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, February 15, 2010

Easthampton 4th-graders lead the way on statewide math test

Note: Given the interest in elementary school math on this blog, I'm posting this article about MCAS success in the Easthampton schools. And I checked already to see what math curriculum they use: Everyday Math, which, interestingly, has been identified as effective by the "What Works Clearinghouse" (

Hampshire Gazette
By Owen Boss
Monday, February 15, 2010

EASTHAMPTON - According to the latest results of a new study measuring academic growth based on MCAS scores, math teachers in Easthampton's elementary schools must be doing something right.

In an attempt to draw from more than just overall scores, education officials have begun taking measurements based on a growth model, which compares each student's progress on the MCAS test to that of other students with similar past performance.

The idea behind the new approach, according to Kenneth Rocke, director of the Pioneer Valley District and School Assistance Center, is to track which teaching methods are producing the best results and implement them at schools statewide.

Addressing the School Committee last Thursday night, Rocke explained that as new director of the local assistance center, one of six regional centers being created across the commonwealth, he has been charged with providing technical and leadership support to Level 3 district schools across the Pioneer Valley, of which there are 22.

"We are still in the process of hiring our staff and getting things together," Rocke said. "We will be adding full-time English, math, and literacy specialists soon and we will be working with districts to improve overall performance."

Intrigued by Easthampton

In the process of getting the new center rolling, Rocke and others have begun making 90-minute visits to schools across the Valley to get to know students, faculty and staff. Rocke said he was especially excited to get to Easthampton, where an analysis of fourth-grade math students produced encouraging results.

"When I looked at Easthampton's report before I came by to meet with the superintendent and the curriculum director, I wanted to know if they had been doing anything unusual with fourth-grade math students," Rocke said.

The reason he was excited to ask, Rocke said, was that, when compared with others with similar academic success, local students had outscored almost every other group statewide, and stood alone among schools with a far lower percentage of students from low-income families. An estimated 41 to 50 percent of students in Easthampton schools are considered low-income.

"When we see that the data is saying one thing, and we can confirm that teachers there have been focusing on that subject, that is at least a preliminary indication that those efforts are really causing that increase," Rocke said.

Superintendent Deborah Carter called the growth model's findings "absolutely fascinating."

"This means that of the districts that performed better than students in Easthampton, of which there is a very small number, they are all schools with 20 percent or fewer of their students who come from low-income families."

Rocke said the results show that teachers here are succeeding, and that he has to find out how to take whatever it is that is working in Easthampton and re-create it in schools across Massachusetts.

"Our theory of action is to find things that are working well in schools, analyze what the conditions are that caused that increase in achievement, and advise schools statewide to do more of the same," Rocke said.

The growth model is based on only two years of data. The 2008 growth percentiles were calculated for students in grades 4 through 8 who took MCAS test in the same subject in 2007.

Owen Boss can be reached at


Cathy C said...


I have had GREAT experience with Everyday Math. I would really support Amherst looking into using this program in the elementary schools. The Home Connection booklets that accompany the classroom curriculum are really useful for parents - even those good at math.

Since it comes from the University of Chicago, it is prevelent in the mid-west, but used nationally.

I hope the next math curriculum review is soon.

Anonymous said...


I'm a secondary school teacher with two elementary kids (not in Amherst), and Everyday Math inspires confidence and hard work in my kids. I am far from a math or primary years expert, but to me it appears to be both challenging and coherent.

It does rely on everyday home involvement, I'd add.

My older child has been tested on the IOWAs and scored in the highest percentile in Math. My youngest, not yet tested, seems to be following a similar confident, interested path. One girl, one boy.

Ed said...

As one who administered Sect 8 housing in Easthampton (and Amherst), I can add something else. While the population may be more "white", there most definitely is more poverty and social breakdown issues in Easthampton than Amherst.

The whole community is poor in a way that Northampton (let alone Amherst) simply isn't. Almost all of my jaw-dropping experiences of "how can children survive this" stuff happened in Easthampton.

So you are not talking a peer community to Amherst here. (The reverence to poverty in the story kinda touches on that.) And, notwithstanding this, if they can do better than Amherst in teaching math -- well this is where we start sending up flares and try to get the attention of those who consider the Amherst schools to be beyond question....

Ken said...

According to Department of Education statistics, Easthampton schools are 26% low income (free and reduced lunch). The Amherst elementary district is 32%.

Ed said...

According to Department of Education statistics, Easthampton schools are 26% low income (free and reduced lunch). The Amherst elementary district is 32%.

Possibly. However, how many of the 32% are the children of UM grad students???

All I can say is have you ever BEEN to Easthampton? Adams Street? The old duplexes in the neighborhood known as Green-something? The neighborhood behind the old Fire Station? Not the nice sections like the newer developments at the foot of the mountain off 141 but the old factory housing?

The problem I have with the DoE reduced/free lunch stat is that it is a binary threshold and neither really tells one of the depths of poverty on one side nor the extent of affluence on the other.

A poor child in Amherst is living in either an AHA 508 subsidized unit, a project subsidized unit (eg Mill Valley) or has a Sect 8 voucher because there is no way the family could afford an apartment otherwise. That is not true in Easthampton.

And while both may be low-income, there is a major difference between the child of two UM graduate students (finishing doctorates) and the single mother with a 10th grade education (and possible psychological issues).

Likewise - and the college kids skew the stats - but I suspect that you will find that the median and modal income of the parents not qualifying for subsidized lunches to be quite a bit higher in Amherst. Not just the mean, but median/mode.

Furthermore, subsidized lunches only go to those families who are together enough to apply for them - and who aren't too proud to do so. That is an independent variable that may cause significant variance.

So I go back to personal observation. I have worked public housing in both communities and I STILL say that Easthampton is poorer. I may be wrong but I would caution people into using common sense relative to the DoE stat -- next time you want to go to the Holyoke Mall, take Route 10 out of Hamp and hang a left onto 141 (it will bring you out onto I-91 on the other side of the mountain). Just drive through there with your eyes open....

Ed said...

Racism in Amherst is different:

What we have are a bunch of rich white people - along with a few token minorities so they can feel good - who know what they need to do to get their children a private-school education at public expense.

These are the Princeton and Harvard alumni who have the social network to navigate through the hidden sorting systems. And those with political pull in town - or friends in the school system - also know how to do this navigation.

And then we have everyone else. And everyone else is pi**ed at the poor quality of the schooling that THEY are getting. And it technically is not racism because this is being done on the basis of pedigree and not skin color.

And how is it different?

And then you have someone like Catherine who truly believes in Social Justice and actually tries to implement it and all the bigots come out of the woodwork. Heaven forbid that "our" children (Mark's Meadow) be forced to go to school with "them" (the chronic low income and working class kids).

And I am not going to make any friends with GEO but I will say this: graduate students may be low income RIGHT NOW, ON PAPER, but two facts remain - first we know that we will shoot to upper income in 5 years, and second, we are able to provide the home-school support to our children on the level that someone in the 100K income bracket can -- and this is culturally where we are at.

If your mother already has a Master's degree, there is a fairly good chance you entered school already knowing how to read....

If your mother dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, if your mother is a DMH client, there is a fairly good chance that not only will you not know how to read, but you are bringing a lot of social issues stuff to that school.

This is why I argue that we need to start capturing parent educational attainment levels upon enrollment. Income is less relevant than this - and we need to distinguish between the academic ghettos and the real ones!

Anonymous said...

What % of pupils in the Amherst schools are children of grad students? Is this info collected?

Ed keeps bringing this up, so, let's see some facts.

Grad students come in all flavors. Some are doing pretty well, others are just (or not quite) getting by, and some live in their own single family homes, having gone back to school in their 30s or 40s to change or extend careers.

The typical penny-pinching 20-something grad student with small kids you, Ed, seem to be talking about, does that person really exist in large enough numbers to matter? My spouse teaches at UMass; few of the grad students in the dept have kids. They are the rare exception, not the rule. Maybe some departments are more fecund than others.

Mary said...

Catherine, thank you so much for posting this. This is exactly the kind of information we need to know about curriculum that works and I salute you for your data-based approach to improving the public schools in Amherst. My family and I wholeheartedly support you and the theory of action that we should be looking at other school districts to see what works best. When we vote on March 23 we will be supporting candidates who also favor this approach. I noticed in the article that Easthampton has a curriculum director. Do we have one for the elementary schools? Many thanks, Mary

Ed said...

