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 28, 2009

Executive Summary of Elementary School Parent Surveys

Note: This is a slow news week in terms of School Committee stuff, so I'm finally getting around to posting the executive summaries I compiled for each of the types of schools (elementary, middle, high). The elementary school survey summary was presented at the November Amherst School Committee meeting, and the middle and high school surveys were presented (although without a summary) at the October Regional School Committee meetings. Although the survey data is posted now in raw form on the website, I felt this presentation was pretty hard to interpret without spending a huge amount of time going through all the pages and numbers. Thus, I've gone through the surveys for each school and compiled my own summary of all of the numbers. Like all survey research, this one is limited based on those who answered the survey -- however, it provides a useful slice of what those parents who responded saw as both strengths and weaknesses of a particular school, and thus I believe is very helpful to the district to have as at least one data point.

Survey Respondents
The elementary school population is approximately half white (51%), with somewhat fewer students of color (African American: 8%; Asian: 13%; Hispanic: 18%; Multi-Race, Non-Hispanic: 9%). Compared to these demographics of students, respondents were more likely to be white (69%), and somewhat less likely to be African American (2%), Hispanic (14%), Asian (8%), or multi-racial (7%).

Core Learning Across Academic Disciplines
Of those who responded, a majority of parents across all schools felt that they knew their child’s learning objectives (52 to 80%), that their child was prepared to meet the course expectations (76 to 90%), and that there was adequate support available to their child (61 to 88%) across each of the four major academic disciplines (English, math, science, and social studies). Fewer parents across all schools reported that their child received meaningful homework, with greater agreement with this statement for English and math (53 to 71%) than for science and social studies (19 to 56%). Similarly, more parents agreed that their child received valuable feedback in English and math (56 to 81%) than for science and social studies (38 to 71%). There was less consensus on whether parents were regularly informed of their child’s progress in the core disciplines (45 to 78%) and whether the teacher contacted parents with concerns (35 to 84%), although most parents felt that the teacher was responsive when contacted by the parents with concerns (68 to 91%). Between 25 and 59% of parents reported that the level of challenge and expectations for their child’s learning was somewhat low or much too low across the four core academic disciplines (with only 0 to 14% reporting that the expectations were somewhat high or much too high). Most parents report their child spends 30 minutes to 1 hour (34%) or 1 to 2 hours a night (39%) on homework (with 19% reporting their child spends less than 30 minutes and 8% reporting their child spends more than 2 hours a night).

Safety
Of those who responded, the vast majority felt their child feels safe at school (86 to 95%), and that their child was adequately supported on emotional and/or social issues (75 to 84%). Most parents (77%) reported having no areas of concern in terms of safety, and very few (3 to 6%) reported that concerns about safety were not addressed in a timely manner.

School Climate
Of those who responded, a clear majority report their child is positive about his or her experience in school (78 to 89%), their child has a strong, positive relationship with at least one adult in the building (87 to 98%), the school staff respects cultural/ethnic/gender differences (80 to 94%), their child’s teachers are welcoming when they come to school or call (91 to 98%), and that the office staff is welcoming when they come to school or call (80 to 98%).

Communication
Of those who responded, most parents feel that report cards provide an accurate reflection of their child’s progress (77 to 90%), the school’s discipline policy is clear to them (69 to 80%), the school provides information about upcoming events (87 to 100%), and they know how to get the answers to their questions about the school (86 to 97%). Most parents also felt that the school offers them opportunities to be involved in committees (Family-School Partnership, School Council, etc.; 91 to 98%), the school offers them opportunities to be involved in school activities (83 to 96%), they are welcome to volunteer (78 to 98%), and they are given enough information to volunteer effectively (57 to 81%).

Conclusions

These surveys indicate both areas of strength (many) and areas of concern (few). In terms of the strengths, most (75% or more) families feel:
  • they can be involved in schools (PGOs, School Councils, activities)
  • they are welcome to volunteer at their child’s school
  • they know how to get their questions answered
  • they receive information about school events
  • reports cards accurately reflect their child’s progress
  • teachers and staff are welcoming
  • child feels safe at school
  • child has a positive relationship with at least one adult at school
  • school respects cultural/ethnic/gender differences
  • concerns are addressed in a timely matter
  • child receives adequate emotional support at school.

