My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Amherst Bulletin
Thursday, January 14, 2010

Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez has taken a stand on which cuts to the regional school budget would be manageable and which would result in drastic changes to the quality of education.

On Tuesday, he will present his recommendations for cuts in the elementary budget to the Amherst School Committee. Next Thursday, Jan. 21, there will be a public forum on both budgets at 7 p.m. at the high school library.

Rodriguez's recommendations, if adopted, would put next year's regional school spending close to this year's. But they would still require cuts of about $1.9 million from a level that would keep services constant, largely because employee expenses are due to increase because of negotiated contracts.

The superintendent - who spoke at Tuesday's Regional School Committee meeting - is seeking to hold the line on cuts to academic departments, which would result in bigger class sizes. To limit the cuts in this way, there needs to be some combination of a tax override, more state money than expected, and/or union givebacks of negotiated raises.

"I want to tell taxpayers that this is not pain-free," he said of the manageable cuts. "We are compromising the range of offerings, student supports and professional development. It is a downsizing of services to children. However, this is, in my opinion, the number we can cut to and still maintain the kind of educational services we need to provide."

His recommendation is for a high school budget that is $871,776 lower than it would be with "level services," and middle school spending that's $430,893 lower. In addition, he has identified $620,609 in reductions to the central office budget, including a decline in health insurance costs, consolidation of the East Amherst and South Amherst alternative school programs and transportation savings.

At the high school, the biggest hits would be to special education, which would lose 2.4 positions, and the Family and Consumer Science Department, whose 2.8 positions would be eliminated. But he wants to preserve the academic departments and the technical/business/computer department, which had been thought to be at risk.

Rodriguez's plan would cut some special education and physical education spending at the middle school. It would accept some cuts but seek to preserve some funding, and thus limit class size increases, in team teaching, world languages and music.

Anything beyond his recommended cuts would put the school system at what Rodriguez called "a point of no return."

"This would decimate our school system, greatly increasing class sizes and doing nothing but the bare essentials, basically stripping it down," he said.

A worst-case scenario - stemming from a failed override, less state aid than expected and no union givebacks - would require an additional $700,000 in cuts, a contingency for which Rodriguez has planned. "It became clear that cuts of that magnitude would undermine our ability to provide a rigorous and enriching academic education for all students," he said.

At the high school, the cuts Rodriguez wants to avoid include the technical/business/computer department, positions in the academic departments, one guidance position and the Individualized Reading Program.

At the middle school, these over-the-line cuts include further reductions in world languages, music, special education and team teachers.

On Tuesday, the School Committee had its first chance to react to Rodriguez's cut list.

Member Andy Churchill praised the superintendent for putting central office cuts ahead of classroom reductions; Kathleen Anderson expressed concern over cuts affecting struggling students; and Tracy Farnham spoke about cuts to physical education.

Member Steve Rivkin presented data showing that enrollment has declined by 9.9 percent since 2003-04 and the number of teachers has dropped by 12.7 percent during that period. He said this represents a total of four teachers in both the middle and high school, adding that this is not evidence of a substantial decline in resources and that cuts have not led to radically larger classes.

Principal Mark Jackson said, if the worst-case budget moves forward, class sizes at the high school would increase, the ratio of students to professional staff would go up, and the number of social studies classes, English electives, world languages and performing arts ensembles would decrease.

Five speakers at Tuesday's meeting defended electives in art, music and wood technology. "We can't lose these courses; they are what makes a person whole," said Victoria Shaw, who said her son benefited from a wood technology course.

In other news

Rodriguez also announced Tuesday that ads for a new middle school principal will be placed immediately.

"Mark Jackson has been principal of both the high school and middle school since Glenda Cresto resigned in September. He will continue in the dual position for the rest of the school year," Rodriguez said. The deadline for applications is Feb. 26.

Starting Feb. 2, meetings will be held at Town Hall so that they can be televised live, with a new starting time of 6:30 p.m.

Minutes of meetings will be posted on within 24 hours, Rodriguez said.

Hundreds of parents whose children have left the school system over the past five years have been contacted about their reasons, and there will be a report next month, he said.

No teachers have applied for sabbatical leave next year, he said.

A consultant is concluding an evaluation of the middle school and will report to the School Committee in February, he said.


Abbie said...

Still no cuts considered at any point in the HS language department? Cuts to the technical/business/computer department before ANY cuts to the language dpt. Am I understanding this correctly?

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the two alrernative high schools serve two entirely different populations of students with vastly different needs. When the supertendent speaks of consolidating these programs does that mean he plans to keep them substantially separate but in the same building. Or is it his plan to mix the students together in one program? If the plan is the latter, I honestly don't see how that would work. The kids from those two programs just cannot be taught in the same classroom.

Does anyone know the answer to this question? Does the superintendent know that these 2 programs serve vastly different needs?

Anonymous said...

From 1/14/10, Wednesday's Daily Hampshire Gazette:

"The average class size at Amherst Regional High School would increase from 22 students in 2006-07 to 25 if all projected budget cuts take place, said Principal Mark Jackson.
There would be 83 professional staff for 1,139 students, compared to 116 staff for 1,320 students in 2006-07, he said. The number of academic electives would decrease from 40 to 20 over that period, physical education from 4 to 1, and family/consumer science from 11 to zero, he said. World languages would decline from 6 to 4, performing arts ensembles from 8 to 6."

Looks like world languages do take a hit.

Anonymous said...

There are only cuts to world language in the middle school--no more Russian and German. Everything will still be offered at the high school.

Anonymous said...

I was at the FSP meeting at the Middle School yesterday where Mark Jackson spoke to the Russian German issue. Those languages will be gone from the MS starting next year. Also for students in level 3 Russian or German at the High School the language will be offered to see those student through to completion in order not to jeopardize their college admission (most college require three years of continuous foreign language study)which is the right thing to do for those kids however Russian and German will no longer be an option for students entering the High School starting next year and after,

Jan Kelly

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jan. Makes sense.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend everyone reads the latest issue of the Graphic, the high school's student newspaper. It has two editorials, written by students, both about the goings on of school committee. I feel they do an excellent job of portraying the opinions of actual ARPS students, an opinion that is seldom listened too it seems. The newspaper can be picked up easily at the high school or, the online copy can be viewed at
the new edition hasn't been added yet, but should be in the next couple days. I encourage all the readers of this blog to check it out.

ACR said...

Catherine Sanderson-

Your blog brings tears to my eyes. As a current senior at ARHS, I cannot fully comprehend your assessment of our school system. As a senior, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my years at Amherst High. I myself am at an awkward stage of my life, stuck between high school and college and not quite sure where I belong. This discomfort has provided me with ample time to reflect on the good and bad of high school, and through this self-examination, I have come to several conclusions. High school is an extremely stressful time for students. High school students are not particularly happy or excited to go to school everyday, but somehow, we get through it. The pressure and competition at ARHS is remarkable, and stripping students of electives and replacing them with AP courses is extremely misguided. As a School Committee member, I invite you to spend time with ARHS students. Come to a Jazz Workshop concert, watch a musical rehearsal, or simply observe a ceramics class as each student dedicates themselves to making something personal and inspired. These things cannot be replaced. These are the small joys of high school, the things that simply get us through the day.