The typical penny-pinching 20-something grad student with small kids you, Ed, seem to be talking about, does that person really exist in large enough numbers to matter?

If I am wrong, I am wrong - but UM does seem to have an awful lot of children for its elementary-aged children activities and they are coming from somewhere....

Anonymous said...

More from DOE:
Total # pupils
Amherst (elem) 1382
EH (elem only)650

First language not English and not English proficient combined:
EH: 8.4%
Amherst: 34.1% (elem)

Isn't Amherst already in a group of "comparable districts" across the state, of which Easthampton would not be one? I mean, look at those differences!

Half the students, 1/4 the number of ELL kids!

Sure it's interesting (and wonderful) that EH has had success with that curriculum, but how does that info apply to Amherst?

Anonymous said...

It's of interest simply because they use a different curriculum than Amherst and it just so happens to be the one CS has repeatedly stated she prefers.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in learning more about what they are doing in Easthampton to improve math skills and knowledge and close the achievement gap. This article provides some details but not much. I hope people don't start taking positions (usual or just quick ones) based on this article.

Nina Koch said...

I would say that the article provides very little information, capped by a highly misleading headline. The headline implies that Easthampton has some of the highest MCAS scores in the state and that is not at all true. Notice that the article doesn't even give any actual scores, either for growth or for overall achievement level.

I think it was a little premature for this organization to infer causation based on one year's worth of growth data. If you do that, then you have a lot of explaining to do. Here is some data for Easthampton's 4th grade math scores:

("CPI" stands for Composite Performance Index -- a measure of achievement on the test)

CPI Growth
81.9 58.5

CPI Growth
85.3 73.0

So being in the 73rd percentile for growth in 2009 is very good. But why did it jump suddenly from the previous year, when it was 58.5? Is there a causal explanation for that jump? Were the 4th grade teachers suddenly better in 2009? Was the curriculum suddenly implemented more effectively? Or are we seeing variation due to chance? It's not at all clear.

And why does both achievement and growth suddenly drop off in the 5th grade in Easthampton? As seen in the figures below, the growth rate is markedly below the state average (which by definition is at the 50th percentile).

5th grade 2008
CPI Growth
71.1 23.5

5th grade 2009
CPI Growth
71.1 30.0

The 5th grade is in the middle school in Easthampton, I believe, so that might be explanatory. But before I went looking for a cause I would want to see several years of data that showed such a difference.

And by the way, this is what the 5th grade looks like in Amherst
CPI Growth
81.9 62.0

CPI Growth
80.2 67.0

That little bit of data makes our 5th grade look way better than Easthampton's, but I wouldn't want to draw conclusions based on it.

The 4th grade data for Amherst is:
CPI Growth
81.2 65.0

CPI Growth
80.5 60.0

Something tells me that it doesn't take much to cause those 5 percent swings. I would definitely wait for a five year average before I started going into school districts and holding them up as the model for the rest of the state to emulate.

In fact, if you're going to do that why not pick Mark's Meadow, with this data for 4th grade math in 2009:
CPI Growth
87.5 87.5

Their growth rate for 4th grade math is much higher than Easthampton's and actually is one of the highest in the state (ranks 13th). But again, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are doing something that should or could be replicated across the state. It merits a closer look, but not an immediate conclusion.

I think, as with so many things, this picture is very complicated. It's not like you can just say, "Oh look at that school. We should do what they do."

Anonymous said...

Thank you Nina. What a very intelligent and well-written response.

Folks, did it not occur to you that the Gazette piece was a nice bit of PR coming out of the Easthampton schools office?

Schools have to toot their own horns, and do.

Anonymous said...


How about we start with "congratulations Easthampton."

Also, please note that this wasn't PR from the district or school, but from an outside evaluation.

Hmm. Anyone know as SC members calling for outside evaluations? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Anonymous said...

Actually- there was no evaluation done- just an analysis of the statistics.

Ken said...

Congratulations, Northampton.

But Nina's reply is also very thorough and exactly what I found. But to me, even more interesting is that apparently Catherine believes it is quite valid to use MCAs data to prove the strength of a program if you're Easthapton...

...but not Amherst. When I used MCAS data simply to combat the charge that Amherst's math program is weak, Catherine and others told me that MCAS data could not really be used to measure the strength of a program.

Everyday Math is--as I wrote a couple of weeks ago--the only elementary math curriclum whose relative strength or weakness is proven by valid-enough research, according to the What Works Clearinghouse. That is useful to know, but it does not mean that only Everyday Math is a good math program. Yet it's also true that programs guarantee nothing, as witnessed by applying Nina's very thoughtful analysis to other grades in E'ho that use the same program, which get less rosy results.

Ed said...

Let's get real here folks.

First, you have to account for the children of North Village where the majority PASSPORT, not ethnicity, is People's Republic of China. You also have to account for the fact that in non-Western cultures, women routinely sacrifice their professional careers for the wellbeing of their children and thus these children are being raised by mohers who would have real jobs if they weren't mothers. Particularly if they were citizens, which many are not, which raises yet another issue.

The simple fact remains that if you segregate the children of well-educated mothers (even if they are't currently working) those children will do better. Surprised????

Let's deal with reality...

Nina Koch said...

I am fine with Everyday Math, because it is a standards-based curriculum. If we were starting from zero, I would say go ahead and buy it. But we're not. The cost of buying a new math curriculum right now would be on the order of the cost of the modulars, a purchase that everyone is now decrying.

I think we would find that adopting Everyday Math would bring with it many of the same concerns that parents have about Investigations, or any standards-based curriculum.

To get a sample of these concerns, check out these blog postings from around the country:

Palo Alto

West Texas


So, it could well happen that after the purchase, parents would be up in arms that we had spent all that money and yet not met their concerns at all. Future school committee members might look back at current school committee members and blame them for making such an ill-advised purchase.

What we need instead is improved implementation of a standards-based curriculum. This involves a lot of teacher training and community education. Unfortunately, we have no curriculum director currently and furthermore we have lost resources like the math coaches who could have helped with this. Successful implementation of Everyday Math requires math coaches just like Investigations does. Check this math philosophy statement from Newton and search on the word "coach." You'll see that the concept of coaching is an integral part of their philosophy.

Anonymous said...

I think you are looking in the rear view mirror here.

Dr. Rodriguez has proposed sweeping changes which will address many of the concerns raised here. Including better tracking, alignment of curriculum year-to-year, across the system, and so on.

To assume that things will remain the same shows an implicit lack of trust in someone we have bet our children's future on.

I think we would be better served by letting him do his job.

Anonymous said...

Nina, I don't think anyone is saying oh, look at that school, let's do what they do. It's more like, look at Crocker Farm, it's a failing school. Let's NOT KEEP DOING WHAT WE HAVE BEEN DOING. And if that means we should look at neighboring schools and try something new, why not. I appreciate your post about the numbers and how important it is to get a sense of the data over time. And I do know that Shutesbury for example, uses the same math curriculum we use in Amherst (at least I think so) and their combined MCAS scores are some of the highest in the state (top 50 according to, whereas Crocker Farm is ranked at #585 on that site). I agree that this is obviously very complicated and not solely a question of curriculum, but these comparisons need to be made, we have something to learn from other districts. My feeling is that the idea that Amherst is special and why should we care about what other districts do is completely flawed and has gotten us to the point where one of our elementary schools is ranked lower than Holyoke and Springfield. Do we have to wait for our property values to decline to the same level for someone to notice and do something about it?

Rick said...

Nina makes a great point at 8:07 PM, which is basically “let’s do it right”. Catherine has always talked about her concern that the process be correct, not that she is in favor of any particular outcome, which I think is great. Nina’s point reinforces that idea.

Anonymous said...

8:31 You say: My feeling is that the idea that Amherst is special and why should we care about what other districts do is completely flawed and has gotten us to the point where one of our elementary schools is ranked lower than Holyoke and Springfield

Two things- once again the Amherst is special red herring. The only people who bring this up are folks like Catherine and Steve, and you.

And I don't know what MCAS data you're looking at but Crocker had better MCAS scores in ALL grades and in ALL subjects then the elementary schools in Holyoke.

