester out of simplification and less cost.

Maybe it's the way it's worded here that is confusing too. But if intervention is done early in elementary school hopefully we won't need as much later.

NO I did not have world language until High school and that went out the window in retention because I never used it and was really a blockhead in that dept. I think kids need to be exposed early and carry it through or it is a WASTE of time and money.
The world is a different place and we need world language to compete in the world. Our choice back then was French, German and Spanish- most kids picked where they wanted to go on their senior trip.

Intervention could also mean all sorts of things, behavioral, social and emotional...if we have a high level of intervention teachers would it mean in one area or all areas? What does that really mean as far as cuts?

I DO think Physical Ed is so important, because they have linked childhood/teen obesity to mandatory gym as a preventative health measure. That too never budges in other countries like the UK and Australia. With healthcare HOPEFULLY passing- it would be a strong initiative for our government to fund Phys Ed to improve mental and physical health in our kids. The fact that some of these subjects are so negotiable show a larger issue in our federal education system.

Excellence isn't based on subjects taught, it's based on competitive outstanding results and every child has that opportunity here even with the cuts. In early education they have proven early intervention helps kids at risk, so I am not sure if intervention means what? They will leave a child with dyslexia or ADD in the cracks? If they have to cut- I do believe we have a dedicated school system that hopefully will move things around to ensure success. If they have to pull the fat off one area to save another I hope they are doing that.

I still think if we are going to get support for an over ride, tax payers in a deep recession are going balk if they feel they are paying for stained glass and classes on death and dying in it's current wording in the press or on blogs. I am sure there are lots of great "subjects and topics" to be written about but they need to be under a classical ELA/Lit umbrella so student will achieve. The fact is- with charter schools doubling in the next 3-5yrs, choice looking better for some, we MUST adapt, succeed and reform our schools or everybody looses out.

Anonymous said...

i don't know- but I think that is ironic that all those folks calling for cuts to the extensive literature, language and art offerings at the high school- which are exactly the types of classes that gave ARHS its reputation, are the ones complaining about how the school has failed to live up to its reputation.

Anonymous said...

And when we talk about the "failure" of the schools what exactly are we talking about- actual failure or a failure to meet our expectations which is quite different.

Anonymous said...

It's funny to me how 2:02 seems to think that classes on Ethnic Diversity (which FYI, is geared toward understanding various cultures present in the U.S. - sounds important to me), American West (which appears to be HISTORY if I'm not mistaken), Death and Dying (created to educate young people on the Sociology and Psychology behind the concept of death in the world.) and Stained Glass (designed to foster creativity in our kids).

Being "well-educated" and "competitive" is not JUST about Trig, Bio, and generic history classes.

Anonymous said...

I find the number of elementary students being sent to schools other than Amherst to be underestimated. According to the report, "It has jumped from seven in 2001 and 15 in 2002 to 26 in 2008 and 34 in 2009."
While that may be families with multiple children, I'm sure that the Common School had many more than 7 children from Amherst in 2001 and suspect that if you add in Hartsbrook and Bement the number this academic year is probably well above to 100.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 11:11 - estimate for elementary schools for the next five years is between 1309 (2011-2012) and 1364 (2012-2013), and between 1647 (2012-2013) and 1711 (2010-2011) at the regional level. This is based on district projections.

Anonymous 2:02 - I agree with a lot of what you said -- that budgets are VERY tight for families as well as businesses and schools, and thus we have to think carefully about how limited dollars are spent, that "We need to see our schools as investments, a place where good stewardship and basic core priorities are manifest" (I agree with this completely), and that "We should really be looking at nationwide programs how we get our children the most bang for our tax payer buck, while maintaining help for kids who need it to succeed." I am trying to work on each of these as a member of the SC, and I believe taxpayers, and parents, should expect this of their elected officials and the administrators in our district.

Anonymous 2:53 - I think many voters will want to know how money is spent BEFORE voting for an override, and we need to be able to show exactly how we are spending our school dollars now, and where we would spend them if additional money was available. Again, that should be the responsibility of the SC and district administrators -- and then voters can decide whether they want to support an override based on what it will bring to the schools (and some would vote to "save Russian" and others would vote to "save smaller class sizes" and others would vote to "save stained glass" or whatever -- that is the choice of the voters based on the options that the SC/district presents).

Anonymous 3:04 - again, I think this is why the SC and the district administration have to be VERY clear about what an override will and will not support -- then, the voters get to decide whether they agree with what additional money would "buy."

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Rick - well, I agree with some of what you wrote, but not all. I think the HS itself doesn't see the art as core, since we don't have an arts requirement and we do have a math requirement, for example (as does the state). I think Mark Jackson distinguished between things that are available outside of the school (e.g., PE offerings, culinary arts at a vocational school) and things that are not (e.g., biology, social studies), and I think that is a good way of looking at it. That doesn't mean that arts aren't important or valuable -- but it does mean that we are more able to cut arts electives than English classes which are required (not that we SHOULD, but that we COULD).

I also think that the intervention services are still, under all budget models, being provided ... they are just being provided in a more cost-effective model (e.g., groups of 6 to 8 kids getting math help, not groups of 2) -- and that may be a price we are willing to pay to maintain smaller class sizes and arts. These are just choices - we could keep all the intervention teachers and increase class sizes and cut art to do so (again, this is not my recommendation -- but it speaks to the choices that have to be made).