Here is a wakeup call for you—NO ONE wants to take AP classes. They are NOT the strong points of our high school and they should not have more value than the arts. This is a point that you CANNOT argue with. As much as I love European History, the fact that it is an AP course takes away from true analysis and appreciation of the content. AP courses are so regulated that we cannot spend 10 minutes talking about something that is not in the AP syllabus. This is simply not right. AP courses take away from the magic of learning— I can say this with experience. Teaching a class to prepare students for a test, ONE test, is ridiculous. I strongly believe that if education is geared towards preparing students for AP tests, than there is something very, very wrong with the planned future of our school system. Learning should be experimental and enjoyable.

We all are aware of the grim reality of budget cuts. Clearly, we are all going to have to make compromises that we don’t want to make. However, if everyone involved in this process can agree on one thing, we can focus on what is truly important. Learning and happiness should go hand in hand. We cannot compromise student’s happiness with the idea that it will help them get into a noteworthy college. We cannot take creativity out of the high school curriculum. Put yourself in the shoes of a ninth or tenth grade student. Think, for once, about what is going to make them want to go to school. After all, that is what is most important.

Nina Koch said...

just letting folks know that the January 14 issue of the Graphic has been posted at

we had some trouble with putting the pages together into one big file, so you have to click on one page at a time. hope to get that fixed next week.

(warning if you are on a low-speed connection, don't try to open page 1)

I know some people are interested in specific content in this particular issue, but for folks who have never read our student newspaper before, I highly recommend it as an example of the cool stuff that our kids do. It's one of the many things that helps to make the school what it is.

Anonymous said...

I read every last word in the Graphic. My impression is twofold: The kids criticizing C.S. actually do not understand her positions and are, dare I say it, not thinking deeply. They are not a great argument for lowering academic standards.

Anonymous said...

Their arguments are just about as reasoned as many of the posts on this blog. And because they are teenagers they're very easy for obnoxious know it all adults to dismiss.

Abbie said...

It is no surprise to me that some HS students would rather have candy than vegetables. When they grow up and pay taxes then they can decide how they want to fund their kid's schools with their tax $ and how they want to invest in the future of their country.

I personally think the ARTs contribute very little to the practical needs of the country and I find it funny that valuing the arts over core-education (and the honors/AP) is NOT considered elitism. Go to any art museum and I will guarantee that the vast majority of folks there are certifiably "elite" as well as the folks that provide the monetary support...Ironic.

I hope everyone who reads this blog recognizes that some of the anon bloggers are likely to be students...

ACR said...

Anonymous 7:36 PM:

How is that impression twofold? It seems to be a one-sided judgement that is both EXTREMELY offensive and just flat-out mean. As an adult, you are acting like an immature teenager. As students, we are simply trying to voice our opinions (the opinions of the people who will actually be affected by these budget cuts). Thank you for insulting our intelligence. And in response, I don't feel that it is necessary for me to think too deeply about this. You are trying to analyze the budget cuts down to the core, but you're dismissing what is really important- THE STUDENTS. I am simply trying to remind you that we are what matter in this! I know this may sound self-centered, but this is OUR education. You're turning this into your own fight. BACK OFF.

Anonymous said...

Right on Abbie! I totally agree! My son HATED the middle school. I had to put him in private school for him to get any rigor. He knew he needed more rigor if he was going to get where he wanted to go. So one kid from the high school says she doesn't want AP classes. This is anecdoal information, and surprise surprise if given a choice kids want candy over vegetables! Their brains aren't fully developed until they are well into their 20's. Give me a break!

Anonymous said...

Hey High School students...when you're flippin burgers down on Route 9 at the Burger King and Wendys, tell me how having Arts classes is working for ya! Dipshits

Abbie said...

I wrote "I hope everyone who reads this blog recognizes that some of the anon bloggers are likely to be students..." in the hope that folks would try to be respectful, I guess anon@825 missed that...shame.

ACR said...

Okay Abbie, let me say this.

1) I would actually choose vegetables over candy. I am a teenager, but I don't really like candy (funny, huh?)

2) I also pay taxes. So don't give me that, "when they grow up" crap.

2) We are NOT putting arts over the core-academics. I value academics as much as I value the arts. However, I do not value the addition of another AP course. THIS IS ELITISM. We are not saying that we expect people to go to high school, take an arts class, and become professional artists. We are saying that is important- if not vital- for a high school to offer classes that excite students.

3) By focusing this argument on the "needs of the country" you are making this too big of an argument. If you want to take about the "needs of the country" then we should start discussing how this country chooses to spend its money. You need to step back and think about what this is really about. THE STUDENTS. I hate to get all mushy, but life is about happiness. Happiness does not come from the AP classes, it comes from the electives.

Anonymous said...

My question- do you have teenagers Abbie?

lise said...

Dear ACR and other students.
I am not sure where students got the idea that CS is responsible for proposing the replacement of electives with AP classes. The recommendation to cut electives came from the people responsible for budget proposals, your principal and the school superintendent, not CS and not the School Committee. In addition, cutting electives and adding AP classes are totally separate issues. AP Statistics would not replace the stained glass class, it would most likely replace one section of AP Calculus. Except for a few textbooks it is budget neutral. Having one does not exclude the other.
My understanding is that electives are being cut because, although they may be popular, in difficult economic times it is necessary to make difficult decisions and set priorities. In this case it means giving up something. If we keep all the electives, some of which apparently serve a small number of students, what would you give up instead? Would you prefer having more electives, but having 30 kids in every math, English and language class? That is kind of the choice here. And by the way, AP classes do not have to be boring, and they do not have to march in lockstep with the test curriculum. Just remember, for every kid that goes to school for woodshop there is another who goes for AP something or other.
By the way, CS is unbelievably open to direct communication and regularly publishes her private email address on this blog and elsewhere. I do wish the students who wrote the letter published in the Gazette today had actually tried to contact CS before writing their letter. It might have led to a truly beneficial dialogue instead of a one-sided commentary on a bunch of misinformation that does not reflect the real issues. If students want a voice in the process, you need to make sure you are speaking to the real issues.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

I'm not going to respond to each and every comment right now ... but I do want to clear up the misperception that ACR seems to have: there are NO proposed additions to the curriculum at ARHS next year. Zero. That means no additional AP classes, nor any other types of classes. Thus, I'm not really sure why I'm being portrayed as advocating for more APs and less arts or whatever.

I also think, and this is to ACR, that different kids find different things exciting. You may love electives -- in ceramics or music or social studies or English or whatever. Other people might feel that type of passion for AP classes ... I have been contacted already by students at ARHS who are really, really excited by the possibility of AP Chemistry. Again, a comprehensive high school to me means making sure all kids have a strong foundation in the core academic classes so they can keep options open for their future ... and it also means having a rich array of elective classes in music and art and indeed woodworking (as I described at the meeting on Tuesday). I believe that we should have more AP classes because those classes do interest and appeal to some students. I also believe we should have a rich array of other options - and my job as a SC member is to figure out how we can provide as rich an offering as possible, given the very tight financial times. And if students (ACR or others) want to talk to me privately about classes they'd like to see kept/added, they can email me privately ( and/or post on this blog.