Anonymous said...

Nina & Ken- PLEASE keep posting. Just know that many of us appreciate your efforts on behalf of our children.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:31p here again. Sorry about the mistake, you are right. Crocker did fare better than Holyoke on those rankings.

Ken said...

I have said it many times, but I guess I have to keep saying it: NO ONE who has posted on this blog in any of the comments I've read is saying Amherst is special, nor that we should not look to improve or draw from other districts when warranted. It's a total red herring, but apparently there is such a compulsion by some to "prove" Amherst iS BAD and WEAK that any context, or considered use of data, or perspective, is stereotyped as "You're just saying Amherst is special." Ironically, the only stereotyped thinking I've seen on this blog is from those who are so blindered and compelled to prove there is something fundamentally wrong in our schools that you'll let no data or considerd analysis of it stand in the way of your preconceptions and agenda.

I was just about to post Crocker versus Holyoke data when I saw the follow-up post, Anon 8:31. I will add tho, that in many categories (language arts and math, grade by grade), the % of Crocker students in Proficient+Advanced categories is double and even triple that of Holyoke. Springfield is even lower than Holyoke, by the way.

But in the same way that it is very unfair to Springfield and Holyoke to compare them to Crocker because of demographics, it's just as unfair to compare static MCAS data from Crocker to other elementary schools in Amherst, or Amherst schools to Newton, etc. The ONLY (that is to say, O-N-L-Y) valid comparison of MCAS data from the Dept. of Ed's perspective is between demographically similar schools/districts, and/or looking at MCAS growth over time, and looking at each subgroup separately.

Anonymous said...

Just Curious...

I went to just to see what you are all comparing. If anybody is interested, click on MA on the map, then click on School Rankings in the green box, then click Go you will see all the elem schools ranked in MA by combined MCAS scores (make sure it's for elem schools). Click on city to make it alphabetical by city and then you could see exactly where Amherst is compared to some other places. Ken's points are very good about comparing demographics but there are five schools in Springfield that did better than Crocker, and there are schools in Roxbury and Cambridge as well that did better. I'm just sayin'...

Anonymous said...

Ken said: "I have said it many times, but I guess I have to keep saying it: NO ONE who has posted on this blog in any of the comments I've read is saying Amherst is special, nor that we should not look to improve or draw from other districts when warranted. "

We need to keep driving this point home - the ONLY people who keep saying that the Amherst schools think they are special are Catherine, Steve and some people on this blog. Catherine and Steve also seem to think they are the only ones who think the schools can be improved. Catherine even expressed surprise and thanked Nina for also saying that she thought the schools can be improved. Ken is right...this is a total red herring. I am sure that the vast majority of the teachers in the Amherst schools would agree that there are ALWAYS ways that the schools can be improved and I am sure they are always looking for ways to improve the schools.

Saying that the Amherst schools think they are special and/or thinking that only Steve, Catherine and a few people on this blog think the schools can be improved shuts down debate just as surely as saying an idea is racist, classist or any other "ist." Can we please get beyond these simplistic slogans and really listen to each other, really look at the data objectively and critically and work together to make our schools the best that they can be?

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:51AM

It is clear from your post that you fail to connect the dots in our town. Over and over again it has been shown that we do things differently in Amherst than everywhere else in the state despite the evidence of better and more efficient practice elsewhere.

Hence our system costs more and yields less - hurting students and taxpayers.

The implication of saying that Amherst is special is that Amherst doesn't have to pay attention to data, to facts on the ground, because we are Amherst.

Well - some of us have moved here from communities that actually examine best practices before committing to a program or idea, that use data to examine how policies affect outcomes. Such a strategy works because it builds on others mistakes and successes.

It is too bad that many of you who descry criticism - even critical comments made in the interest of our children - cannot see this simple reality.

Nina Koch said...

Looking at data is fine. I don't think anybody said it was bad. But you have to know what you are looking at. Often, looking at data means realizing that you don't have all of the data that you need to draw a conclusion. That's what I tried to point out yesterday when I went and looked at more data.

People who write newspaper articles don't necessarily know very much about looking at data, and people who write headlines seem to know even less. This is not to assign blame; I feel it is just an indicator of the general low level of quantitative literacy in the adult population. In fact, I would point to that as one of the things we need to change in our school system. We need to teach people to be good consumers of information.

As far as looking to other districts, I provided a link to Newton's statement of math education philosophy. I think it is a good statement. I am not averse to looking elsewhere.

Please point to any sentence in either of my postings that suggests that Amherst is special. I would say that theme of my postings tends to be that things are complicated. It's not like there is this one right answer and we just need to look it up and do it.

Ken said...

Anon 5:51: Here's as simple as I can put it--you're wrong.

For example, someone asked me for 10 areas of concern about the schools, and I quickly listed them. I stopped at 10 because I was asked for 10. The issue is that my 10 might not be yours, which gets back to philosophy, an issue that is avoided like the plague on this site, or else dissolves into stereotyping.

But it is useless to keep repeating the same untrue statements, almost like if they're repeated enough they become true. Another completely untrue statement you made is the implication that "my side" doesn't look at data, only yours does. Have you been paying attention? "Your side" just swats aside or explains away or disregards data that doesn't prove your point. It has happened multiple times, and I'm sure will continue to--with the accompanying accustaion that "my side" doesn't use data. It's quite fascinating that you been reading this blog with such thick blinders on that you really don't see this.

In a nutshell, here's the difference about data--I don't just try to use data to prove my prepackaged point, or the axe I want to grind. That is NOT in the best interest of children, that is, of ALL children in town. But "your side" seems to quite a lot.

There's no doubt, things in Amherst can be insufferable at times. Why should the schools be any different? Even on this Amherst-based blog, "your side" doesn't seem to listen to differences of opinion, or REALLY let data guide your thinking--exactly what you accuse the schools of. But if "your side" can't get over the notion that somehow only you have the best interests of the schools/children at heart, that only you look at data, and that only you know the right solutions, then again, dialog is impossible.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:51 here/

Ken, I think you totally misread my post. I agree with you 100% I thought my post indicated I agreed with you.

We need to look at data objectively and thoughtfully and make decisions based on that. We should not look at data with a preconceived notion as to what they are saying. Nina pointed out some flaws with the reading of the data in the Easthampton story.

I don't know how else to say it but to say that I agree with 100% of what you post, Ken. Keep up the good work. You say things that I think but you say them in a much better way than I ever could.

Why don't you run for SC? I know its too late for this year but perhaps you'll consider running next year.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:54:I think that part of the issue, in education especially, is that "best practices" is often determined by where you fall along philosophical divide. For example- many on this blog support early ability grouping in math but a longterm longitudianl study of tracking, widely considered as the gold standard study on this issue, has found that early ability grouping is detriemntal. So in this instance Amherst schools are using a best practice but one with which you disagree. That is just one example. Another is this whole debaate about semester vs. trimester. There has been very little evaluation done about the effectiveness of different types of schedules. Semesters are more widley used, this is true, but because this system is more widely used doesn't necessarily make it a best practice.

And finally- I can see the simple reality: you and folks like you are completely uninterested in engaging in meaningful dialogue on these issues.

Ken said...

Anon 5:51--Youch, my bad! I saw Anon 5:51 at the top of the post I was addressing and that stuck in my brain. Anon 7:54 was the post I meant to reference. I'm sorry! (Wait a minute--is your revenge asking me to run for school committee!?)

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

It is a busy week for me -- three kids home from school on vacation, yet full teaching/research schedule at Amherst College. So, I'm not going to individually reply to each piece here, but I've read them all, and here are my thoughts:

1. I've been a fan of Everyday Math for a while on this blog because there is evidence it works. That's it, and that is a standard that you'll see me consistently embracing. The What Works Clearinghouse has no agenda, no bias -- it just reports findings from valid research. And yes, I believe we should be using a K to 5 math curriculum that works to increase math knowledge in kids (that is my philosophical bias). I don't own stock in Everyday Math, I don't know anyone who works in the company that produces Everday Math, and I didn't run the studies showing it worked.

2. Some have said we/I ignore studies that work and don't fit my values -- and that is just untrue. Ken posted a link of research showing Investigations worked and that link was a promotional site for reform math. That isn't objective, nor is it valid research.