Finally, I think having a particular title in a class does NOT guarantee that classes teaches reading/writing skills (e.g., you could have a great class with any of the different titles that we still have or that has been cut -- or you could have a bad one). I think the key is that less traditional titles are likely to appeal to fewer students (e.g., how many adolescents want to take a class on Death and Dying?), and that is a less efficient use of resources than more common classes that will pull more students (and that makes sense). So, Amherst High could offer classes in Italian and Korean and Portugese, but the demand for these languages would be low, and thus it makes more sense to have fewer languages taught to larger numbers of kids. This to me is all about how we use resources in a way that best meets the needs of ALL kids, not just some.

So, I would actually oppose (and may well oppose) adding a class in AP Chemistry IF that class can only draw 10 or 12 kids a year. That just isn't a good use of money, even if those kids would really benefit from it.

Anonymous 3:20 - I am not sure if I totally understand all of your points, and I don't want to get them wrong and then comment incorrectly. But I do think assessing the classes we provide, and the models of intervention service, is an important and thoughtful exercise, and with a new superintendent (and new principals in what will be 4 of the 5 school in Amherst year), this seems like a good time to do it.

Anonymous 3:41 - thanks for the link! The charter movement is definitely impacting Amherst -- for better or for worse.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Anonymous 5:07 - I agree with a lot of what you said (can't tell if you are a new poster or the same one, however!). I think we have to make tough choices about what classes we can and can't offer, and ultimately, I believe that we need to make sure that kids have a strong foundation in the core disciplines so that they can succeed in any college and in any college major (and 90% of our kids do go to college). So, to me, that would mean saving some things like wood technology/art/PE at the cost of having a huge number of electives in the core academics IF we could save those "non-core" classes by having fewer "core electives." That seems like a reasonable trade, particularly since students can take the higher level electives in a college setting (e.g., you are FINE majoring in psychology if you never have a psychology class in high school).

I also believe -- and Steve Rivkin made this point well as the last SC meeting -- that we get "more bang for our buck" by doing intervention as early as possible -- I'd far rather see us spending money on intervention in the preschool and elementary level than at the high school level, and perhaps some more spending in the early years would have reduce the need for such intervention in MS/HS.

Finally, I love your statement that "Excellence isn't based on subjects taught, it's based on competitive outstanding results and every child has that opportunity here even with the cuts." That should be our core mission.

Anonymous 6:41 - I think the HS had a great reputation for a long time -- but it is hard to know whether that is due to the classes offered (e.g., does a high school seem better if it offers a class on death and dying?). I have talked to admissions officers at several schools who are shocked that AP chemistry isn't offered -- again, that hasn't been a priority, whereas a rich array of English and social studies (and arts) electives has been. But regardless, there are serious financial constraints right now -- how do you suggest we solve them? I don't feel I'm "calling for cutting these classes" (these decisions are made by the ARHS administrators) -- but the reality is, we have to make choices -- tell me the choices you think we should make (instead of criticizing the choices others are proposing).

Anonymous said...

FYI- I went to a very very competitive school in NYC and we had a course called-On Death and Dying.

Anonymous said...

I believe we need student opinion here! We can't just assume that everybody wants to take all the same classes all four years! You guys debate like you know what is the best. And here, I really don't think you have a clue.

Just so you know, there isn't even a class titled "Death and Dying" at the HS!

Thank you, Rick, for your comments and the links to the courses.

SHouldn't we be proud we have a such an outstanding offering to cater to every child?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there is a lot of outrage here at courses that no longer exist. Stained Glass is also no longer offered at the HS, a victim of previous cuts.

Discouraged said...

Personally, I think we should focus our high school efforts on getting our kids more instruction time (no matter what course they are in) by getting them out of the mandatory study halls. This is so distressing to me--I don't pay these high taxes for my kids to sit and chat and/or text in the cafeteria for an hour a day. Yes, they do their homework sometimes but I would much rather them do homework at HOME and be learning something at school.

I also think it is shameful that we have such a low graduation requirement for math and for science. Catherine posted the recommended pre-college requirements and the requirements of many other MA schools and all say three years of math and science. Why can we not agree to adapt that?

I love the thought of many electives but the artist who posted was right; if you don't have the basics of math, reading/writing, exposure to classic literature, basic knowledge of the sciences and of the major fields of mathematics, you will not be adequately prepared for college. Which is where most of our kids end up.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:05 writes "Yeah, there is a lot of outrage here at courses that no longer exist. Stained Glass is also no longer offered at the HS, a victim of previous cuts.

December 22, 2009 12:05 AM"

That's curious. My child took it last year. I have the art project in my living room to prove it! Was it cut this year or are we just unaware of what is being offered.

Anonymous said...

10:22- You're absolutely right. I have pointed this out many times. Not every child wants to go to college nor does every child, even if they have the ability want to take AP classes.I AM NOT SAYING THAT WE SHOULD NOT BE CHALLENGING EVERY CHILD OR THAT OUR REQUIREMENTS SHOULDN'T BE MORE RIGOROUS. ( Sorry for the CAPS but so often when one says that on this blog you're immediately accused of not wanting rigor and challenge)).

Anonymous said...