Anonymous said...

This will probably come across as snarky, but I really would like Catherine to answer this. When you dismiss anecdotal feedback about what is good in our schools, I understand that you want data to see if this is true. Yet, you continuously cite the "many, many" parents/students/teachers who privately contact you to offer their anecdotes of what is wrong with the schools. Many of your topics of concern (ms, trimesters vs. semesters, ninth grade science) seem to be derived from these negative anecdotes. If the positive ones are so easy to dismiss, then why not the negative ones?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 10:43 - it does come across as a bit snarky, but I'm still going to answer! When parents bring me concerns, I don't say "OK, I'll get you that AP chemistry" or "I'm right on that change in elementary school math." Because yes -- those are anecdotes and opinions and they may or may not be right or representative. What I do is say "I'm hearing a lot of stuff about X, so I think we should examine it." And I imagine an examination would include reviewing what other districts are doing and their outcomes, and then seeing what the research says, and then making a decision about what would work best in Amherst. In some cases, that would mean no change (e.g., maybe we decide that differentiated AP English really works well in terms of X, Y, and Z, and thus we will keep this approach) and in other cases it could mean change (e.g., maybe we decide that there are 30 kids interested each year in taking a second year of chemistry and so we add a class in AP chemistry like most other comparison districts have). My concern is that I don't see these discussion occurring -- when I raise the issue of why don't we have AP chemistry, no one will discuss that as an issue -- people simply say I'm elitist, or only about AP classes/IVY bound kids, or that I'll add AP chemistry by destroying wood technology/jazz ensemble/ceramics. That isn't discussing the issues, nor is it investigating what we are doing and whether that is the right thing to do.

Does that help? You should read my latest blog post from earlier tonight which speaks to precisely this issue.

ARHS Senior said...

Thank you, ACR.
I have long been nervous/afraid to post my opinions, and you have opened that window for me.

It is interesting to me how as soon as some students get the confidence to publish their opinions, they are attacked for not "speaking to the real issues" (I quote 'lise' here). They are told that if they had contacted CS, "It might have led to a truly beneficial dialogue instead of a one-sided commentary on a bunch of misinformation that does not reflect the real issues." (once again, 'lise's' words).

Isn't that exactly what often happens here on this blog, though? The editorial did address issues, such as tracking and AP courses, but of course the positive aspects of their column were dismissed. I often read posters such as Nina Koch and Ken Pransky try to engage in debate surrounding "the issues" only to have their thoughts disregarded, and their efforts thwarted.

I, like ACR, enjoy learning and feel that academic classes should never be compromised for electives. That said, I believe electives are extremely vital to developing the "whole" student in a comprehensive High School. The following is a quote from the US Dept of Education website:

"In addition to studying the arts for their own sake, experiencing and making works of art benefits students in their intellectual, personal, and social development, and can be particularly beneficial for students from economically disadvantaged circumstances and those who are at risk of not succeeding in school. Research studies point to strong relationships between learning in the arts and fundamental cognitive skills and capacities used to master other core subjects, including reading, writing, and mathematics."

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

ARHS senior - tell me what you want to discuss, and I'll discuss it anytime. And I spoke at the meeting on Tuesday about the importance of saving programs, including wood technology and jazz ensemble, by increasing class sizes in core academic classes. I think what Lise meant is that misrepresenting what I said doesn't solve anything or create a better high school. I haven't said ever, at any point, that "students should be tracked from day one." I haven't said let's eliminate ceramics and jazz and wood technology to offer AP chemistry. So, when an editorial appears that claims I say these things, obviously it makes students (like you and ACR) upset -- but you are upset because of something that someone else told you that is not in fact accurate. If you want to know what I think, ask me -- that's why I have a blog, and that's why I give out my private email address regularly. But I'd appreciate not being accused of doing or saying things that I haven't done/said.

Wishing they confirmed their facts said...

It was the principal of ARHS, Mark Jackson, who proposed cutting 2 music ensembles (jazz and The Hurricanes choral group) by eliminating one faculty position in the performing arts department. He also initially suggested cutting wood technology. The proposed cut of the music teacher also means that Wind Ensemble and Symphony Band will not have a faculty member, since that is the position that will be cut.

The SC suggested NONE of these cuts. On the contrary, CS has often been a friend and supporter of the music program in all Amherst grades. The editorial that states that she had anything to do with these proposed cuts is dead wrong and irresponsible. A correction seems needed, perhaps from Principal Jackson who was the author of these proposed cuts.

The Graphic editors obviously didn't double-check their facts on the source of the proposed budget cuts. The Gazette, before printing it on its editorial page should have confirmed the facts.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Thank you, "wishing they had confirmed the facts", for correcting the major mistakes in that editorial (which I do believe the Gazette shouldn't have printed in that form and that Mark Jackson should correct in print). I believe strongly in our music program - and took a lot of heat last year suggesting that we close Marks Meadow IN PART to be able to maintain a rich music program that benefits all kids AND feeds into the MS/HS music program. I also spoke on Tuesday night about the benefits of increasing class sizes in academic classes in order to preserve programs SUCH AS jazz ensemble and wood technology. Again, I am glad to take criticism for anything I've said ... but I really find it problematic when I'm accused of doing/saying things I haven't.

ARHS Mom said...

ACR and ARHS senior, if you really are students you should know by now to DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND CHECK YOUR FACTS! Anyone who has read all of the posts CS has made know her positions, what she has asked to be investigated and what she thinks is important.
And really, to say that "NO ONE wants to take AP classes." is just crazy. You shot yourself in the foot on that one. Alot of us have high school students past, present and future. AP classes may not be for you but you don't speak for them.

Anonymous said...

This ACR kid doesn't have a clue what he's talking about. He's just trying to act like a symbol for the 'oppressed people' when he himself derives arguments from already flawed premises.

There's a reason that people take AP courses. It's so that they can shrink down the size of their college tuitions, which are already absurdly high in a declining economy. Each course provides the opportunity to slash 3-5 thousand dollars, which is nothing to scoff at.

Before you make the assumption that "nobody wants to take AP classes," you should try a sample pool that contains more than one person, that person being yourself. No one is forcing you to take anything.

"Teaching a class to prepare students for a test, ONE test, is ridiculous."

Congratulations. You sign up for a course in order to take a final exam. How is that a surprise? The AP Test is simply a version of that final exam that can save you immense amounts of money.

Thanks for the entertainment.

Cory Gillette said...

ARHS Mom, I feel like I would pay a lot more attention to your post if it was a little bit more eloquent and thought out and not as condescending. It doesn't seem like you did more than skim ACR and ARHS Senior's posts.

Anonymous@01:07, you seem to be suffering from a severe case of condescenditis as well. You do raise some valid points though. The only reason I have been taking AP classes is so that I can potentially skip introductory college courses. However, you seem to have missed the point that ACR was trying to make when they stated that teaching classes to prepare students for one test was ridiculous. I don't know if you've had the opportunity to take AP classes before, but last year I took AP Bio (one of the best experiences I've had in ARHS to-date). I can tell you that it is very frustrating to want to have a discussion about a fascinating topic and knowing that said discussion will not occur because that material will not appear on the AP exam.