3. Some have said I just like the semester system, but the trimester system might work well too. There are two reasons why I think it is quite clear that the trimester system as practiced in Amherst will NEVER be educationally better: first, it costs more money to provide the same amount of class time (and that means the $300,000 comes out of something else -- so, we have larger class sizes to make up this difference), and second, it requires huge breaks in material (and that means kids are learning geometry or French with 3 to 9 months gaps in teaching). If anyone out there knows of research showing that kids learn better when they repeatedly have a huge gap in learning something, please post it. So, what's the advantage of the trimester? You get one additional class per year, so kids can take a single extra elective, like ceramics, or auto repair, or culinary art, or whatever. But remember, this comes at the COST of minutes spent in the other 14 classes -- it is not like the trimester system extends the school day by 1/15. The extra class you get on the trimester, which is the real advantage of this system, comes at a cost of (a) $300,000, and (b) losing instruction in ALL of the other 14 classes in terms of minutes of learning, and (c) requiring huge gaps in material. I'm not an expert on high school scheduling, but I'm very surprised if this is research showing that having continuous huge breaks in learning material AND less time in instruction helps kids.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

4. Others have noted that I'm in favor of early math tracking, even when research suggests that isn't true. So, let's clarify a number of points here. No one on this blog has said, to the best of my knowledge, lets do math grouping in elementary school (I certainly haven't). We currently have grouping in math in 8th (and no one on this blog to the best of my knowledge has said lets get rid of this). Thus the entire debate is over ONE YEAR: how do we teach math in 7th grade. That's it, so let's not pretend that the debate is between ACE parents who want tracking in kindergarten and non-ACE parents who want heterotgenerous calculus. What we do in 7th grade -- providing "extensions" that kids can do on their own with some class instruction -- is unique. And when I say "unique," I mean that I haven't been able to find a single school district anywhere in the United States that uses this system. Yet when you ask whether this is the best approach to teaching math in 7th grade, people assume that you must be pro-kindergarten math tracking.

I'll return to an example I've cited before: in Princeton, NJ, kids are grouping in math in 6th grade (after K to 5 Everyday Math, FYI). The "low track" group finished algebra in 8th grade, and moves on to 9th grade geometry. The "high track" group finished algebra in 7th grade, and does algebra II in 8th grade, and moves onto 9th grade geometry. Now, this is a system that people who opposed tracking would hate -- because tracking happens two years earlier. However, I don't care about tracking or not tracking -- I care about ACHIEVEMENT. And in the Princeton system, the low achiving kids do what the high achieving kids do in Amherst, so that ALL kids finish algebra in 8th grade. That seems like a a much better outcome than we currently have, in which about 35% of our 8th graders finish algebra. And to me, that is social justice -- increasing math knowledge and achievement in all kids.

Ken said...

Just curious, thanks for your observations. In interpreting educational data, the devil is in the details. Demographics is one of the most important "devils" to account for. It would be interesting to go to those schools in Springfield, for example, that outperformed Crocker and look at their demographics and compare them to Crocker (on the DESE website). Then look at the performance of subgroups between schools. And finally, look at MCAS CPI score growth from 2006 to 2009 for grades 3 through 6. If the schools are a) comparable demographically, b) have consistent trends of stronger performance across groups and c) over time, then it would be very interesting to look into what makes those particular schools more successful.

Just to show how deeply one needs to analyze educational data, there's a charter school I know of that apparently made huge gains on MCAS in 8th grade. A closer look at the data showed that over a 3-year period (2007-9), the 1/4 of that class that had been in a certain subgroup in 2007 had dwindled to 1 in 2009, and not coincidentally, the total population of that class had shrunk by about 25% as well. That particular group of students had very, very low MCAS scores. By those students leaving the school, MCAS scores "went up" a lot. Cause for celebration? Something all schools should try to copy?

Ken said...

Catherine, if you recall, I said that there were no studies that the What Works Clearinghouse (which, if I recall, is an organization I first referenced on this blog) that either proved or disproved the strength of Investigations. I said, competing studies wars are useless here, let's just look at our MCAS data. But you were quite clear that MCAS data proves nothing about program strength--that is, until it proves that "Everyday Math" is good, in which case MCAS data is VERY important to look at (even though our MCAS math scores are higher in many cases, and the CPI trend in Easthampron from 2007-9 is DOWN for any 3 year grade span you look at--3rd to 5th, 4th to 6th, etc). Even when I sent you that link, I made that same point AGAIN that I was only sending you something because you asked, not because I thought it proved anything (just like the anti-Investigations report you touted proved nothing either).

The way you phrased your post about this is a total distortion of what actually transpired.

Anonymous said...

LOL, Ken.

You would be great on SC!!!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Ken - one more point I need to make:

1. Amherst NEVER looks to other districts -- at least not in my experience in multiple capacities (e.g., in 2 years on the math curriculum council - no references to other districts in terms of achievement/curriculum/MCAS, etc.; in watching the science teachers/Mark Jackson present the new ecology requirement - reference to what other districts do, other than saying 'they do a lot of different things so probably us doing a different thing is fine'; in serving on SC and asking for data on other schools' use of the trimester system or amount of music/PE in middle school or tracking in 7th grade math or how many study halls in high school, etc. - nothing about other school districts has EVER been presented to the school committee in terms of making decisions). This is very clear across multiple domains, and I don't think it is a strength of our system.

Amherst College is obviously achieving a lot of success in terms of the students it attracts and their qualifications. Yet whenever we consider changes (e.g., should we get rid of loans, should we change our materntity leave policy, should we adopt a writing requirement, should we change the psychology curriculum, etc.), the FIRST thing we do is gather data from other colleges/universities. Not to copy what they are doing, but to be INFORMED. I see zero evidence that this occurs in Amherst. Zero.

2. Amherst has a number of programs/policies that are entirely unique. We are the only district teaching math in 7th grade in the extensions model. We are the only district teaching AP English in a heterogeneous fashion. We are the only district requiring 9th graders to take a class in ecology. Now, maybe we are unique and BETTER -- but there is no evidence to suggest that is true, other than statements by people currently working in our district that support these unique practices.

Thus, the evidence is quite clear: Amherst indeed considers itself special and unique, as indicated by the fact that we have unique programs/policies that other districts don't.

Ken - I don't think any one study/bit of evidence is proof. I look at the totality of the evidence. So, what is the evidence Everyday Math works? Well, there is research (not just one study) reported in the What Works Clearinghouse showing it does work. What is the evidence showing that Investigations works? Well, there is no evidence in the What Works Clearinghouse showing it works, and there is evidence reported in this clearinghouse (the link Abbie posted) showing it does NOT work. I still can't find any objective data showing that Investigations works -- the link you posted is to a pro-reform math website that isn't objective in the least. I'm looking for objective data -- not data that you like or I like or that proves a particular point -- data that is unbiased and objective. And in a search with that criteria, I find evidence showing Everyday Math works, and I find evidence showing Investigations doesn't work.

Anonymous said...

The Whack-A-Mole of Amherst Exceptionalism

Look, anyone and I do mean anyone who paid any attention to the SC before Catherine and Steve and Irv came on heard a lot about how different and unique and special and wonderful Amherst was. School administrators and SC members justified not only policies but a complete lack of interest in comparisons to support some unique policies. 9th grade science is but the most obvious example. Our ELL clustering, the Cambodian program, and even the operation of MM were all held out as unique and wonderful and special and beyond comparison. That MM was tiny relative to other elementary schools in similarly sized towns was declared to be on no importance by its supporters. It was a wonderful, special place that did not lend itself to comparison.

Now, Rick Hood, Nina Koch, Ken and other folks who articulately defend our schools are shrugging their shoulders and claiming that no one ever said Amherst was unique. Maybe they didn't, but that was a huge part of the discourse pre-CS. Remember, she got a ton of push back whenever she brought up comparison numbers.

I thank Nina and Ken for offering some comparison information, but I have to say that this is new and wasn't part of the debate before ACE came on the scene.

Still, there are ways that Amherst acts as if its in a vacuum and shouldn't look to other districts. (BTW, I have never read the aforementioned supporters of our schools write something like, "I wish did "x" like they do in the such and such district." There's mostly a lot of defending of everything we do here. Or, as Ken did in response to a query, say that our policies are okay but we don't have the resources to implement them, etc.