Catherine- sorry I wasn't clear about the school age population estimates. I 'm not a statistician but I think it would be very premature for any one to make any assumptions about an increasing number of kids opting to attend private schools unless we know the total school age population in the years we're talking about ( the LAST ten years).

Anonymous said...

I also think it might be instructive to get an idea of how many kids are transferring ( not choicing) in from other districts and in particular underperforming districts like Holyoke and Springfield. For example, when my child was in 3rd grade, 5 kids came into her class from these districts. They were woefully unprepared, required lots of remediation, and consumed lots of teacher attention with discipline issues. The next year, 3 of the children had gone back to Holyoke. The following year, 2 returned. This type of student places enormous strains on district and classroom resources. In short- I think that we can not have a discussion about the schools and their future without also having a discussion of the Town's housing policies which encourage this type of transcience.

Anonymous said...

Earlier in this decade, we had the phenomenon during the Wylie Administration at CF of the kid attending there with no apparent connection to Amherst, i.e. neither parent lived in Amherst. They had some way of sneaking the kids into that school. There were always a few of these every year. Don't know whether that's still going on.

Amherst: Land of Opportunity.

Anonymous said...

ANOM 7:34 AND 10:22


Anonymous said...

a discussion of the Town's housing ..."policies which encourage this type of transcience."

"For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.' Deuteronomy 15:11

Anonymous said...

2:46- That's all well and good but don't then complain about the schools.

Rick said...

6:38: Stained Glass was cut this year (2009/2010).

Rick said...

As you click through course offerings at ARHS you see a bunch of "Not Offered in 2009-20010" notes. For example, in Social Studies: American Studies, Topics in U.S. History, Criminology, European History II, Latin American History, Criminal Justice, U.S. Politics and Government.

Too bad.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Four quicks things:

1. The number of kids leaving the district is based NOT on census data but on the number of kids in our district one year who ask to have their records transferred to another school -- so, the increase in kids leaving the district is not just fewer kids living in Amherst ... or even more kids choosing not to enroll in our schools. These numbers reflect kids who are IN our schools and choose to leave. Now, they could be leaving because a parent moves to Chicago or whatever ... or they could be moving to another nearby public school or to a private school. I am glad that the district is now going to do exit surveys to track this information, which had not previously been done.

2. I disagree that "all kids aren't high achievers." I believe that all kids have the capability of being high achievers, and that we should expect great things of all kids. Considerable research in psychology shows that intelligence is not fixed or genetically determined -- it is about attitude and effort and opportunity, all of which we can promote in all kids. There might well be kids that we (or you) have pegged as "not high achievers" or "not going to college" or "not going to the Ivy League" who suprise you in terms of what they are capable of doing IF we expect them to be high achievers. I certainly know students at Amherst College (pretty close to the Ivy League) who didn't see themselves as "high achievers" until a teacher or guidance counselor told them to apply themselves and work harder and got them in the right courses -- and all of a sudden, that kid became a high achiever.

3. Rick -- even in light of last year's budget cuts, we are certainly still offering a huge number of electives -- things like American Society and Film, Anthropology, The Holocaust, World Religions, Psychology. In addition, I'm sure that what courses are offered varies on teacher availability and student interest. So, I notice that in English, there is no course offered this year in Shakespeare nor The Bible (these courses are offered some years, but not 2009-2010), but there are courses offered this year in Gay and Lesbian Literature, Contemporary Literature and Multicultural Identity, African American Literature, and Women in Literature. Again, I think we are still offering a wide range of electives in English and Social Studies. What concerns me FAR more than reducing the number of electives offered is increasing the amount of time kids spend in study halls -- and I'm really hoping (like "Discouraged") that we don't end up with three study halls next year (20% of students' schedules).

4. I agree that having a 2 year requirement of math and science (less than most other districts around us) is a problem ... yet when I've raised this issue, I'm called elitist (which is pretty ironic, since the elitist parents/kids are all taking 4 years of math/science anyway). We will hear a report from the SC in January on recommended changes to math/science requirements/offerings and I'm hoping that he recommends an increase to 3 years of each.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:16
I don't complain about the schools. I think they are very good overall with some key areas of concern (HS curriculum, teacher accountability and supervision).

My biblical quote was a response to another poster's complaints about the annoyances caused by "transcient [sic]" students from Springfield and Holyoke in Amherst classrooms.

Anonymous said...

This is Anon 10:22 from earlier to clarify:

I completely agree with Catherine on her point 2, from her "four quick things" at 738 (about all kids being able to be high achievers).

BUT, I think we need to pride ourselves in the vast array we are able to offer. Taking two years of elective Social Studies/English is a privilege compared to many other districts, and we we should try as hard as possible to keep it that way.

Classes like Gay and Lesbian Lit (the only one like it in a high school in the country!!) are considered some of the best in the school, and I believe contribute to the richness and diversity of the education we offer.

Anonymous said...


I would like to comment on point #2 in your earlier post. You say "I believe that all kids have the capability of being high achievers, and that we should expect great things of all kids."

What strikes me is you have very clearly stated your preference for tracking students in our schools, at least in certain subjects. So, it feels like you are in favor of encouraging those that we don't perceive to be strong students to become high achievers, but we shouldn't do it in the same classroom as our privileged upper level students. Let's do that work pushing the lower achievers somewhere else where it won't affect or bore the lucky "smart" kids.