In terms of areas in which to improve, there are the following issues:

  • only 53 to 71% of families feel their child receives meaningful homework in English and math across all four schools
  • only 19 to 56% of families feel their child receives meaningful homework in science and social studies across all four schools
  • in the four core academic disciplines across all four schools, between 25% and 59% of respondents see level of expectations and challenge as too low (somewhat low or much too low).

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

"...between 25% and 59% of respondents see level of expectations and challenge as too low (somewhat low or much too low)."

That's a big spread. Was there more of a breakdown?

From my experience in Amherst classrooms I really, truly haven't observed that 60% of the kids are underchallenged. 25% corresponds better to what I occasionally saw. That's 6 kids out of every 25. I think it's fair to say that 6 out of 25 kids are academically talented.

I never saw 15 underwhelmed kids. Absolutely no way. And only in the older elementary grades. Not in the early grades.

How valid is this data?

Anonymous said...

So I assume that it was some form of oppression that resulted in minorities under-responding to the survey.

The minority parents were not welcomed by the majority oppressors sufficiently to fill it out?

No need to respond to this, Catherine. I know that it's the journey rather than the destination that's most important in being able to beat us over the head about our failings in Becoming a Multi-Cultural School System: the raison d'etre of the Kathleen Anderson tour of duty on School Committee.

Anonymous said...

Annonymous December 29, 2009 6:31 AM

I'm chuckling. You're hitting the nail on the head!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps i missed it but how many people responded.....out of the number of surveys handed out...percntages are great to look at but # of respondents would put thingds in better perscpective for me...
thanks

Anonymous said...

Survey Respondents
The elementary school population is approximately half white (51%), with somewhat fewer students of color (African American: 8%; Asian: 13%; Hispanic: 18%; Multi-Race, Non-Hispanic: 9%). Compared to these demographics of students, respondents were more likely to be white (69%), and somewhat less likely to be African American (2%), Hispanic (14%), Asian (8%), or multi-racial (7%).

Anonymous said...

oops my bad. the info I just pasted in doesn't answer your question, Anon 12/19 12:21 pm

So, where is the raw survey data, on arps.org? I couldn't find it, not being familiar with the organization/archival system of that website.

thanks to anyone who can provide directions to the raw data.

Anonymous said...

I think that it's a sign of a new maturity in town that the Pledge of Allegiance flap didn't blow up into something Fox News would want to report on. In past years with the right (i.e. wrong) people in charge, it could have expanded into a cause celebre for weeks, if not months.

We moved on from it, and that's a good thing.

Civilization: don't take it for granted.

Anonymous said...

How anyone can be chuckling over Anon 6:31's comment is beyond me. I think it's one of the most offensive comments I have read yet on this blog. Shaking my head in disbelief.

Anonymous said...

Oops.

One person is offended.

Back to political correctness.

Resume guilt trip.

Anonymous said...

I shake my head in disbelief when Ms. Kathleen Anderson talks down to her fellow School Committee members.

Anonymous said...

I agree. It's bizarre that she's even on the school committee. I have yet to figure out what she brings to the table.

Rick said...

This is a great breakdown, thanks Catherine.

Anon 11:12pm asks: “How valid is this data?”

I would say it’s not the best, but better than nothing. But it's great is that some data is being collected and looked at. That is a first step – to get into the habit of doing that. A good next step would be to see how we can do a better job of getting more people to respond.

Anon 12:57: here is the data: http://www.arps.org/node/992

Anonymous said...

how good is the data if only about 100 people reponded and there are over 1300 students???????????????

Anonymous said...

It's will only be considered valid and reliable if the data support that people are unhappy with the schools. Not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

My take aways:
FR parents who chose to respond are more unhappy than any other elementary school's parents. Is it FR, or is it these parents?