Here are a couple of facts: We pay extremely high salaries in Amherst, probably the highest in Western Mass. We have one of the few HS's in the state with trimesters. We have one of the few HS's in the state with 2 forced study halls per year. We have a unique 9th grade science curriculum.

Until the lawyers intervened, we had a unique and legally questionable Cambodian heritage program. Until the new super intervened (btw, probably one of the few supers in the state who grew up bilingual) we had a unique and highly problematic ELL program.

My sense as a long time resident of the Valley is that Amherst is unique in that so many decisions are ideological. It seems that the schools in Easthampton, Northampton, and Hadley ask first about educating children.

I have no doubt that educators in Amherst think they're doing that, but they seem to start every conversation with reference to race and class and ethnicity and on and on and then we end up with policies that are often very different from everyone else's.

That's how Amherst acts as if it's unique and I don't think it's been good for education.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Rick said...

Once again, moving to a semester system in 2011 would NOT have saved $300k.

All the other arguments about why semester might be better than trimester are valid, but the $300k is just plain wrong. Since it keeps getting put out there I have to keep saying it’s wrong.

If that were correct, then if we did move from trimester with two study halls to semester with one study hall in 2011, the regional school committee could have asked for just $650k instead of $950k? No, that’s not correct.


”Now, Rick Hood, Nina Koch, Ken and other folks who articulately defend our schools are shrugging their shoulders and claiming that no one ever said Amherst was unique.”

I never said that. I am sure there are people within ARPS who think Amherst is “unique” and want it to stay that way, perhaps to the point of not carefully studying how other places do things. That’s a bad thing where that exists.

Also I don’t feel that I am “defending our schools”. That’s not what I am trying to do.

Here is maybe an example of how I would be just the opposite of “defending” schools:

On the math issue, I would not be up in arms about whether they are switching to Every Day Math or not. What I would be VERY up in arms about is that the math curriculum committee is not meeting and not getting its work done.

There are people who have issues with how math is taught. Bottom line is they are the “customers” and those customers need to be heard and their issues addressed. The math curriculum committee is the way to do that. If it was ineffective in the past, that needs to change.

Ken said...

Anonymous 10:59--yes, bravo, well said: except almost all your
"facts" are wrong.

And to others, calling out unrelenting charges of weakness for what they are--unsubstantiated and not supported by data--is different than trying to prove things are strong. I (and I believe nina and others) have been doing the former, not the latter. Unfortunately, every discussion now has to start with a collective "Oh my God, do we suck!" before it can move forward. But that's ultimately a very unhealthy and unproductive way to have a discussion about how to improve our schools.

I was the one who first mentioned that Everyday Math is the only study on the What Works Clearinghouse that is shown to be strong--or weak--by a validated study. Change to that for that reason--fine. That is different, however, from first having to prove that what goes on here stinks.

Anonymous said...

Ken- we can still vote for you as a write in candidate.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Ken, which facts are wrong?

Lots of places have trimesters -- nope.

Lots of places have two force study halls per year. Wrong-O!

Our salaries aren't high -- yes they are, really, really high and getting higher. The published salaries of HS principal and super are 40 and 50% higher than those in Noho. Amherst schools don't break down other salaries as Noho does. Wonder what a detailed budget might show. . . .

Did the lawyers tell us to close the Cambodian heritage program as it was constituted with free busing for only one ethnic group-- yes they did because they want Amherst to act, what's the term, on right, "within the laws of the United States."

Did our super, the child of Cuban immigrants who spoke Spanish in the home, move to alter our ELL program to get rid of clustering? -- Si!

Is our 9th grade science curriculum an outlier? Indeedy do!

Ah, Ken, all the facts are wrong except the ones that aren't!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Two quick things:

Rick - I was on the Math Curriculum Council for two years. It consisted entirely of teachers in Amherst discussing why what we did in Amherst was good. There was no focus on looking elsewhere, no focus on looking at data, no focus on looking at research. And anytime I gathered such data (e.g., comparisons to other districts in terms of % doing algebra in 8th grade, elementary curriculum used, presence of AP Statistics, approach to tracking, etc.), it was entirely ignored.

If you want to have kids in high school spend 100% of their day in class, being taught by a teacher, as occurs in most other high schools in Massachusetts, it costs $600,000 more than our current budget to do on the trimester system (we have two study halls, and reducing each one costs $300,000). If we were to move to a semester system (like most other high schools in the United States and Masschusetts), it would cost $300,000 more than our current budget. $600,000-$300,000 = $300,000, which is the number I continue to quote. It is factually true that to eliminate study halls, meaning kids sitting in classes without being taught, it costs $300,000 MORE to do this in a trimester system than to do this on a semester system. And I would hope that if you were to be elected to SC, you would be in favor of eliminating all required study halls -- thus, to accomplish this goal (which is a goal I have), it takes $300,000 MORE dollars to do that on a trimester system than on a semester system. In other words, IF our goal in 2011 was to eliminate study halls, we could spend $600,000 and maintain a trimester or we could more to a semester system and spend $300,000 ... which seems to be a very clear way of saying that moving to the semester system would save $300,000!

Anonymous said...

Hey maybe we talk in Amherst about race and ethnicity because we have the higher number of children of color than any of the districts you cited: Hamp is 74.9% white, Hadley is 87.2% and Easthampton is 86.3% vs. 51.2% and 67.3% at the elem. and regional levels in Amherst. We also have the highest number of low income kids. Race and class do matter in education- CS has cited many studies to that effect. So we should be talking about it.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes when I read this blog I feel like I am in the war room of Bill Clinton's political campaign. Where between Ken, Nina and Rick every statement by anyone critical of the school and especially statements by Catherine Sanderson (even the ones she hasn't made but people feel like she has made just by posting an article) must be shot down, challenged or disputed.

It seems relentless and relentlessly negative -- even while they call everyone else too negative. There they sit in their foxholes shooting at anything that moves -- all the while decrying the lack of real discussion and debate.

Have Nina or Ken ever agreed with anything Catherine Sanderson has said? Rick seemed to, months ago, but not lately.

Anonymous said...

At risk of being considered a complete f-ing loon in this town--

Maybe some education policy works best when we don't take into account race, class, and ethnicity.

There might be policies that are race/class neutral that we're ignoring because our first instinct is to ask how anything someone mentions affects this group or that.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 1:04

I couldn't agree more. Their defensiveness is telling

Anonymous said...

A few questions in the service of transparency:

Given all the harping (Dr. Rodriguez's term) that's gone on related to trimester/semester, is it a coincidence that the Regional deficit number that Steve moved and you voted to approve was $300,000 less that the budget suggested by the principals and super? I ask this because it is the precise number you continue to list as the cost differential between the two models? If it isn't just a coincidence, was it intended to be a strong arm tactic to get teachers to budge on contractual agreements? And, if it was, what particular gains (timing-wise) did you think could be accomplished by using that tactic now, given that (according to Dr. Rodriguez) the trimester/semester debate is really an issue for fiscal year '12? It seems to me that that $300,000 could have been used to push for doing away with ONE of the required study halls in FY '11, if the SC stated that desire as a policy directive. Appearances suggest to me, that an opportunity for a partial move, in what you clearly see as the right direction, was lost.

Also, I haven't heard an explanation for why you abstained on the final deficit vote of $950,000. Can you offer one?

Rick said...

"Rick seemed to, months ago, but not lately."

I am only disagreeing with the $300k on trimester/semester. I agree with her that we should look into trimester/semester and that semester might be better. Why I don’t make it as big an issue as she does right at this moment is:

a. It’s done for 2011 – it’s too late.
b. Despite what she keeps trying to say it is NOT a budget issue for 2011 anyhow.
c. There was a reason we went to trimesters to begin with. I would like to understand what those reasons were. I would also like to understand if there is a quality difference between the two systems.

I also totally agree with her that how we teach math needs to be looked into. Where I differ is that I don’t conclude that Every Day Math is the answer. That would be a bad “process” for either she or I to just come out and say what the answer is.

Yes I know the math committee was ineffective. It needs to be effective, period. I will fight very hard to make sure that happens if elected.