There is a program in 7th grade math that is designed to not only challenge the upper level kids, but to also expose lower level kids to higher expectations as well. It is called "extensions" and the goal is to let everybody have access to the higher level stuff. You have stated your opinion of extensions pretty loudly and clearly on this blog and elsewhere, but they seem to be designed to do exactly what you said you were in favor of in your earlier post. Except for that nagging detail about them being designed to push the lower kids in the same classroom as all the others kids.

Ah, there's the rub.

Nina Koch said...

I believe that all students are capable of high achievement, although I think we may define it differently. For me, it means all students should be asked to think and should be able to reflect on their thinking. That can and should happen in any class.

High achievement doesn't mean that everybody needs to go to a certain kind of college or to take certain courses in high school. Of course, they should have options to do so, but they shouldn't be made to feel that they are somehow inferior or are missing out on something if they don't choose that path. I think college snobbery is very destructive for kids.

Say someone really wants to be a professional firefighter and goes to a community college to become trained in that field. If that person takes his or her studies seriously and goes on to become a responsible and effective firefighter, then that is an achievement both for that individual and for the community at large. Firefighters certainly need to be able to think. In their profession, their life depends on it.

Society needs lots of people to do a variety of tasks which draw on different forms of intelligence. One of the things our elective program does is to cultivate students' development of those different forms of intelligence. I assert that all of them are equally valuable.

Catherine, I think what you need to hear from that earlier poster at 1:52 pm (who is probably a student) is that there are people who don't share your values or your definition of what high achievement means.

They are asking to be heard.

Anonymous said...

Nina, I think the key in your post is that "they should have options to do so." Yes, I totally agree which is why I am always frustrated at our low graduation requirements and amount of time our kids spend in study halls. Whether you become a firefighter, an artist, a doctor, or a teacher, you should still arm yourself with the best possible foundation to succeed in whatever you do. In the 21st century, I believe it is a thorough understanding of all fields of math and science, a good grasp of US and world history (I would even add a required class in current events/current politics/world geography), and an excellent foundation in reading, writing, oral presentations, and exposure to classic literature from multiple cultures. I would also love to see at least one year of foreign language required for all students. The best way to prepare our students is to increase instruction time and to increase our graduation requirements. Our (American) students are increasingly ill-prepared to compete in a global economy with students from countries where their children go to school six days a week and are held to very rigorous standards.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:18- I'm sorry for the spelling error but once again, as is so common on this blog, you chose to be snarky rather than really address the substance of my comment. Kids moving back and forth between school districts frequently is a real problem for the kids who are moving and for the districts who have to deal with it. Just ask the super in Holyoke how he views this issue. These kids are not an "annoyance". This is a very real problem and whether or not you agree,this group of kids consume resources way out of proportion to their numbers. And as for the Town policies- just how often do you think the impact of adding 25-40 additional low income kids to Crocker Farm was discussed when the town planners were approving the Longmeadow Drive project? Not at any of the public hearing that I attended.

Anonymous said...

I researched data comparing Amherst's transiency rates to other school districts but was unable to find this info on line.

Relative to the Amherst school's other problems I do not think transiency is a major issue. We'd need to know if your child's classroom experience was an anomaly or an ongoing problem.

Children of visiting international faculty take up resources, too...they don't speak English and need lots of help. Are you complaining about them? They slow things down, too.

Further, are your concerns are really about the schools? Seems like they have more to do with Amherst's low-income housing policies.

With declining enrollments it seems like Amherst can accomodate SOME newcomers.

wondering said...

If low enrollment courses at the high school are cut, could that eliminate one of the two study halls without adding to the budget? Also, how much would it cost to eliminate one study hall if no courses were cut?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 12:33 - I am opposed to extensions precisely because it doesn't TEACH kids what they need to know ... that is high expectations, but without the support to get there (and this is what I hear from 7th graders). That isn't the type of opportunity that helps, anymore than saying all kids can take AP French as their first French class.

Let me return to a point I've made repeatedly -- many people (you, I imagine) oppose tracking because they think it is ideologically bad. I don't care about ideology -- I care about achievement. So, in Princeton, NJ (where I attended MS), kids were tracked in 6th grade -- high math versus low math. The "low math" kids all did algebra over the 7th and 8th grade years (the high math did algebra in 7th, and algebra II in 8th). But in this bad, tracked system, the LOW kids are expected to finish algebra in 8th, and they are TAUGHT in a regular class with other kids at their same level how to do algebra. In our "extensions" system, we allow kids to do extra homework, but it is not fully taught for 100% of the class day - and guess what -- only 35% or so of our kids do algebra in 8th.

So, you would say the Princeton system is bad, because it tracks. And I would say it is good, because BY TRACKING, 100% of kids get algebra in 8th (and that means most kids in Princeton can take calculus, if they so desire, in HS, whereas fewer than half of the kids in our high school can). I see that as having high expectations of kids AND giving them the tools they need to succeed -- not throwing them in the ocean and saying "swim"!