And everyone loves the office staff at FR (yet someone on this blog was kvetching about the excessive numbers [all 3 of them] of secretaries there! Please, whatever happens, don't fix something that ain't broke!!!).

Anonymous said...

Ditto Anon. 9:43 p.m.--Like Marks Meadow!!
I have yet to comprehend why a group of 'educated' people would shut down the highest preforming school in town!!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 11:12 - the spread is very large, but remember, this includes responses from parents at all four schools and across all four disciplines (as you can see on the raw data). So, only 25% of the families at Wildwood see the expectations as too low or much too low in English, but 59& of the families at Crocker Farm see the expectations as too low or much too low in science. Two more points: first, I think it is plausible that families of kids who aren't challenged are more likely to respond, so the results may be pulling for the students who are indeed underchallenged (240 parents responded), and second, I think it is still unacceptable that we aren't appropriately challenging 25% of kids (if that is in fact true).

Anonymous 6:31 - although I am very glad that these surveys were done, and I commend the superintendents (Maria Geryk was interim superintendent when they were done, Alberto Rodriguez was incoming superintendent and supported this data collection) for having them done, the results would be more useful if more parents had responded and if the responses more closely mirrored the demographics of our district. I would be particularly interested in getting data on the % of low income families who responded -- and I have asked for that in public at two meetings but it has never been provided.

Anonymous 12:21 - 240 people responded to these surveys, and there are 1300 elementary school kids. However, parents who have multiple kids in elementary school were asked to fill out the survey for only their OLDEST child -- so, those who had 2 or 3 kids in the elementary schools only completed a single form. We don't know how many families are therefore in the schools, or what the response rate is. However, let's say that NO ONE had more than one child in elementary school -- the response rate then was 18%. If on average all families have two kids in the schools (since some families have one child but others have 3 or 4), the response rate would be 36%. In all likelihood, the response rate is therefore somewhere between these two numbers.

Anonymous 12:52 - thanks for trying to help but I don't think that was the question!

Anonymous 12:57 - I think Rick Hood has thoughtfully provided the link to the raw data: http://www.arps.org/node/992.

Anonymous 1:03 - I agree with this point!

Rick - I agree with all you said ... it isn't the best data but just getting some data, and getting into the practice of collecting such data, is a good idea. And I think we are going to have to work hard to increase the response rate -- perhaps one step would be shortening the survey (it was REALLY long).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:


Anonymous 7:44 - 240 people responded, and although there are 1300 elementary school kids, parents could only respond ONCE even if they had more than one child in the schools. So, the response rate was at least 18%, obviously more (as I note above) -- and that is actually a pretty good response rate for a long, on-line survey. I wish it had been better, but it is still informative. People make prediction about things like who will win the presidential election based on those who complete a telephone survey that interviews far, far fewer than 18% of the voting population.

Anonymous 8:52 - I think the survey results point to a lot of good in our schools, as I've noted. They also point to some areas of improvement, which I think is important. Do you believe we should only pay attention to the good?

Anonymous 9:43 - I have looked for school differences in the survey results, and I couldn't find any -- so I'm curious as to why you think FR parents are less happy? In terms of level of challenge, CF parents are less satisfied with the level of challenge in English and science than parents at any of the other schools. Can you point to the data that you believe shows FR parents are less happy than others?

Anonymous 8:41 - if you are really questionning why the SC made a unanimous decision to close MM, then you really aren't following this year's school budget information at all. Spending money educating 13% of the elementary school population while eliminating entire programs and increasing class sizes at all schools would make no sense fiscally or educationally.

Anonymous said...

Catherine Sanderson said:
I think it is still unacceptable that we aren't appropriately challenging 25% of kids (if that is in fact true).


So perhaps some questions for ACE are:

1. Is this claim true? (What data would have to be presented to be accepted as "true" anyway?). The teachers say the kids aren't typically bored or not often (they can do independent work assignments, read, etc). Parents of some kids report that they are bored. What do the kids say?