Ken said...

Anonymous 1:04--Actually, yes, I have. But you know, it's hard work sounding positive when there's so much negative to address--especially negativity without foundation. And I'm not sure I'm in my foxhole--I'm Ken, the teacher who used to work at Fort River. (And just who are you, Mr./Ms. Anonymous, who doesn't hide in foxholes?)

But I've learned my lesson. "Your side" can start taking your blog back completely and pouring on the negativity without restraint. Have fun.

Anonymous said...

1:04- let me follow your logic. People on this blog who say the schools aren't so bad are negative. People on this blog who say the schools suck are being positive. Oh what a crazy mixed up world we live in

Anonymous said...

Well, Ken, you accused one poster of having her/his facts all wrong and that poster more or less dared you to give an example and you didn't.

So, let's be clear, you called a poster a liar or fabricator, etc. That person laid out what they were referring to and showed that they had written the truth and then you come back at another poster about how negative people are on this blog. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:04

Perhaps the reason Rick is not agreeing w/ anything now is that he is running for an SC seat from the position of not having any children in the schools and no administrative experience other than running a family business (or should I say selling a family business).

Not sure what his expertise is nor interest in the schools. Though it appears clear it does not come from an interest in 1) a child in the schools, nor 2) concern about higher taxes since he appears comfortably retired.

Abbie said...

to anon@344

nasty (and easy to post anonymously).

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:04:

You very obviously don't know a thing about Rick Hood. It's too bad you felt the need to make such absurd comments about someone you know nothing about.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for misdirection - I meant to address that comment to Anon 3:44, not Anon 1:04.

My apologies, Anon 1:04.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Ken - I guess I'd like to know where I've said "oh, we suck." Because again, I haven't said this. I've said I'm concerned that we are different, and I'm concerned that we aren't using data and comparisons in our decision-making, and thus if we have good programs/curricula/policy, it is by luck rather than by process. But I'm still trying to figure out why saying "we could push more kids in math" or "we could have kids take more science" or "kids might learn more without taking huge breaks in learning material" that is saying "we suck." It seems to me, both on this blog and in the newspaper, that anyone who says "things could possibly be better" is seen as saying "we suck." And that description of my positions -- which have focused on examining what we do and whether it is best practice -- seems to have the effect of creating division that doesn't exist. I'm not anti-teacher or anti-school -- I'm pro-excellent public education.

Again, I'll pose a question to you that I haven't gotten answered: why do you think I'm deliberately trying to point out problems in the schools,, given that I have three kids in the public schools and am spending 20 hours a week as a volunteer on the School Committee (going to meetings, researching schools, writing a column, writing a blog)? Do you think I want to lower my property taxes by decreasing the value of education in Amherst? Do you think I want people to flee the schools so my own kids have smaller classes? Do you think I have a good friend who runs a local charter school or private school and I'm trying to drum up business for him/her? Do you think I like being attacked in the paper and on my blog? I'm just trying to figure out what motivation you, and others, think I have for simply pointing out "hey, we might be able to do this better than we are now doing it."

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 12:38 - there are actually more low income kids at the regional level in Northampton than in Amherst: 26.4% versus 17.3%. So, since Amherst has more low income kids at the elementary level (32.1% versus 26.4%), I bet the overall % is quite similar. That's one reason why I think Northampton is a pretty reasonable (though not perfect) comparison for us to use.

And although I do think we should be talking about race/class, I also think we should be talking about ACHIEVEMENT -- which I think was Anonymous 10:59's point. I think all kids (low income, middle income, high income, white/African American/Asian/Latino, boy/girl) benefit from education that is rich, engaging, and challenging, and empirically proven to be effective. But I see so much focus in Amherst on saying "we can't do that or achieve that, because we have a lot of low income kids or more racial diversity." So the Springfield public schools have a lot of low income kids AND a lot of racial diversity ... and yet they have just implemented a required 9th grade physics class, as well as a requirement of four years of science, as well as providing the option to take AP chemistry. Thus, a student attending the Springfield schools (even a low income student) is expected to be able to take physics, chemistry, and then biology, and then to take a 12th grade elective which could include AP chemistry. In Amherst, we believe our 9th graders aren't ready for a core science (as is stated on the science department's webpage, physics isn't an appropriate 9th grade course for our diverse population), and we believe students should only have to take 2 years of science, and we believe it isn't important to offer AP chemistry (making us the only MSAN school not to offer a second year of chemistry in high school). I'd like to start with the assumption that ALL students, even low income students, can achieve great things, and to hold these students, like all other students, to high standards. I see students EVERY DAY at Amherst College who came from disadvantaged backgrounds and are now achieving in the same classrooms as kids who attended Deerfield Academy and other elite private schools. I just don't think we should hold lower expectations of low income kids -- which is often the tenor of the debate in Amherst (e.g., we can't require 9th grade biology or physics becaues those kids can't do it; we can't require 8th grade algebra for all kids because those kids can't do it). To me, social justice is about holding high expectations for all kids, and providing appropriate support to all kids, and not making assumptions that based on someone's income or race or ethnicity, he/she won't be able to achieve at the highest level. But I don't see this type of social justice being practiced in Amherst.

Anonymous 1:04 - thank you for pointing this out ... I mean, it does seem like there is NOTHING that I've ever said that Ken or Nina agree with ... and also that I get totally attacked for simply posting an article about another district doing well! I didn't say "let's immediately adopt Everyday Math" -- I simply noted that this is the curriculum Easthampton is using, since I knew that would be asked.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 1:58 - Steve's number of $800,000 was actually $600,000 below the 1.4 million that the initial regional budget was requesting. I have no idea where he got this number -- this was his motion, not mine -- but I support it because it felt to me like a better proportional number to what we had voted the elementary schools the day before ($400,000). I was, and am, pretty concerned that we are asking voters to spend so much more on the regional schools than on the elementary schools, given the vast amount of evidence suggesting spending on the early years is really important. So, I didn't like the initial 1 to 8 split of the amounts (176,000 to 1.4 million), and a 1 to 2 split seemed better (400,000 and 800,000). I don't know that Steve chose a number with any particular reason, though you'd have to ask him - I do recall that in his motion, he specifically noted that he felt we needed more time to give an accurate number and this was a very rough estimate, which obviously it was.

I also said at that meeting that I would have liked to see a budget with ONE study hall and with NO study halls, which I had been asking about for weeks. And that is because I would feel MUCH better about supporting an override that had a real benefit for all kids, which I think spending more time in class would. The SC did say in December that three study halls wasn't acceptable (that was the initial proposal from the high school), but I didn't see anyone on the SC other than me and Steve pushing for one study hall or no study halls, and that clearly wasn't something the high school leadership team prioritized at any point.

My abstention was because I didn't feel the motion included language that stated my objection to having to give a number at this time and the lack of opportunity to come up with a thoughtful number that would reflect a real vision for the schools (such as not having a study hall). The elementary school motion was much longer, and included language that registered by concern about having to give a number at this time, and thus I felt comfortable supporting that motion.

Anonymous 2:37 - can you point out where I've said "the schools suck"? Again, I haven't said this ... but it is easier to pretend I have then to consider my words about what problems I've seen.

Anonymous said...

My professor spouse refuses to read the Gazette anymore because of what he calls its relentless innumeracy. And I'm afraid I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that he's right, even though I am a huge defender of local newspapers, an increasingly endangered species.

The Gazette needs to hire someone numerate whose job is to vet major articles for number sense. They don't ask the right questions (the reporters and editors don't seem to know what those questions are) and as a result they constantly publish articles that are inaccurate, incomplete and/or misleading.

They also publish pure PR and their reporters can be snowed. I've done it myself as a PR person.

I love Bob Flaherty and know him personally, but his article about the Cambodian language program was pure boo-hoo-hoo schmaltz. Did nobody tell him that the girl he quoted was the daughter of two Amherst school employees who would be directly affected by the cuts to the language cluster programs? He didn't mention it. That annoyed me. She should have been identified as someone closely connected to the program.

Why am I talking about the Gazette, though? Because most (or all) of our threads on this blog key off Gazette or Bulletin articles CS posts here. If the original article is flawed, we waste time here arguing points made based on faulty information. We need the Gazette to do a better job because we rely on it so heavily.