Nina - if you have a strong high school background in a range of areas, you can be a firefighter, join the army, open a day care center, attend Harvard or Greenfield Community College, or join the NFL. Those are all good and admirable options. But if you go through high school taking only the lowest requirements (e.g., two years of math, two years of science), you have eliminated options (Harvard would be one of them, but so would be many selective colleges in the US -- and you would also have reduced your ability to get scholarship aid based on academic merit). Taking a more rigorous and comprehensive set of classes is a way for kids to keep doors open -- and I think we have a moral responsibility to keep all doors open for all kids during high school. I know many kids at Amherst College who STILL do not know what they want to do at graduation, so I can't imagine why it helps high school students to shut doors. And I've had Amherst College students graduate and become firefighters -- there is nothing about having a college degree that disqualifies someone from a particular job.

And if the poster at 1:52 is a high school student, I hope that he/she has teachers who believe that he or she COULD be college bound, and even IVY bound. All of the kids at Amherst High are certainly capable of attending college, and we should be doing everything in our power to convey that message to ALL kids.

Anonymous 6:32 - well said. Thanks.

Wondering - unfortunately, even if low enrollment classes are cut, there just aren't enough spaces in classrooms now to eliminate all study halls. This year we could have moved from 2 study halls to 1 study hall if the high school teachers had voted to move to a semester (for the same dollars), and I think that would still be true if such a change were made for next year. We are supposed to get new budget projections at the January SC meeting, and that should include projections for class sizes and offerings and number of study halls.

Ed said...

Enrollment in the elementary schools has steadily declined since 1998-99, when it was 1,592, to 1,268 this year. The study projects continued declines in the next two years.

The regional school enrollment, which peaked in 2001-02 at 2,068, has been declining since then and is currently 1,691. It is projected to continue declining to 1,480 in 2014-15.

The number of Amherst elementary children attending charter schools has jumped from one in 2007 to 11 in 2008 to 25 in 2009

And with due respect to Catherine's valid point regarding parent-funded education (homeschool/private/parochial schools), the simple fact is that 300 is a whole lot bigger number than 25. 275 bigger...

Catherine: I know that they have to register with the Supt not to be considered truant and hence someone knows - how many home school/private school/religious school children *are* there? If he knows the name of each child, he can count them and that is not a FERPA-protected statistic once the names are stripped off.

Anyway, and I have been saying this for about four years now: THE DAYS OF THE EVER EXPANDING UMASS ARE OVER AND AMHERST NEEDS TO DEAL WITH THAT!!!!!!

Lets get real: UMass has had about $50M in Section 9-C cuts to the CURRENT (FY-10) budget (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010) -- $37M a while back and $19M just last week. I am quietly hearing of additional early January cuts of an equally significant manner.

And the FY-11 budget is going to be even worse. There are going to be massive layoffs. Of the younger employees, those with children. And it isn't like there are a whole lot of other jobs in Amherst, these families are going to be forced to move, even if they don't loose their homes.

Worse, the baby boomlet is OVER, there is a national shortage of 18 year olds, and Amherst is 2 hours from anything of interest to a young adult. The nearest decent sized cities are Boston, NYC & Quebec/Montreal, the nearest decent beach is the Connecticut shoreline, and the nearest professional sports teams are Boston/NYC. And I still say you can't get to Mt. Snow in an hour, not if you are sane...

So where are the students going to go?

And when it takes 5 years to graduate from UMass due to difficulties in getting classes, it becomes cheaper to go to a BU or NEU and lots of kids are. Likewise, the community college looks better for the first 2 years.

And we won't even get into how a good chunk of UMass is going to be shifted to Springfield. People with power are quite serious about seeing this happen. And who is going to commute from expensive housing in Amherst when they can find much more affordable of equal quality in West Springfield or Chicopee?

Bluntly, UMass could well go from some 5000 employees to maybe 3000. And that means at least a thousand fewer families in the area, and hence fewer children.

WHY DO YOU THINK THE SCHOOL ENROLLMENT IS ALREADY DROPPING??? Note when it peaked - and the district only peaked later because of the easy credit for homebuyers.

You *will* see a decline of middle class parents with children. If the student enrollment drops to the point where landlords go to Section 8 rentals (as happened in South Amherst in the early '90s) then you will have an increase in single-mothers with children and the related social needs. Call me what you will, but there is a corelation between single mother on welfare and social needs of her children.

The Amherst schools do not exist in a vaccuum. Look at Detroit if you do not understand that of which I am trying to warn.

Ed said...

Let us remember one thing: The "Death & Dying" courses were considered to be a major factor pushing those two perps into shooting up Colombine High School.

This, people, is a fact.

And perhaps one worth thinking about....

Anonymous said...

So, I would actually oppose (and may well oppose) adding a class in AP Chemistry IF that class can only draw 10 or 12 kids a year. That just isn't a good use of money, even if those kids would really benefit from it.

One has to think long and very carefully about this - and remember I consider having a high IQ to be a disability - but at what point do we ask the parents to contribute towards these courses not unlike we do for sports teams?

It would need to be means-tested not unlike the school lunches (and that is a very easy criteria to use as the data is already there). But if you have some parents who can afford this, instead of paying the higher cost for a less age-appropriate course at UMass, why not offer this option?

One other thing here - and Catherine if you haven't figured out who I am, google my IP address - I would not have graduated high school were it not for the AP courses offerings. But for those, I would have been out of there at 16...