2. To what degree and in what subject areas or situations is it true? Is it a homework AND classroom issue, or one or the other?

3. What would it cost to make sure the 25% were challenged all or most of the time? And by costs I mean financial, logistical and otherwise. And who decides and by what measures who those 25% are? Parents? Testing?

4. Is this is a new problem? If not, it is worse? (probably impossible to measure the past)

5. Does it really makes any difference if some kids are occasionally bored at the elementary level?

Some of us remember counting the cars on freight trains going past our middle school, yet we turned out quite well nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:43 - I have looked for school differences in the survey results, and I couldn't find any -- CS said:
so I'm curious as to why you think FR parents are less happy? In terms of level of challenge, CF parents are less satisfied with the level of challenge in English and science than parents at any of the other schools. Can you point to the data that you believe shows FR parents are less happy than others?


Sure.

Look at the number of instances in which FR has much higher neutral or disagree/strongly disagree figures. If you eyeball most of the Core learning charts there's a clear pattern showing FR parents give negative responses in more cases than WW or CF (I'm leaving out MM), EXCEPT for the one example you gave, Catherine.

I agree that CF has a load of dissatisfaction with challenging work compared to the other schools.

Look at Meaningful Homework or Adequate Support, though. FR is much more ticked off than CF.

My lay interpretation of the data is that CF parents who responded feel the curriculum is unchallenging. But the FR parents feel EVERYTHING is unchallenging.

Rick said...

I'd like to see surveys of the kids, not just of parents. Especially for the older kids - I think kids at ARHS more or less know what is great and what is not so great - much more than the average parent does. But even elementary age kids have something to tell us I bet. If I had to choose between parent surveys and kid surveys, I would take kid surveys.

The kids are the primary "customers" of the schools - survey the customers.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 2:57 - first, let me clarify -- this is NOT an ACE blog ... this is my own School Committee blog, which has nothing to do with ACE. So, if you have questions for ACE, you should email ACE directly (see the website ACE-Amherst.org). But in terms of my answers to your questions, they are as follows (IN ALL CAPS TO CLARIFY MY ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION):

1. Is this claim true? (What data would have to be presented to be accepted as "true" anyway?). The teachers say the kids aren't typically bored or not often (they can do independent work assignments, read, etc). Parents of some kids report that they are bored. What do the kids say?

I BELIEVE IT IS A PROBLEM IF PARENTS BELIEVE THEIR KIDS ARE BORED, WHETHER OR NOT THAT IS TRUE. BUT ALSO BELIEVE THAT KIDS -- ESPECIALLY OLDER ELEMENTARY KIDS -- CAN REPORT FEELING BORED, AND THAT IS LIKELY INFORMING THE PARENTS' VIEW. I DON'T THINK SAYING THAT KIDS CAN WORK INDEPENDENTLY OR READ ON THEIR OWN DOESN'T MEAN THEY AREN'T BORED! I ALSO HAVE HEARD FROM TEACHERS WHO KNOW THAT SOME OF THEIR KIDS ARE BORED, SO I'M NOT SURE ABOUT YOUR STATEMENT THAT TEACHERS DON'T THINK THE KIDS ARE BORED.

2. To what degree and in what subject areas or situations is it true? Is it a homework AND classroom issue, or one or the other?

I THINK THIS IS AN IMPORTANT QUESTION AND WE WOULD NEED MORE INFORMATION TO ANSWER IT.

3. What would it cost to make sure the 25% were challenged all or most of the time? And by costs I mean financial, logistical and otherwise. And who decides and by what measures who those 25% are? Parents? Testing?