Gazette reporters, this means you. I know you're reading this.

And don't argue -- you published an article on the front page of the Gazette this week (Mon or Tues) stating that in 2008, 98 houses were sold in Amherst, but only 10 in 2009. I just about freaked when I saw that. A 90% DROP in HOME SALES???? Hunh? And then the article accompanying the table didn't even touch on or mention this insane fact. I knew it was a typo.

And then a day or two later you published a correction. You meant
"109 houses" were sold in 2009. Ooops! Off by a factor of >90%.

How can we trust your other articles if you can't get a huge number like that correct?

Let's all try to remember that the Gazette isn't that great with numbers or data-driven news coverage before we start taking potshots at one another.

I'm grateful for Nina, an Amherst teacher, for being here to set us straight.

Anonymous said...

Catherine- I never said that you said that the schools suck. But there are many folks who post on this blog who have- a recent post concerning the abject failure of the schools comes to mind as one example.

Anonymous said...

Catherine- I just want to point out that saying we need to take race and class into account when we are talking about education is in no way saying that we should not also be talking about achievement- this is another red herring. Nothing in my post would even suggest that I was saying that. When we are talking about close to 50% of the elementary student body and the issues that they bring to the table-we would be incredibly shortsighted not to have a discussion on how race and class effect educational outcomes. And they do- as you yourself have pointed out many times.

Rick said...

Anon 3:44:

”not agreeing w/ anything now”

Not agreeing with “anything”? Just a tad of an exaggeration no? And not agreeing with who?

”no administrative experience other than running a family business (or should I say selling a family business).”

Running a 150 employee $20 million revenue business is nothing? And try selling a business – it’s a nightmare lawyer-fest. I have done three such transactions – selling a division of the company, selling the company and selling land we owned.

”comfortably retired”

That’s a good one. I wish. Don’t make assumptions about what the net result of a sale is after debt repayment, taxes, and distribution to many shareholders. And then there is paying for 2 kids through college which I am almost done with. The house I live in is valued at $250,000. The average Amherst home is around $330,000.

Anonymous said...

I'll bite on this question to Ken, since he seems to have been driven off by the hords of angry, "Catherine's right on all matters, so please don't dare question her" folk.

"Again, I'll pose a question to you that I haven't gotten answered: why do you think I'm deliberately trying to point out problems in the schools...."

Because you want them to be better; with better being defined by your particular educational values and belief systems. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you acknowledge that they may be in conflict with other educational values and belief systems.

also, in response to...

"it does seem like there is NOTHING that I've ever said that Ken or Nina agree with ... and also that I get totally attacked for simply posting an article about another district doing well!"

I think if you read back to see Nina and Ken's initial posts, there was nothing attack-like about them. They were pointing out the fact that you can't make judgements on incomplete data and analysis (principles you generally claim to support)--ie: what does "doing well" actually mean/look like and under what lens are you examining it? The attacks came from your minions, whom, as has been pointed out on many occasions, you never feel a need to "call out". Again, Catherine, process and expectation related to tone should be a two way street or your credibility goes out the window. You have some nasty folks jumping to your defense (anon. 3:44, for example) in ways that are as unnecessary and counter productive to real dialog as those that try to pigeon hole you in stereotypic and mean spirited ways. I don't know Nina or Ken. But I value the perspective they bring to the debate.

Ken said...

Anonymous 2:48--I will reply this one last time because you're calling me a liar and accusing me of calling another poster a liar or fabricator--which is a lie in itself. I just said they had almost all of their facts wrong, not that they fabricated them. Here are the wrong facts:
1) The lawyers didn't intervene in the Cambodian cluster program. Their opinion--which I have a copy of--said that children grouped by language for the purposes of ESL programs ARE legal. Ours are ESL programs. The lawyers were also specifically asked a question about a program we DON'T have--clusters for their own sake, outside the context of an ESL program. THAT is what the lawyers rightly said are illegal--but that question was about a non-existant program in our district. Busing IS allowable if for the purposes of a legally constituted ESL program.
2) Our ESL programs were unique and highly problematic? They were not unique--FYI, Boston is about to implement language cluster ESL programs in some of their schools. They were also not problematic. By what data or interpretation? Oh, none forthcoming...right, I momentarily forgot what site I was on. Actually, our ESL MCAS scores are quite a bit higher than the state average at every grade 3-6, and also when specifically compared to the 5 or so towns that are most demographically similar to us in MA in terms of % of ESL and low income.
3) I don't recall ever saying our policies are ok but we don't have the resources to implement them.
4) I never said "no one" ever said Amherst was unique. I said no one on this blog that I read said Amherst was unique.
5) Average teacher salaries are higher than many in the Valley, but we're not the highest. Longmeadow and East Longmeadow are 2 that come to mind.
6) It was implied that because the superintendent grew up in a bilingual household, that makes him an expert in ESL programs. It doesn't.

So you're right, I apologize, it wasn't that "almost all" the facts were wrong. Just many of them.

Anonymous said...

"My abstention was because I didn't feel the motion included language that stated my objection to having to give a number at this time and the lack of opportunity to come up with a thoughtful number that would reflect a real vision for the schools (such as not having a study hall). The elementary school motion was much longer, and included language that registered by concern about having to give a number at this time, and thus I felt comfortable supporting that motion. "

But you didn't feel the need for that context with the LOWER number? Where is the "real vision for the schools" imbedded in that dichotomy?

Rick said...

The lack of time in regards to having to come up with a number when they did is of course due to the override. Here’s the thing about that:

I would have loved too have the override be next year, not this year, as Catherine was arguing for with good reason. But the only way to do that and not make massive cuts in 2011 is to fund 2011 with reserves, and the FC took that off the table.

With that as a fact, we had two options:

1. Move forward with an override.
2. Make $1,350,000 ($950 + $400) more cuts and call it a day.

It’s not an unreasonable choice to have chosen #1.

I hope that now that this is done, people who care about the schools (and the town) will vote yes for this funding. I know that if I am elected to SC I sure will want to have this money to work with and I promise to use it wisely and not in a way that gets us back in a hole down the road.

Rick said...

One possibly wise use of the money would be to try to get back to one study hall. If the union does concessions for 2011 – and I think they will – that might provide enough of a budget boost to be able to do that without sacrificing to much else. I hope it is not too late to consider that course scheduling wise.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 4:50 - I'm glad you recognize that I haven't said our schools suck ... but I believe many people have implied that I have said that. And I think that any point anyone makes on my blog is typically attributed to me (e.g., the "abject failure" remark).

Anonymous 5:26 - I certainly agree race and class are important to discuss -- I agree with you on this, as you have pointed out. I believe the other anonymous poster was suggestion that it often seems as if this is ALL we discuss, and although these things matter, so does actual education.

Anonymous 5:54 - thank you for responding to my question. And to clarify for you, and others, the "particular educational values and belief systems" that I am basing my thoughts on is an educational system that challenges and engages all children, and lets all kids keep academic doors open to any college and any major. That is definitely my bias, and yes, I should be honest that my belief system is based on my own value of having all kids be able to attend college.

In terms of your other points re. the reasonable nature of Ken and Nina's comments, here is the first response Ken gave to my posting of this article "But to me, even more interesting is that apparently Catherine believes it is quite valid to use MCAs data to prove the strength of a program if you're Easthampton...". That strikes me as pretty attack-like.

Anonymous 6:04 - it is easy to support an override from the sidelines as a voter, as you may or may not be. It is much harder to support an override as an elected official since there is a different level of responsibility in that position. I believe the SC in the past has not used money wisely -- for example, buying portables for MM that weren't needed. I do not want to make the same mistake, in terms of asking for money that I'm not convinced we need. I'm not convinced we need more than $800,000 at the regional level, since I believe that there are many unknowns (e.g., will teachers do give-backs, will state aid be higher) and I believe there are short-term things we could do to manage for next year (e.g., higher class sizes 7th to 12th). Thus, I didn't want to put my neck out asking voters for 1.4 million when I wasn't fully convinced that these funds were truly needed. I asked the SB for more time, because with more time -- and more information -- I think I might well have supported an override (in the amount currently on the ballot or HIGHER), but I just wasn't comfortable taking a stand on any number without more information at that time.