And much as we spend a great deal of money on SPED students because of their special needs, we need to spend money on the needs of the gifted students because of their equally special needs. And if you don't direct their talents in a positive direction, there is more than enough opportunity for them to be directed into less positive directions...

Anonymous said...

Let us remember one thing: The "Death & Dying" courses were considered to be a major factor pushing those two perps into shooting up Colombine High School.

This, people, is a fact.

And perhaps one worth thinking about....

Oh give me a break. I understand that course was a very good course and we should be mourning the loss of all the wonderful electives that have been cut and will be cut.

Anonymous said...

If I had my way--which the majority of us do child(ren) would have left this system years ago and we would be among the many smart families who have done so and continue to do so. =(

Anonymous said...

Annonymous, December 24, 2009 9:52 AM

I wish you had options, it's very sad to hear a statement like yours...feeling stuck. That shouldn't be. I hope the school committee is listening.

Nina Koch said...


I think you completely missed my point: not everybody wants what you want. You need to acknowledge that. Instead your response is to tell them why they should want what you want. There are multiple yardsticks. You keep using the same one. You have one definition of high achievement.

You keep sounding the drumbeat of AP, AP, AP but I am not sure you can point to the intrinsic value of those courses. You think they are valuable mainly because other people think they are valuable. The graph you posted a few weeks ago showed anemic benefits, at best. Students with an extra year of Chemistry scored maybe 82 in their college course while students without the extra year scored an 80 (on average). Big deal. If that's the effect, then I think their time would be better spent learning a new science like Astronomy or Forensics.

AP courses offer a particular educational experience and it's a nice option for some students. That doesn't mean AP courses do everything. They don't. In fact, due to the focus on preparing for a test, there are things that get left out of an AP course. And there are many students who don't want to spend their time doing that particular kind of learning. Again, they don't want what you want. Try to find out what they do want. That is the only way you will be able to serve all students.

This same inability to adopt multiple perspectives is what happened with the redistricting discussion. When some of the community leaders said that they didn't want your kind of help, you found their statements to be "unbelievable." The fact that you couldn't believe how they felt tells me that you were unable to see things from their point of view. Your response, again, was to tell them why they should want what you want.

Perhaps if you had spent time in a heterogeneously grouped English class in your high school, you might have had some instruction in how to interact with and learn from people who think differently than you.

Gee, come to think about it, wasn't there an article in the Bulletin about heterogeneous English classes? I thought you always helpfully posted newspaper articles concerning the Amherst schools. I am scrolling up and down in your blog and I can't find that one.

Anonymous said...

I think alot of people could quite honestly make a statement like anon 9:52. I believe alot of families feel stuck with the Amherst public schools with no other options. They have not left the school system because they can't afford private school or their children cannot get into filled charter schools.

ed said...

The number of kids leaving the district is based NOT on census data but on the number of kids in our district one year who ask to have their records transferred to another school

OK, I have a child and I decide to homeschool. In my case, as I am a certified teacher, albeit in another state, I might not care what the records say because of the reasons why I have decided to homeschool.

Does my child show up in any statistic, and if so, which one(s)?

I think this is an important fact to know....

Ed said...

Perhaps if you had spent time in a heterogeneously grouped English class in your high school, you might have had some instruction in how to interact with and learn from people who think differently than you.

Let me give three examples that explain why I revile heterogeneous grouping with the same revulsion as I do the Klan.

First was a Social Studies course I was teaching. One student, at age 16, had already been accepted to Harvard but he deferred his admission because (a) he really liked running track, (b) he was a good X-Country runner and the team had a chance of winning with him on it, and (c) he was mature enough to realize that he really needed the social experience of high school.

The kid went on to graduate first in his class at Harvard and first in his class at Harvard Law.

Now put him right next to a kid with fetal alcohol syndrome and the related issues. Exactly how are you supposed to be teaching that class?

The solution, of course, is that the bright student be forced to teach the others, but that is slavery. If you are going to hire someone as a teaching aide, you ought to pay him.

Second example - English class. You have some kids reading on the college level -- probably the level of graduate students -- and others far below grade level. Exactly what is the teacher supposed to do? (And if you don't teach to the bottom, you have major discipline problems as those kids will do whatever is necessary to slow the class down to their speed, and that includes disrupting it.)

Third example, a personal one as a student. 9th grade science - a general science class that was not tracked. I could have taught the class -- and on several occasions actually did because the teacher's strengths were in life sciences and she was adult enough to admit that I knew more than she about physics.

I didn't learn a damn thing all year. I spent most of my time tutoring an ELL student and the whole thing convinced me that science was so boring that I didn't even major in it in college.

You folks can advocate your egalitarian goals all you want -- I actually share such goals -- but the simple fact remains that there is a very real cost to what you are doing. Any classroom MUST be taught to the ability of the slowest students in it for discipline purposes and all you are doing with heterogenous grouping is denying education to a third of your students.

I consider that a civil rights violation....

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 1:44 - ummm, I have no idea what your IP address is ... but if you want to share something with me personally, use my private email: I think asking parents to contribute for classes they want their kids to take DURING school iks an impossibility ... and we shouldn't be driving HS curriculum by what parents can/will pay for. I do think we need a rich array of classes that meet the needs of all students -- and I don't think this has been the goal of our district yet, frankly, because classes that meet the needs of high achieving students are thought to be elitist/racist/classist, etc. I believe AP chemistry is a real missing link in our curriculum, as is AP statistics. I'm frankly puzzled that the HS administration/math and science teachers don't see the absences of these courses as problematic in light of providing the full range of classes that most other HS in MSAN provide.