Ms. Sanderson, I personally haven't heard that much demand for either AP Chemistry or AP Statistics. Has the SC tried a poll of the high school to measure demand? If 30+ people in each grade said that they would take an AP Chem or Stats course if it was offered, then of course it should be seriously considered. However, I do not think this should even be on the table until we are no longer worrying about budget cuts. This is hardly a priority.

I would appreciate it if the adults of Amherst would stop automatically assuming that high schoolers are in some way mentally deficient. We are people, just like you. I know this is the Internet so you can say whatever you want without repercussions, but I challenge you all to stop hiding behind anonymity. If any of you were this patronizing to me (or others) in a real-world discussion, I would turn my back and walk away.

OK, feel free to flame me now. I love Internet drama.

Cheerful said...

I'm glad the high school students are posting and writing and part of the discussion. They can get their facts right or wrong just like everyone else. Their opinions and percepetions can be on target or off base. They certainly seem more polite. Welcome and put on the thickest skin you can find. It's tough in here.

ARHS Senior said...

I understand/accept my and other students' "wrong-ness". But many, many other posters all over the blog are frequently very wrong, too.

It's disheartening that any student who tries to say something is so quickly shot down, quite harshly. If you want students opinions, I would suggest encouraging them into the dialogue.

We are NOT to young to understand. We are NOT too young to care. We are here because we do care.

Oh, and ARHS Mom, AP classes ARE for me. I had 4 last trimester. But that does not mean I think we need to add more.

Still Cheerful said...

Now that I've read the student editorial it was really wrong on the facts -- and the student's opinions hang on the those wrong facts. It would be good to see corrections posted in The Graphic and maybe some rethinking on the part of the student writers.

To defend the students a bit, it is really hard to follow the budget-cutting process, even school board members find it so. But the writers should have spoken to Ms. Sanderson first before mis-representing her views. Where did they get their information about her views?

Anonymous said...

8:43: "Where did they (the student journalists)get their information about her (Catherine's) views?"

THIS is a very very good question, and maybe a good diversion from our need to focus on schools. But I'd still be interested to know.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they read this blog or the newspaper or watch the school committee meetings just like everyone else.

Anonymous said...

When do editorials need to be right on the facts? They are OPINION pieces. They are free to assess CS's comments, views , attitudes etc, interpret them and then editorialize about them. That's what an editorial is. Newspapers do that all the time.

ACR said...

I would like to clarify a few things.

While Mr. Jackson was the one who purposed the cuts,
I have read quite a few positive responses to these cuts in CS's blogs and the blog responses. I am not trying to blame Catherine or the School Committee for these cuts. I know that we need to compromise and give up things that we feel make our high school whole- and I am not saying that Catherine or other School Committee members 'want' to do this. They are doing what they need to do, and I understand and respect this.

When I said "No one wants to take AP classes," I did not phrase my true opinion well. I understand the importance of lowering college tuition costs (believe me, I understand) and the need for a 'final exam' at the end of a course. But as a student currently taking two AP classes, I was trying to point out the fact that AP syllabuses are extremely limiting. It would be both beneficial and more interesting if these classes, such as AP Biology or AP European History, were not tied down by what will be on the AP test. I appreciate Cory Gillette's comment about taking AP Biology and feeling that he could not ask questions that would not appear on the AP test. I can relate to this. My main point about AP classes is not that no one wants to take them, I'm sorry for saying that. I simply feel that the extreme rush that material must be taught in AP classes is not beneficial for students or teachers.

I feel that my main argument in my post was not recognized. Many interpreted my post as valuing the arts over academics. I simply wanted to point out the fact that as hard as these budget cuts are for all of us, they should not compromise student's happiness. I think that as long as all of us can agree that it is important for students to enjoy school, we can develop more beneficial budget plans.

Lastly, I am deeply sorry if you felt I was attacking you, Catherine. I want to be clear that I am in no way trying to be disrespectful to you, and I'm sorry if my first posts came off that way. I recognize the fact that you are a mother, a professor, a spouse, and probably a very nice person. I respect you greatly for having the braveness to create this blog. I'm sorry if I or any of my fellow students came off as rude- this is a hard thing for all of us, and as students, we have views that we desperately want to be heard. This can lead to language that doesn't reflect us in the most positive of ways. Again, I am sorry.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I see what you're getting at now. It's true, the AP courses are not only excruciatingly limited but also a good demonstration of a failure of standardization.

An attempt to create an identical course across the nation will always falter. Every teacher is different and each classroom has different resources. However, the only way to fix that is to change the national system, and there's no real way to do that.

If there was a way that schools could offer credit similar to AP credit without having to be bound to an invisible contract to the College Board, then that would be the best option.

My apologies for sounding condescending before, I deftly misinterpreted what you were trying to say.

Abbie said...

Dear ACR

thanks for returning and offering clarification.

About the AP courses...I think I share CS understanding (please please correct if wrong) that at least in the Sciences the AP courses are not in addition to the regular course but replace it. My experience of AP courses or just plain Advanced courses (A? no P) is that they are in addition to the regular year of physics, bio, chem. I wonder if Amherst's way is a common model of offering AP classes in HSs today.

If my understanding is correct, I would imagine it would be REALLY REALLY hard to cover the material offered in the regular class AND the AP material. Yikes!!! No wonder there is no time for discussion.

As a Biology univ professor and considering the enormous growth of Biology in the last 20 years, I would think it nigh impossible to squeeze it into one year. I imagine that physics is similar (and chem if we had an AP class).

So I am not bashing the teachers that teach these courses, I hear great things happen in the classrooms. But I do wonder if the model used in Amherst is similar to those in other HSs. If it isn't then I expect a rationale for why our approach was chosen.

To anon@221
I am entirely in favor of NATIONAL standards and very much hope the Obama admin is successful in creating a common National assessment that replaces individual states (like MCAS).

In order for Colleges and Univ to offer AP HS credit they have to know what material was covered as these course often replace college courses where that material would be covered. I don't think there is anyone stopping schools from offering advanced courses that differ in substance from AP courses.

VWS said...

I am a student at ARHS who does not learn the way other people do.

I cant go into academic classes and not think about art. What drives me to do well in our school is ceramics, its drawing, its stained glass, painting...

I am a senior, so this shouldn't bother me, right? I wont be here next year... but I am fighting for all the other kids who are like me; the kids who go to school to watch creations emerge from their brains that they didn't even know they had. I am fighting for the kids who think of themselves as "dumb" until they enter the art studios and become brilliant. If you cant understand how important that feeling is, than I don't know what kind of people you are.

lise said...


I am not an expert on AP science curriculum - but here is how it works for my kids at Deerfield Academy, which is very AP focused. All science classes are year-long and accelerated classes cover more material faster than the regular class.

AP Biology is usually a second year course - although a few students take the AP test after the first-year accelerated Bio class (although they go to a series of extra help sessions to cover additional material for the test that is not taught in the course).