I THINK WE HAVE A MOTTO IN OUR SCHOOL DISTRICT THAT IS EVERY CHILD, EVERY DAY. I DON'T THINK IT IS ACCEPTABLE TO SAY IT IS ONLY 25% OF THE KIDS WHO ARE BORED AND THAT IS OK. IT ISN'T ABOUT DETERMING WHO THOSE 25% ARE -- IT IS ABOUT PROVIDING REAL DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION SO THAT ALL KIDS EXPERIENCE SCHOOL AS A CHALLENGING AND ENGAGING PLACE. NOW, WE MAY WELL NEED TO MAKE SURE WE OFFER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT SO THAT TEACHERS CAN EFFECTIVELY DIFFERENTIATE -- BUT THAT IS SOMETHING WE ALREADY CLAIM TO BE DOING RIGHT NOW, SO I'M NOT SURE WHY IT WOULD BE AN ADDED COST. THERE ARE TEACHERS WHO ARE DOING THIS RIGHT NOW -- AND PARENTS RECOGNIZE THIS WHEN IT IS DONE, AS DO KIDS.

4. Is this is a new problem? If not, it is worse? (probably impossible to measure the past)

I THINK IT IS HARD TO TELL WHETHER IT IS NEW, OR WORSE, ETC. BUT HAVING THESE SURVEYS IS A START SO THAT WE CAN TRACK IT OVER TIME.

5. Does it really makes any difference if some kids are occasionally bored at the elementary level?

I THINK ALL KIDS WILL OCCASIONALLY BE BORED, AND NO, I DON'T THINK THAT IS A PROBLEM. BUT REMEMBER, ACROSS ALL SCHOOLS, VIRTUALLY NO ONE IS SAYING THE LEVEL OF CHALLENGE IS "MUCH TOO HIGH" BUT BETWEEN 3 AND 22% OF PARENTS ARE SAYING THAT THE LEVEL OF CHALLENGE IS "MUCH TOO LOW" IN ONE OR MORE OF THE CORE ACADEMIC DISCIPLINES. THIS ISN'T SAYING THAT THEIR CHILD IS OCCASIONALLY BORED -- THIS IS SAYING THAT REGULARLY, CONSISTENTLY OVER TIME, THE LEVEL OF CHALLENGE IS TOO LOW. I SEE THAT AS A PROBLEM.

Some of us remember counting the cars on freight trains going past our middle school, yet we turned out quite well nonetheless.

IF OUR STANDARD IS "WE TURNED OUT QUITE WELL" THEN WE DON'T NEED TO WORRY ABOUT MAKING ANY CHANGES. AND IT IS THAT ATTITUDE THAT LIMITS WHAT OUR SCHOOLS COULD BE FOR ALL KIDS.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 9:43/3:24 - I guess I don't see real differences that you are seeing. Let's compare FR and WW, since CF is a more different population than the other two and MM is quite small.

Here is the % who agree/strongly agree with "where to find learning objectives" in the four core academic classes: FR ranges from 52 to 64, and WW ranges from 58 to 71. The same pattern appears with "level of support available" -- 61 to 73 at FR versus 70 to 77 at WW. In both of those, FR is less satisfied than WW.

But in "child was adequately prepared" there is a very similar range -- 76 to 89 at FR, 77 to 84 at WW (FR parents are MORE satisfied), as is "level of challenge" -- 31 to 53 at FR versus 23 to 48 at WW (FR parents are MORE satisfied), as is "meaningful homework" -- 19 to 67 at FR versus 20 to 61 at WW (FR parents MORE satisfied).

I see much similarity across all the schools in these responses, particularly if you look by discipline. So, with meaningful homework, most parents at all schools see their child having meaningful homework in English -- range of 61 to 77%. But only 19 to 44% think their child receives meaningful homework in science. That strikes me as a very important finding that probably reflects an overall weaker science curriculum in our elementary schools.

Rick - I agree that student surveys are important -- and when I was on the math curriculum council a few years ago, these surveys were done in all kids from grades 5th through 12th. This data is still on the website, but briefly, the student surveys (which I compiled and summarized) revealed that both elementary and middle school students reported feeling a lack of challenge in math, and that students in middle school were particularly dissatisfied with the math curriculum (and the extensions program). However, I do not believe these concerns were students have resulted in any substantial changes in how math is taught.

Anonymous said...

Thos are good answers to my questions, Catherine. Thank you.