Anonymous 9:52 - I am very sorry that the schools haven't met the neesd of your kids -- and that isn't acceptable, since public schools by definition have to meet the needs of all kids. I don't know how old your kids are, but I am working as hard as I can to try to make sure that our schools work for all kids.

Anonymous 11:29 - we are listening, and I for one find it concerning that this is anyone's experience (and the numbers of kids leaving is problematic). I've had both 6th grade and 8th grade teachers tell me they are writing letters now for private school admissions ... and I think that is a real loss for our schools when families choose to leave (but of course families have to do what is right for their own child).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Nina - I think fundamentally, you and I disagree about most education issues -- and that is fine -- we are both honest about our views. I ran for SC on a platform of increasing rigor and challenge in our schools, and using other districts as comparisons, and using data to evaluate what we are doing. People voted for me expecting I would do those things, and I imagine they aren't so surprised to see me doing those things.

You believe that AP classes don't have a real value -- and that's fine. You should work to eliminate AP calculus and AP Latin and so on from our curriculum so that the schools can better fit what you see as proper goals. Similarly, you should work to elect SC members, and change HS policies, so there is less of a focus on attending college, and more of a focus on exploring career paths that don't involve college. If you live in Amherst, you can run for SC! You can certainly support any candidate who runs for SC on a platform of "fewer AP classes, less of a focus on kids attending college, and our schools are currently great"! And the great thing about the election process is that people who share your views can then support that candidate, and such changes can be made.

You believe that the teachers in Amherst know best -- that because we have an AP English class like no other districts, and a required 9th grade science class like no others, and a model for gaining access to 8th grade algebra like no others, we are inherently BETTER than all other districts, and that all I need to do is "talk to the teachers" so that I can learn about these superior methods.

But here's who I've talked to -- teachers in other districts (including some who LIVE in Amherst) and see our choices as problematic, teachers in OUR high school who see some of these choices as problematic, and kids in OUR high school who see our choices as problematic. I take ALL of these views seriously -- as I do the fact that NONE of these programs have been evaluated in a serious way and that NONE of these innovative and superior programs are in use in other districts.

So, there are two possibilities -- we are MUCH better and smarter at how we approach all educational choices than all other districts in the country, or we are doing something DIFFERENT that may not be as effective educationally as what other districts do (because I would have to assume there are also dedicated and caring and smart teachers in other districts). I guess you, as a high school teacher in Amherst, believe inherently that if we do it in Amherst, it is right. And I don't believe that, any more than I believe, as a professor at Amherst College, everything that Amherst College does is great (and in fact, I could point to 5 things that I think are much better about OTHER colleges - such as Williams! - that we could and should learn from). There is no shame in learning from the experience of other districts -- or in admitting that our schools aren't perfect. But I think it is a real shame when any attempts to question what we are doing, and why, and to what end, are shot down with personal criticisms and attack. Debate about what our schools should be and how they are working is healthy -- and should work to make our schools the best they can be for all kids.

Anonymous 11:33 - I agree with your belief ... and I think that is a real shame (and frankly goes against our district's focus on social justice, since families with means can exit our schools easier than those who can't). I am working as hard as I possibly can to make sure our schools work well for all kids. I am hoping to make some difference.

Ed said...

You believe that the teachers in Amherst know best -- that because we have an AP English class like no other districts, and a required 9th grade science class like no others, and a model for gaining access to 8th grade algebra like no others, we are inherently BETTER than all other districts, and that all I need to do is "talk to the teachers" so that I can learn about these superior methods.


If there is one thing that the education profession ought to be worried about, it is the coming populist backlash against all of these tenured experts who profess to be the alpha and omega of education.

Anyone who truly knows anything about ANYTHING knows exactly how much he/she/it does not know and the thing that makes me most nervous about these "experts" is the extent to which they claim to be better without (a) any objective means of measurement and (b) vehemently resist any objective means of measurement.

As to the AP exams, there are two sides to the bell curve. And for every student who didn't do well, there is another who did. A student who might now actually seriously consider college as a possiblity.

The State of Maine now requires - as a condition of obtaining a high school diploma - that the student apply to at least one college. I think that this is obtuse and quite frankly illegal (as they are not paying the application fees) but the principle is that by providing evidence of ability, you enhance aspirations.

I know that many would prefer to teach to the bottom - I prefer to teach to all and that includes those with abilities that they may not even quite be sure they have.

And this gets into a whole lot more issues that those who champion all good causes allegedly support. First is the empowerment of women, explaining to the 17-year-old that while yes, she could get pregnant and live on welfare, there are a whole lot of other things that she could be doing. Second is the racial minority student (of either gender) or - heaven forbid we recognize realities - the low SES student who may or may not be a racial minority -- things like AP courses give these students the ability to see themselves as something other than failures.

The teaching cadre needs to be worried - I suggest they look to history and the election of Andrew Jackson....

Ed said...

An open challenge to the Amherst Teachers:

If you know so much more than the rest of the education profession, if you are so good, why not place your jobs on the line?