Many students take the AP Physics B (lower level) if they are doing well in the first year accelerated Physics course. The higher level AP Physics C is taught as a second year course. Some of my daughter's friends in public school in eastern Mass also chose to take the Physics B AP test after first year honors Physics.

AP Chem is a second year course.

Keep in mind this may be changing since the school is in the process of switching to a Physics first curriculum.

And by the way DA also offers AP Art and AP Design/Photography. The AP test is a portfolio of work, and earns credit at many colleges and universities. This same portfolio can be the basis of an application to an art program or application arts supplement. It is something that could be a great option at ARHS for students like VWS, since assembling a portfolio is probably already part of advanced art classes.

Anonymous said...

Except that Abby thinks the "ARTs contribute very little to practical the practical needs of the country" so I don't expect her to be supporting an AP arts class anytime soon.

I am glad to see, however, that Deerfield Academy recognizes and values art. The more I hear about DA through Lise on this blog the more impressed I am with that school. It is surely worth looking into.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the typo on Abbie's quote. That quote should have been: "the ARTs contribute very little to the practical needs of the country"

Also my apologies for mis-spelling Abbie's name.

Abbie said...

Hi Lise
thanks for the info but I don't think it's fair to compare what ARHS offers to Deerfield until ARHS has Saudi princes donating buildings (right?) and probably an endowment that exceeds UMass. I do wonder though what other public HSs do, particularly those considered our peers.

BTW I think having art electives is great, I just think Science and Math should have higher priority and that they have more societal value. That said I am voting for an override because I think the proposed cuts are unacceptable.

If I understand the HS has a 2 year requirement for Math and Science. Someone correct me if I am wrong...that means a student could graduate without having ANY physical sciences (ie physics or chemistry). A student could graduate with just the new course (ecology/earth science) and biology. A point of discussion could be that with this new course the science requirement could instead be 3 years. Wasn't a rationale that having this course would excite students so much that they would want to take MORE science courses. If this hasn't happened then I think the decision to offer it should be reevaluated, regardless of how great the course is.

lise said...

Abbie and Anon 5:06
I want to clarify here. I provided the information on the AP classes at DA to provide some factual information in answer to Abbie’s question. I completely agree with Abbie that it is only marginally relevant to the discussion about ARHS. However, I believe it is relevant in saying that most students taking an AP science test have more than one year of study in that science, with perhaps the exception of the lower level physics test. Maybe the college board site provides some of those statistics?

DA has superb academics, but it serves a very specific type of self-selecting academically driven student. And yes, the average family income is probably off the charts. It is not a program to be emulated or imitated by a public high school –because it is not a transferable model, and it would not serve the needs and interests of a more academically diverse student population. It is a college preparatory boarding school environment, and in fact there are many weird and uncomfortable things about being a day student there.

My children chose it for their own very personal reasons that do not reflect on ARHS. I do not believe that many other students would make that choice, even those that are academically driven. I am not proposing it as a model or comparison for a public school.

And finally Abbie I agree with you. The biggest issue in science at ARHS is that you can graduate without ever taking a physical science course. I think that is scientific illiteracy, and unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Lise and Abbie for this very thoughtful discussion. If only more of the posts on this blog could be this type of thoughtful dialog.

I know that there are many who think we need to bump up ARHS science requirement to 3 years. And Lise things that not having any physical science is a real drawback to a students career and life. My comment is that none of my three kids who graduated from ARHS ever took a physical science couse that their life is progressing very nicely, thank you. Two out of three successfully graduated from college, one is raising a beautiful family and the other is in graduate school. All without ever taking a physical science in high school.

I understand that there is a population of students who are very interested in the sciences and will probably take as much science as they can. And having environmental science in 9th grade sounds like it could be problematic for the folks interested in science from taking the course they would like to take. I do support looking closely ar out 9th grade science choices (in other words I support there being a choice and not a mandated environmental science class).

But not everyone is a science major...and it is possible to have a successful college career and happy life w/o taking a physical science. What works for some does'nt work for everyone and we should not make everyone take 3 or more years of science.

Thanks again for a good discussion. This is when this blog is useful and interesting.

Nina Koch said...


I noticed this statement in your post:

"AP Statistics would not replace the stained glass class, it would most likely replace one section of AP Calculus. Except for a few textbooks it is budget neutral."

At a bigger school that might end up being true, but at ARHS it would not. Unfortunately, both AP Chem and AP Stat would cost an extra section (.2 of a teacher) because neither offering would draw directly from a single course. Instead it would pull five kids here, eight kids here, something like that. So it's not budget neutral. And the textbooks are actually really expensive for those courses because they have to be certified as a college text.

Even so, I would prefer decisions like that to be made on the basis of educational goals rather than cost. We should consider what it is that we are trying to accomplish and then look at what curricular offerings help us accomplish that best. We shouldn't be deciding what to offer based on what we can afford, but it has gotten to that point.

As for your concern about students graduating without taking a physical science, that is addressed on the new website:

If we decide to change graduation requirements as part of the NEASC re-evaluation, then it would be even less of an issue. I support a re-examination of graduation requirements.

I think scientific and quantitative literacy are areas of great concern in our society as a whole. For me, it's not so much the number of years required as it is the understanding developed in the classes. That's why so many national organizations are calling for major reform in math and science education. I would like to see this criterion applied to each class: are kids being asked to think and to reflect on their thinking?

Nina Koch said...

To Cory, ACR, ARHS Senior:

I think you are doing a good job of expressing your sentiments, especially ACR who refined and restated his or her views to clarify intent.

It's too bad that some of the adults are saying things like "Thanks for the entertainment" or calling you names. That's what I meant in the Graphic when I said that the blog sometimes involves adults behaving badly. But, clearly you can hold your own.

Enjoy your long weekend.

Abbie said...

Nina thanks,

I am glad you are open to discussion and understand ("I think scientific and quantitative literacy are areas of great concern in our society as a whole.") I see common ground.

Its not just me and a few heretics that think improving math and science education is an educational priority (#1) in the US. There are a lot of folks smarter than me and more knowledgeable about k-12 math and science who say this is important.

For those interested look at and check out some of their stuff, like Project 2061.

Abbie said...

and Nina,

just to be fair we don't know it was "an adult behaving badly"...but regardless they did.

A said...

Here's my two cents, for those who care:

I'm a student at ARHS, and that means i know the school pretty damn well.

I have taken two different wood shop classes (wood tech and wood carving) and i loved both of them. So, of course, i want to fight with all my heart to stop my beloved Stewart Olsen from being let go, and my precious shop from being turned into god-knows-what. If i did that, it would undoubtedly turn into a parent-student argument, and no one would win (but everyone would think they did, in fact, "win"). But the majority of my sadness comes not from the wood program being lost, but from the teacher. There is not one teacher in the entire school who cares about the students as much as that man. By god, he cares SO much he's a safety freak! The first thing any student will notice when they walk into his class room is what's written on the white board, in big purple letters: "choose a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life." He has found happiness in his work, he says (there's no better job in the world, in Stewart's eyes), and all he wants is for our lives to end up the same way.

Is this not what school is for? To prepare for life, yes, but also to prepare for happiness?