I am trained in differentiated teaching. The gnarliest challenge with differentiated learning whole or large group lessons (the old fashioned kind, with all the kids staring at the teacher as he or she talks & writes on a board or OHP).

Some kids will already know the material, some will get it right away, some will need the review to "activiate prior learning," some need to stay with the whole lesson, some won't get all of it, some may not get much, and some haven't got a clue. And some paid no attention or tuned in and out for various reasons, not all of them willful (I throw that in for those who believe not paying attention is a child's "fault.")

Some of the capable kids are the among those not paying attention, and as a result some of them don't take as much away from the lesson as they might.

A skillful, experienced teacher can work around the challenge of teaching to mixed groups, some or most of the time, but not always. Younger & less skilled teachers can work around it sometimes. Etc.

So what to do? Obviously ability-based groups solve the problem, but the district is not going to do that (are they?).

For math, based on my own knowledge of how children learn and what I've seen in the Amherst elementary school setting, there really should be a separate class (at least sometimes) in grades 4 & 5 for kids who excel in math (based on what criteria I don't know, perhaps a combination of teacher recommendations and some kind of test). 6th grade has a special curriculum and I'm not sure what should happen there.

I am less concerned about reading because there are different reading groups already. Writing -- that's a problem and I don't know what to say about it. I'm not sure separate groupings are the issue. I think MORE time spent on writing and rewriting might be the answer.

Anonymous said...

About boredom (at the elementary level):

Could the boredom issue be looked at from more than one perspective (as in, the answer may not entirely be about ramping up academics)?

I recall, Catherine, that one of your children was featured in a newspaper article a few years ago because he had taken up helping out in the cafeteria -- the charming photo in the paper showed him with a broom, looking very engaged and serious. This leads me to my point.

There are schools (and schools of thought) that very much encourage experiential learning and authentic responsibility. Perhaps what some of our children crave (and not just the academically talented) is the chance to do real-world, meaningful work, on a child's scale. This is rarely possible in the controlled, large-group, safety-conscious public school universe, with its focus on the three Rs.

Some weeks ago I mentioned in a post that when I got bored in elementary school I found work for myself (helping in the library or kindergarten, eg), and that this work was, I believe, the beginning of my ADULT worklife. It was certainly as important to me as book learning. I was not bored, it seems, as ready to try new ways of learning.

I think kids, like adults, crave authenticity in their work and want to connect the different parts of their education.

Yes, people can give kids these experiences at home, but I am 100% certain that having them at school, guided by caring adults who ARE NOT THEIR PARENTS, is also of tremendous value.

In the end, perhaps this is why some people put their kids in private school or home school -- to add more variety, not more academics, to their kids' school day.

I wish we could keep that in mind when we talk about excellence. And one thing about experiential learning -- it's something ALL kids can do.

Anonymous said...

"perhaps this is why some people put their kids in private school or home school -- to add more variety, not more academics, to their kids' school day".

FYI, I put my child in private to add more academics to his day. We felt that the school was failing to meet my child's needs by letting him sit in a corner reading a book much of the day while the other students needed more time to learn the lesson. If it happens on occasion that is fine, when it happens daily its a huge problem. This is the downside of not having differentiated learning. I hope the SC will open this up for discussion as I really think not having it hurts so many kids in this district.

Many communities that have similarly diverse populations rely on differentiated learning, particularly in 3rd grade and above. I think kids should be able to be challenged and learn at a pace that is comfortable for them.

Nina Koch said...

to December 30, 7:18 pm:

I find your post very interesting. If you are willing, would you please click on my name and send me an email? I'd like to talk about some of your ideas and how you envision they might be implemented at the high school level. Just put "authenticity" in the subject heading and I will know it's you.

Thanks,
Nina

curious observer said...

Nina, are you ever interested in the students that want more traditional academic challenge and rigor? Or is always everything but those kids and that type of learning that captures your interest? If ARHS is a comprehensive high school shouldn't the needs and desires of those students and that type of learning be of concern to you?