If you have a winning year - if the test scores go up - you get a bonus. And if you have a loosing year - if they don't - you get fired.

Just like a sports coach.

If you want to be employees and are willing to do what you are told and such, then you are employees and entitled to job security and everything else.

However, if you want to be management then you now are subject to evaluation on the basis of your management decisions and if they don't pan out, you get replaced.

Have it one way or the other -- you simply can't keep being management when it suits you and then hiding behind the unionized worker banner when your decisions become problematic.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point Ed. I agree.

Anonymous said...

In response to Ed...I think that Amherst's test score have been not only consistently good, but consistently going up. I know there are some subgroups not doing as well as the state dictates, but they too are going up, just not as fast as dictated. I also believe that a huge percentage of schools are in a similar situation...probably some of the ones that certain bloggers keep saying Amherst should be more like.

I am not an expert on this, and don't have the numbers at my fingertips, but I think if you are going to use test scores as your measure, then Amherst measures up pretty well.

Nina Koch said...


Your characterization of my position bears no resemblance to anything that I have actually said. Nor did you respond to the statements that I did make.

You are providing yet more evidence that you don't know how to listen.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading your posts the same way Catherine is Nina. It feels like you don't want the school to offer APs, and you see no value in them. My son wanted the rigor. Most of his friends wanted the rigor. Why shouldn't APs be offered to the kids who want it?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Nina - sometimes people listen really, really well, and they disagree. That doesn't mean they aren't listening. I hear everything that you say -- and I disagree with it, much as I believe that you hear what I say and disagree with it. But you shouldn't confuse disagreement with not listening. The "pro-choice" and "pro-life" sides on the abortion debate may listen well to each other and understand each other's views ... but ultimately, these views are incompatible because there is disagreement about the relative value people place on different things. That isn't a failure of listening -- it is honest disagreement about how people see the world.

In your post, you wrote (and I'm quoting to be sure I got your words right): Perhaps if you had spent time in a heterogeneously grouped English class in your high school, you might have had some instruction in how to interact with and learn from people who think differently than you.

So I listen to that, and realize that you believe the right way to learn something is to ask people who are heavily vested in a particular approach of education because it fits their ideology of education -- an AP English class in which kids vary tremendously in reading interest/aptitude/skill -- to explain why their approach is right. And you believe that if I just listened to them, then I would understand why they are right and I am wrong. That would be a way for me to show you that I'm listening.

But there are other types of listening. I could, for example, listen to high school students in these classes who complain that these are not "real AP classes" and who feel underchallenged and that asking to meet outside of class is a burden (given that in other districts, AP instruction occurs during the regular class period). Or I could listen to teachers in other districts in which AP English is taught differently, and these teachers happen to believe that their approach is better at teaching kids. Or I could talk to teachers (current and retired) at ARHS who believe that the approach to teaching AP English at our high school is really odd and ineffective. Now, I could listen to those three sides and I would learn something different than I would learn from talking to English teachers in our school system who do things in a very unique way. You encourage me to "listen" and accuse me (repeatedly) of "not listening" -- but really, you are concerned because I don't listen to the teachers who YOU believe I should listen to ... and you apparently value those voices more than other voices.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Nina - One final thing -- you very much value your own views and perspectives on things -- your view about whether AP classes have value, your view about whether extensions is an effective way of teaching math, your view about whether ecology is the best way to introduce kids to science in high school. Those are all your views, and you feel very strongly that they are right because you know people who support those things.

I form views in a very different way -- by looking at evidence and data across multiple school districts, not just our own. And this data (again, not just my own view, but the view of the VAST majority of school systems in the United States) is that grouping math in 7th grade can be quite effective, that teaching core sciences (e.g., biology, physics) in 9th grade can be quite effective, and that grouping kids into AP English by ability/aptitude/interest works quite well.

For you, anecdote by those you trust (teachers/administrators in our own system) is very powerful and persuasive and compelling. For me, this isn't a good way of learning anything -- any more than if I had a 90-year-old grandmother who smoked her whole life I could then ignore all of the scientific evidence showing smoking kills you. I am not convinced by anecdote -- by an English teacher at our high school describing how great our approach to teaching AP English is, by a science teacher describing how the very best introduction to science education is in fact ecology, by a math teacher describing how the best way to get kids ready for algebra is allowing them to do extra homework in 7th grade. Those stories are convincing to you -- they are not to me, when there is zero objective data showing that these approaches are effective in our district and there are no other districts in the United States using such approaches. I guess ultimately, I don't listen to stories from people highly invested in one unique approach to form opinions about a program or curricula -- I study what the research says and what other districts are using, and then form my opinions based on a broader set of more objective information.

I just think, as I said in my last post, you and I really disagree about how decisions should be made about education. And I'm very serious in my statement that you should consider running for SC (if you are a resident of Amherst) or openly endorsing candidates for SC who share your views. That is how the electoral process works, and if there are many voters in Amherst who share your views about how education decisions should be made, you will easily win, and you can then shape our school district in the ways that you think would be preferable. There are two seats open this March, so it is definitely a time in which all voters should think seriously about who they are electing and what type of school system that candidate would promote.

Ali - I can't find a place in which I've said we should require AP classes ... and I remain puzzled about why offering AP classes to those who WANT to take them is so offensive.