And so it makes me sad to think of what school truly has become, for the most part. It attempts to assimilate all students into what is seen to be ideal. If one falls short of this impossible A+ in a given subject, they need to work harder. They need "help." Or could it possibly be that that given area is not their expertise? Society has made school a no-brainer, everyone goes. Seldom do people question how these "essential" skills are going to help us in our day to day future lives. And when we do, often the answer is nothing short of non-existent.

Parents: how often have you had to know the name of the third king in ancient mesopotamia, the years which he governed, the rules which he instilled? How often are you asked to use what is considered one of the highest skills a highschooler can learn--calculus? Much of school is little more than brain olympics. And guess what, I'm a star olympian; i blindly do my homework, i stare at squiggles on the whiteboard and furiously take notes. And when i come home at the end of the day, i can't stand to think for another second. My brain is about to explode. And this is why electives are so important. Why should all activities in school be hard, and why should they all be oriented to this one ideal and impossible-to-embody student. The answer is this, "that is just how it is." It's terribly frustrating to hear that, you know.

And to those who say that some students WANT to take AP classes, i do not disagree. But I'm willing to bet the number is smaller then you think. I take AP classes because that's what im supposed to do, im supposed to challenge myself (even if i will forget all the information by the end of the next trimester). I'm sure I'm not the only one.

And so i hope some people have SOMETHING to say about this. Because i, too, have so much more to say.

Anonymous said...

I cannot agree with the above post more.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Many comments from me:

ARHS mom - I believe that the students should have checked their facts before writing that piece ... or at least contacted me (which journalists often do before publishing a story). Maybe this is now a teachable moment for these kids!

Anonymous 1:07 - it is certainly true that AP classes can save money ... let's just remember to watch the tone here, and keep a positive and constructive attitude!

Cory - thanks for using your name, and sharing your thoughts. Two things from me - no one has discussed in additions to the curriculum for next year. However, most high schools we compare ourselves to offer AP chemistry and AP statistics (e.g., Northampton High, Springfield High, all of the other schools that are part of the Minority Student Achievement Network, etc.). I guess it is surprising to me that ARHS students would be less interested in these classes than students in other districts -- and you might be surprised by how many students actually would find these classes interesting. In a lot of places students who are less interested in math take AP statistics instead of calculus because statistics is more applicable to a range of majors (e.g., psych, econ, etc.). And I really hope no one flames you!

Cheerful - I too am glad to hear from high school students (and I've already been contacted privately by some HS students as well, which is GREAT!). I am hopeful that less thick skin will be required.

ARHS senior - I agree that student voices need to be heard ... and hope that all voices (student and otherwise) will be respected. In terms of AP classes -- I think we should offer students at ARHS the same opportunities that students have at most other high schools in our comparison group -- and yes, that includes AP chemistry and AP statistics. That doesn't mean students have to take more AP classes ... it could mean students could take DIFFERENT AP classes. It would also open up the doors to a math AP class for students who aren't able to take AP calculus because they didn't have 8th grade algebra (which is the majority of students in Amherst), which I think is a real advantage.

Still Cheerful - the editorial was indeed wrong on the basic facts, and I find it really discouraging that the piece was published without confirming those facts (and I was never contacted). I hope that a correction is made in the next edition.

Anonymous 10:04 - I share your interest in learning where the students got their information about my views. If any student posters know the answer to this question, please share it!

Anonymous 12:31 - they couldn't have gotten this information from my blog or an SC meeting or the newspaper, since I never advocated for the positions I'm described as sharing. So, they somehow received misinformation about my views, and then wrote a column based on that misinformation.

Anonymous 1:00 - columns are opinions but they are based on facts ... so, they could write an oped describing my opposition to the current 9th grade ecology requirement and their disagreement with that position, which would be their opinion about my actual opinion (and yes, newspaper columns do this all the time). But they should not write an oped describing my opposition to teaching Latin in our schools and their disagreement with that position, since that is not actually my position (and newspaper don't do that all the time -- or ever).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

ACR - thank you for your thoughtful post ... and I know that you wrote yesterday in the heat of the moment, and I am not offended by what you said (and you have cuts to apologize today for it). Thank you!

I know that we have to make though cuts, and if you have ideas about how to make these cuts, share them -- send them to me privately or post them on this blog. The SC has already said that we are not willing to have students go to three study halls, which was the initial suggestion by the principal, because we did NOT want HS students to have to spend 20% of their time in study hall!

I'm concerned about the negativity you expressed towards APs, and I have to wonder if the trimester system is making some of these classes feel more rushed. I attended a meeting at the high school a few years ago with a social studies teacher (Cheryl Johnson, I think?) who has now retired, and I remember her describing how rushed teaching was under the trimester compared to the semester (she has been through both at ARHS). Your comments make me wonder if the slower pace of a semester would better allow for learning material -- again, this is the type of thing that we could really examine (including by comparisons to other districts since most do use the semester).

Anonymous 2:21 - thank you for your nice apology for the misunderstanding you had with ACR! Very nice modeling!

Abbie - you are exactly right ... in Amherst we teach both AP biology and AP physics as students' FIRST experience with these disciplines. That is very, very unique. In most other districts, students have a year each of the core sciences (bio, chem, physics) and then have an AP class in a science of their choice that FOLLOWS the introductory class. That may well help explain why science AP classes may feel so rushed in Amherst -- and is the type of thing that could easily be compared with the experience of students in other districts in which AP classes represented students' second exposure to material, not their first.

VWS - I share your view that art classes (and other electives) are very important. That is one of the reasons why I advocated at the last SC meeting for increasing class sizes in the core academic classes so that we could maintain more elective options.

Lise - the Deerfield approach to AP classes in science is also the approach used in many other (less competitive) high schools, including Newton, Brookline, Northampton, etc. I actually don't know of another high school in which students START a discipline with an AP class.

For those who haven't followed the debate regarding the new required ecology/environmental science class in 9th grade, when this course was first proposed (fall of 2007), the suggestion was that the highest achieving 9th graders would take AP Environmental Science (which the College Board recommends be taken AFTER taking a full year of biology and a full year of chemistry). This decision was changed (less than a month before the new course was adopted), but I think it left some parents with the impression that all aspects of the impact of this new requirement really hadn't been thoroughly thought through.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 5:06 - well, Abbie isn't (yet?!?) on the SC, so her view of AP art isn't super-relevant! Are there students out there who think this would be a good addition? I'd like to hear from you if you do.

Abbie - it is indeed true that ARHS only requires two years of science ... and that those years could be ecology/environmental science and biology. That was a point raised, in fact, by Lise when the new course was first proposed. Moreover, even if the requirements changed to three years, kids could then just add a year of anatomy/physiology and still not take any physical science. This was another problem I saw with the new requirement -- in the old system, kids either took earth science/biology OR biology/chemistry. That meant all kids at least had some exposure to physical science. We do have a lower requirement for science than virtually all of our comparison schools, and I find that really concerning.