I'm pretty sure my kids will get a lot of time pushing a broom, helping others, on-hands experience (everywhere but an AP chem lab, it seems) in Amherst. Why not some hard academic courses that really push kids to reach inside themselves for more?

Anonymous said...

While I take issue with some of the opinions stated on this blog (as well as the way they are stated and the rancor directed at special education and children from Section 8 housing), I want to say that I appreciate that Catherine and others feel, and are acting out of, a genuine concern about the Amherst schools as well as their own childrens' futures. I think shaking the complacency out of an institution is always a good idea.

At the elementary level (my area of interest and knowledge), I would like to see a trial run of ability grouping in the most contested area, math instruction.

The more institutional resistance to this idea, the more angry parents are going to become. Why not JUST TRY IT? Maybe it will turn out that accelerated math instruction for mid-elementary grades isn't the answer. Maybe it will be the answer. But sometimes if you throw a bone to the dog, it will stop growling.

As for who gets to participate, simply let parents decide. You think your kid is ready for accelerated math? Go for it.

What is there to lose if done this way?

(This was originally posted in a thread about middle school -- sorry).

Nina Koch said...

to the curious observer:

You asked if I am ever interested in "hard academic courses that really push kids to reach inside themselves for more?" The answer, is yes, I am interested in that. I don't think one kind of interest necessarily precludes another.

I think all classes should push kids to reach inside themselves for more, and in fact, I have been spending all day on just that. I just finished sending a note to a parent suggesting how a student could improve his work in an honors math course. Right before that, I was finishing up writing a worksheet and I spent extra time to include a challenge problem that will do exactly what you asked for. And for five hours today, I spent time reading through resubmitted work and providing feedback to students about whether I thought they had improved their understanding of the material.

Now I am not contractually obligated to do any of the things that I did today. I could easily change my policies to reduce my workload. I could just check off that they did the assignment and not read the content of what they submitted. Or, if I read the work, I could, simply put "right" or "wrong" on a student's paper without any comments. Or, in lieu of giving students the option to resubmit, I could just give them a low grade on the assignment or alternatively, accept it even though it doesn't show satisfactory comprehension. For the students who show up in the class without the pre-requisite skills, I could just say "oh well, too bad." Instead, I am sometimes working with those kids for two hours after school, which means another set of papers doesn't get read that day. If I spend an average of 5 minutes per paper, it takes two hours to read a set of 24 papers.

I'm not asking for anybody's sympathy because all the teachers I know work this hard. But I gotta tell you that it is pretty frustrating to put in all this work, directed exactly toward the goal of pushing kids to excel, and then be told repeatedly on this blog that we are not challenging our students.

The interesting thing is that the continued harping about how we are not rigorous (even though the parent satisfaction data shows that the vast majority of ARHS respondents did not feel that way) may end up having exactly the opposite effect of what you intend. It makes me say "Why the hell am I working so hard to try to uphold these standards, only to be told that I don't have standards?" In fact, the tone of your note helped me to resolve that, from now on, I am not going to miss any more book group meetings or turn down any more dinner invitations because I have so much school work to do. It will mean giving up some of what I do with student work and I will have to figure out what that is.

It's a lot easier not to have high standards. I could just accept crummy work, give the kids good grades, and a lot of people would be happy simply because they got a good grade. I haven't reached that point yet, but I feel like I am being pushed in that direction by the incessant criticism.

Challenge should not be left to a few AP courses that students may or may not take in their junior and senior years. It should be happening in all classes, for all kids. If ACE is really about excellence, then that is what they should be looking for. They should be asking: "is every child being asked to think and to reflect on his or her thinking?" The name of the class isn't important. It's what's happening inside the class that matters.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Nina!! Thanks for articulating what you do so clearly. We are lucky to have you working with our students. We appreciate your focusing on the process of learning, as well as its eventual outcome.
(now get ready for the inevitable onslaught . . . and enjoy your book group and dinners!)

Chris said...

Catherine, thanks for the blog.

What are the psychological consequences to elementary school children when placed in the high stakes testing (MCAS or similar structure) environment?