Anonymous 9:00 - I agree that there has been a really nice exchange of information today ... and thanks for contributing to it! First, I believe that your kids HAD to have had physical science at ARHS (they probably had earth science in 9th grade, given their ages, right?). Second, I totally agree that 9th graders should get to choose the science they want to take and not all be forced to take ecology/environmental science (which may interest some, but not others). It seems odd to me that we let 9th graders choose whether they do traditional math or IMP math, AND we have 9th graders in many different math levels (e.g., ranging from algebra II to geometry to algebra I to pre-algebra) but insist all kids take a particular set of courses in 9th grade.

Nina (at 9:23) - thank you for your thoughtful post. I think we need to consider interest in AP chem and AP statistics, but I also think it is likely that the budget impact would be minimal. We have a VERY small intro to calculus class right now, and that is a good example of a class that could be cut so that AP statistics could be taught instead. Students would likely choose to take AP physics OR AP chemistry, so again, adding an AP chemistry class would simply replace a section of AP physics (so that students could choose the science AP that interested them more). I agree that we should consider educational goals, not just costs (since I imagine we could get funds for new books if needed from other sources). I also think we need to make sure kids at ARHS have the same opportunities as those at other high schools, and to me that means offering the same richness of math/science curriculum.

And I share your belief that we should re-examine the math/science graduation requirement, as well as your admiration for the contributions of the ARHS students on this blog -- I hope to hear from them regularly!

A - thank you for your thoughtful post. I have heard from MANY students how great a teacher Mr. Olson is, and I very much hope we can save wood technology (as I expressed at the last SC meeting). When I think back to my own high school experience, it is certainly the great teachers who stand out (including one in Latin, another in English, and another in AP biology). I'd very much like to hear your thoughts about how the HS can work as well as it can for you and all students -- please keep posting on my blog OR email me privately (

Anonymous 11:29 - please share any thoughts you have about ARHS -- on this blog or privately (see my email above). Thank you for contributing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:00 here. I stand corrected Catherine. You are entirely correct - they did have earth science. I have a few questions about the status of statistics courses at the high school.

Do we currently offer any statistics classes at the high school? Would AP Statistics be the only statistics class available for students to take? Would students be up to the challenge of an AP statistics course if they had not already taken statistics?

And lastly a comment - I think its great that the students are finally participating in this discussion. After all it's their school and they are the customers, if you will. They seem to want to engage in respectful discussion here and I hope the adults will engage with them respectfully also.

Nina Koch said...


We are already canceling the Intro to Calc class, along with Quantitative Reasoning. There is no more wiggle room. The AP Stat would definitely cost another section.

With AP Chem, I am not sure why you believe that all of the students would come from AP Physics. Did someone from the school tell you that? They could just as easily come from Anatomy or Honors Physics or AP Env Sci. It would not cleanly reduce a section, and thus would cost .2 of a teacher.

Our financial straits have definitely brought us to the point where we can no longer provide the education we used to offer. You said you would support the override when we got to that point and we are definitely there.

I am willing to give back my raise in order to save the elective programs that are so meaningful to kids and help make the school what it is. Unfortunately, even that concession would not be enough. Someone recently said each 1% the teachers give back raises $100K. I don't have confirmation on that, but if it's true, then we are nowhere need the figure we need to cut.

Things are seriously bad.

Nina Koch said...

Hi Abbie,

Yes I am familiar with Project 2061 and a number of other reform efforts from national organizations. I have also read the work of Paulos ("Innumeracy" etc), which I find very compelling.

Now it may just be me seeing these arguments through my own filters, but I feel that the call for reform is asking for a fundamentally different pedagogy-- not an intensification of the traditional pedagogy. There are plenty of people my age and older who went through a traditional curriculum and promptly proceeded to forget everything they learned in school. It was never meaningful to them, so they didn't retain any of it. I get "math advice" calls from friends sometimes and usually the concept they are having trouble with goes back to elementary school mathematics (ratio and proportion).

I feel like traditional pedagogy has had its chance, and failed. The adult population is evidence of that. We need a curriculum where learners construct their own understandings and internalize the concepts. Even if they eventually forget a particular skill, self-directed learners can recreate the knowledge when they need it. I think that is a lot healthier than producing people who always need to be told what to do.

ACR said...

First and foremost, I would like to thank you, Catherine, for responding to each and every comment written on your blog. This certainly takes time and it shows that you really care, and I appreciate that greatly.

Second of all, I would like to thank you, Ms. Koch for providing facts from a teacher's point of view. You are acting as a great inspiration in this debate, and thank you for showing the students support.

I would like to clarify a few things. This year, the AP Biology two trimester course was the only AP Bio course offered (ARHS usually offers both two trimester and three trimester) for that reason, everyone (or at the least the great majority) enrolled in AP Biology this year took a biology class freshman or sophomore year. With that said, two years have elapsed since they studied biology, and the students probably don't remember much from the first biology class they took. My understanding is that they are getting rid of the two trimester course next year and only offering the three trimester course, which would mean that students have a year to learn the necessary material.

However, with classes like AP Physics, students have never studied physics before enrolling in this class. From what I have heard about this course from my friends is that it is extremely challenging and rushed. However, everyone enrolled in AP Physics must also be enrolled in AB or BC Calculus, so if anyone can handle a challenging course load, it is the AP Physics students.

I think the idea of switching from trimesters to semesters is something that should be seriously reworked and reconsidered. I know that teachers and students alike were VERY opposed to the idea when it was presented by Mr. Jackson last year (for very good reasons-such as lack of preparation time for increased classes). However, when I discussed the trimester/ semester debate with Mr. Jackson, he brought up very valid ways it could help us solve some of the problems that the budget cuts produce.

Lastly, I think the increase of student blog comments shows that we should institute some sort of meeting between interested students and the School Committee. I believe students are welcomed at SC meetings, and I plan to attend the next one. However, if we are able to set something up between students, the SC, and high school teachers/ admins, I feel that we could get a lively dialogue going that may help clear up misconceptions and will give students a real voice in this.

Abbie said...

Hi Nina

I agree the push is to reform Math and Science education not just provide more of the same. That said I think at present folks don't really know "how" to do that. I think the new science course could be wonderful. My concern (and I think CS) is what are the consequent options that result from this change. Until there is the accepted curricular reform, I wouldn't want our students potentially being exposed to LESS sciences which seems "could" be an unintended consequence of the new 9th grade class. So (1) I wonder if students now take fewer science courses (9th grade class making up one year of the 2 year requirement)? (2) Could we discuss the merits of placing this class in 8th grade?

I don’t agree with your opinion that “I feel like traditional pedagogy has had its chance, and failed.” Try telling that to a lot of successful folks who had it. To me the question is would a different pedagogy work BETTER (with current or even unlimited resources)? I don’t think we have the answer to that yet but folks are working on it…

I think that whenever a new course or program is offered it needs to be closely scrutinized even though the best intentions are behind it. The process is critical! For example, the Chinese program at WW. Who wouldn’t think it is a great idea, right? But what if we asked the question, because we will be teaching Chinese the kids will lose 1.5-2 hr of instruction time/week- is that acceptable? I happen to think a lot of kids might be hurt by that lost time and it’s something to consider. I don’t know what happened at the time when it was first being considered but I can say I was at the SC mtg when continuing the program was discussed (if you could call it a "discussion"). Both CS and I brought up the idea we that we ought to examine whether kids achievement was being affected by the decreased instruction time. I can tell you NO ONE (other SC members, Sups, or the woman directing the Chinese program) appeared in slightest bit curious even, let alone agreed it was something important to consider when deciding whether to continue the program. We might as well as spoken Chinese for all that got through to folks on that issue. I found that experience enlightening and I completely share CS frustration about the PROCESS. BTW it is no surprise to me that many groups failed AYP at WW this year. I wonder whether having 1.5-2hr/week less instruction time contributed?
I would absolutely not support world languages in the ESs UNLESS that time was made up, for example by no early release on Wednesdays.

Nina Koch said...

Hi Abbie,

I agree there have been problems with process, although you and I may not choose the same examples of that. Responsibility for curriculum leadership has shifted multiple times. I think when Jere was here I counted five different places that it landed just during his tenure. I was really hoping that we would be able to hire the assistant superintendent for curriculum last summer. We definitely need someone in that position.

In my previous post, though, I was referring to the national debate as opposed to particular practices at arps. When I say that traditional pedagogy has failed, I am holding it to the standard of quantitative literacy for the average adult. I don't believe we (as a society) have ever met that standard. I recognize that a minority of people have prospered under traditional pedagogy, but unfortunately they are a small fraction of the population (the fraction that understands fractions).

The NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) standards have been around for 25 years now and even after all of the revisions and discussion, the message of the standards remains the same: math teaching has to change. We have to move beyond asking students to memorize meaningless procedures. Project 2061 and other organizations have very similar messages about the way in which teaching has to change. In fact, I am wondering if you actually agree with 2061. They have a very constructivist stance. If you look at their textbook reviews, you can see that clearly. I'm not sure of the nature of your objections to Investigations, but it's possible that the same objections would apply to the positions advocated by Project 2061.

You said that people haven't figured out the "how" yet, but I think that there are some people who have. Some of the standards-based curriculum projects (funded by NSF) are very well thought-out, have been revised after multiple trials, and have an established track record. IMP would be an example of this. So I think there are options we can turn to if we decide we are serious about making some of these changes. It would be a huge effort, though, to educate the public and to retrain teachers.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Anonymous 9/7:30 - we now offer a class called "mathematical modeling" which is a type of statistics class. However, this class would NOT give students college credit, as an AP statistics class would. Other high schools that offer AP statistics (and this includes all of the MSAN schools except Eugene, Oregon, plus many local schools, like Northampton, Springfield, and Longmeadow) do not require a basic statistics class first -- just algebra II (which most of our students have in junior year). So, students who have algebra II in junior year aren't eligible for AP calculus their senior year (they take precalculus/trig), adding AP statistics would be a great way for these students to get a math AP in -- which could help them with college admissions and gaining college credits.

I share your appreciation for the participation of the students!

Nina (at 8:59) - I've talked to several curriculum directors in other districts, and what they report is that students typically take AP statistics OR AP calculus, but not both (and we typically don't allow doubling up on math anyway). So, it seems to me that adding an AP statistics class could draw students away from AP calculus and we'd perhaps offer a fewer section of that class. Similarly, we have 53 kids in 3 sections of math modeling (which is statistics, but not AP statistics), and thus perhaps we'd just offer AP statistics instead (they have the same requirements anyway in terms of prerequisites). Similarly, most curriculum directors report that kids take a year of each of the core sciences (bio, chem, physics), and then take a second advanced year in an AP of their choice -- so, I think it is likely that students who now choose AP physics could choose AP chemistry, and thus not require more teachers. But if we did have to choose something to cut to find room for AP chemistry, I think that would certainly be worth discussing. We offer anatomy/physiology to 35 students in two sections each year -- that could be one possible change. We also offer AP environmental science, and although I've heard that class is great, I think we may well see a reduction in numbers for this class since students already will have had a class in the environment. Again, other high schools seem to find a way to offer all of the core science APs, so I'm not sure why we can't.

In terms of the override -- I am not sure why we spend so much more than other districts in western MA and still can't seem to offer what they offer in terms of classes and have kids in study halls more. To support an override, I would need to understand how we are spending our money, which I am working really hard to learn more about.

And I think there are other ways to improve education in the high school that don't necessarily involve more money -- for example, moving to a semester system would provide, for the same staffing we have now and the same number of classes and at the same cost, a 6% increase in time spent in class (86.6% versus 92.8%). That strikes me as something that would benefit education and yet not cost anything (other than the one-time tradition costs of new books, etc.). I think tax payers need to know that the district is focused on finding ways to improve education in a variety of ways BEFORE simply asking for more money.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

ACR - thanks for your thoughtful post - it is great to have you contributing! ARHS students should know that in other districts, students typically have a year of a class before an AP, and that may well make certain AP classes a lot easier. I imagine it also better prepares students for the AP tests, and allows teachers more flexibility to explore different topics.

I think high school students should be VERY interested in learning about the semester system, which most other schools use. For example, as I've pointed out above, for the same money we are spending now, on a semester system you would still have 13 classes but only ONE study hall. That would mean a lot more class time and time for instruction. Remember, most high schools meet for the same number of hours a day. If you are taking AP biology in a two trimester sequence, you are spending 13.4% of your school year in this class. A student in a school with a more traditional 7-period schedule would take this class for two semesters, and thus spend 14.3% of their time in this class. That may seem like a small difference, but having an extra 1% of time to learn something each day, each week can really add up over a semester/school year. The other advantage of the semester is you don't have breaks in learning -- meaning you don't miss having exposure to something for 3 months (or longer), which may be very helpful to retaining information. This may be why most other high schools use a semester system!

Finally, I think it would be great for you and other students to share your thoughts about the budget: you can come to SC meetings (there is public comment at the beginning), you can meet with SC members privately (I already have some meetings with students scheduled), and/or you can talk with Mark Jackson (who ultimately makes the recommendations -- NOT the SC). Let me know if you have more questions/thoughts, and thanks again for your kind words.

Abbie (at 4:12) - I think you really hit the nail on the head ... the big issue for me is indeed process. And the results that I've seen first-hand in the district are very discouraging. The HS adopted the trimester system about 10 years ago, and at the time, several teachers spoke against it (I've read the SC minutes), and SC members asked that it be evaluated. It was never evaluated. The Chinese program has never been evaluated.

So, when the science teachers proposed the new course, several parents asked how it would be evaluated, and the SC said it would be evaluated. It hasn't been, and I don't see any evidence that it will be (even the notes from the science teachers on the HS website states that our district really doesn't have the capacity to evaluate!). We may very well then never evaluate this program, but continue to have it for 10/15 years ... and will just assume that it was a good idea. It is very clear that the choice to require ecology/environmental science in 9th grade changes students' science options -- they have to take AP bio as their first course in bio (not their second), they can't take AP chemistry (if we were to offer it) if they take any physics. The idea of offering this class in 8th grade was suggested by parents at the meeting in which the SC adopted it (this option was rejected by the HS science teachers), as was the idea of making it an option for students who WANTED to take this but not requiring it (this option was also rejected).

Anonymous said...

The school recently created a Student School Committee Advisory Board.
I'm sure you could look into that.