Rick (at 6:26) - I am almost positive I could have supported an override next year, and I too wish that the FC had been able to give a delay. I believe it is worth waiting a year to really create a vision of what our schools could be, and to really create confidence in our community about how resources would be spent. I think you and I agree about a lot of this in terms of timing. I think you and I disagree in terms of "massive cuts" -- and that is something that I think voters ultimately have to decide for themselves.

Rick (at 6:42) - I certainly think one study hall is important. As I've said before, it would have been great to get to one study hall without having to spend money (as would have occurred if the teachers had voted to go to a semester system). But I think it would certainly be worth cutting $300,000 in other things (e.g., having larger class sizes) in order to get to just one study hall for this year.

Anonymous said...

Rick, 6:42:

I still don't get why that wasn't proposed as a policy directive, in the same way that increasing class size over cutting electives was proposed. The administration heeded that request and came back with a different list of priorities. The $300,000 that Steve proposed and Catherine and Irv voted to cut from the proposed (Feb. 9) 1,100,000 deficit number could have been earmarked for study hall reduction. But they chose a different tact, for a reason I still don't understand. The override number would have been a bit higher (given the vote to "reward"--Steve's words, Jan. 29th meeting-- the elementary schools with $300,000 more than requested), but there would have been a real tangible gain (which is what Catherine has said she needed to see before getting behind an override proposal). The ultimate objectives in all of this seem a bit tangled to me and now, even if the override is successful and cuts in State aid stay in the 5 as opposed to 10 per cent range, we'll be approaching the study hall issue from the perspective of an even deeper hole to climb out of.

I know Catherine stated that she was uncomfortable with the percentage difference between the elementary number and the regional number, but there were not the same kind of consolidation savings available in the region as there were with elementary-- due to closing MM. There was a much bigger gap for the region to close to approach level services than elementary because of the savings realized (which Catherine is owed a lot of credit for championing). What am I missing in terms of logic in all of this?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 6:42 - I am not confident about either the elementary or the regional number. I wanted more time to figure out what types of schools we wanted, and what those would cost. I said that repeatedly, on my blog and in public and in private emails and calls to various people.

Now, I didn't get that extra time I needed, and thus I was forced to go on record with a number -- that frankly felt totally made up, which I hated doing. But the number felt very different on the elementary and regional level.

On the elementary level, the SC had closed a school. And we got a huge amount of heat for doing this (me especially) but it was the right decision. And it was very clear on repeated meetings that the elementary principals had really worked through the budgets and created schools that were equitable in all senses (e.g., class sizes, music/art/PE, intervention), and that that elementary school principals were considering different models of providing intervention (and ELL support) that were research-based. It felt very straight-forward, and it made sense, and it also represented some reasonable, cost-saving changes (e.g., increasing in class sizes from 19 to 20 to save money). I felt pretty confident that the elementary school numbers were based on thoughtful, cost-saving measures, and although I still wanted more time to really examine what the schools COULD be (e.g., not just a cuts list), I felt I could support giving the elementary schools some additional funding to be used in some way (NOT necessarily to just restore a cuts list, but possibly to add more preschool or K to 6 world language, etc.).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, continued:

I didn't have that same feeling of confidence or comfort with the numbers I got at the regional level. There were numbers that the SC asked for and never got (e.g., exactly what % of classes in academic departments would be at what sizes at different levels of cuts), and there was a decision on the part of the HS administration to recommend absolutely no increase in class size at all (meaning that if an override passes, high school class sizes will be smaller next year than they were in 2003-2004, and smaller, as I have noted, than our target class sizes in grades 4 to 6). And although you state that there were no structural changes that could have led to major cost savings, that isn't true -- we could have consolidated the MS/HS (this was briefly discussed, but no budget numbers were ever presented), we could have brought the 6th grade up (this was briefly discussed, but no budget numbers were ever presented), we could have moved to a semester system (which would have saved money simply by reducing the need for classroom monitors, AND increased the amount of time kids spent in class), etc. Now, it is possible that ALL of these were/are bad ideas -- but they were NEVER discussed, and they certainly had budget implications. I believe we also could have had serious discussions about what departments should remain: 7th to 12th enrollment has dropped by 250 students in 4 years, and so this means that some programs perhaps should be eliminated since there are about 40 students fewer in each grade (like we closed Marks Meadow in response to declining enrollment K to 6). Again, I don't know where discussions would have led us, but I know that those discussions didn't happen: and thus I didn't feel very confident with the 1.4 million estimated short-fall and how it would impact education, and so I didn't feel comfortable supporting it. I think it goes back to a point that Steve, and others, have made: I am a fan of "trust, but verify". I felt I was able to "verify" the elementary cuts, but I didn't feel I was able to "verify" the regional cuts, and thus didn't feel I could support so very high a number (1.4 million).

Finally, you are right: I should have brought a motion that said "go to one study hall" as a policy directive. I asked for what this would look like several times, including the night we voted, and yes, I should have done this. I don't know what would have happened, but yes, I should have done this, and I'm sorry I didn't -- and I will do this at the next opportunity. Budget priorities can certainly change over time, and it is not too late to make this change. For whatever it is worth, I think the SC felt a bit constrained because the FIRST budget we saw had three study halls (!), so we had already pushed for two study halls, which seemed like pushing the HS in a direction they didn't want to go (since three study halls had been the first directive), so psychologically, it felt a bit uncomfortable to push even harder on this (e.g., going from 2 to 1). But yes, you are right on this and you should have posted this suggestion before that vote! It is a good idea, and I will do what I can to implement this change.

Rick said...

”I still don't get why that wasn't proposed as a policy directive, in the same way that increasing class size over cutting electives was proposed.”

I don't know, it was not proposed. There was a clear directive from the SC to go back and do increased class size, but not go back and do one study hall. Recall that previously (a while ago) they were told to go back and change from 3 study halls to 2 (not to 1).

” it would have been great to get to one study hall without having to spend money (as would have occurred if the teachers had voted to go to a semester system).”.

Ah, now that IS correct. For (about) the same money you can have one study hall with semesters versus 2 with trimesters resulting in about 6% less time in study halls. That is different that saying $300k is saved by going to semesters.

I agree that this would have been better – so long as there is no quality of instruction between the two systems.

Rick said...

...quality of instruction difference between the two systems.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Rick - I agree that moving to one study hall at no additional cost (and actually, more of a savings, since on a semester system you don't have to pay campus monitors/paraprofessionals, which is about $14,000 to $20,000 annually) would have been great. I wish the teachers had chosen this option.

Is there a difference in the quality of instruction? Well, on a semester system you get continuous instruction in a discipline (instead of huge breaks in instruction), and you get more minutes in every single class you have (e.g., remember that famous Spinal Tap line "it goes to 11"? the trimester just divides the year into 15 pieces, instead of 14, but that just means kids on a trimester have LESS time in every single class than they do in the semester). So, yes, I think there IS a difference in the quality of instruction!

Anonymous said...

"And to clarify for you, and others, the "particular educational values and belief systems" that I am basing my thoughts on is an educational system that challenges and engages all children, and lets all kids keep academic doors open to any college and any major."

Catherine you're oversimplifying here. It's in the HOW we challenge and engage all children, keep academic doors open, etc. that the differences in values come in. Is the best way to spark interest and advancement in science a more hands on, integrated approach, or through a more traditional, core sciences track, etc., etc.? You have particular beliefs about this which have validity. There are other ways of thinking about it that also have validity. Willingness to examine the issues from more than one angle is what I hear Nina and Ken asking for.

And as for Ken's comment related to your vacillation about whether MCAS results are or are not a valid measure of program success, there is validity to his calling you out on that, particularly since you have used the argument against considering MCAS results in responding to data he has presented on this forum. It's easy to embrace data that supports our views and more challenging to embrace it when it doesn't. I see Ken as saying, this is complicated stuff. Lets ask good questions before we jump to conclusions; which I think is a viewpoint you basically agree with.

Nina Koch said...

In discussion of scheduling, it's important to try to tease apart the various attributes that make up a schedule. You can't just compare semester/trimester, because there is no such thing as "the" semester schedule. Also, people seem to keep forgetting that a substantial portion of schools are on a block schedule which is nothing at all like a semester schedule. For example, most of the schools in the Washington DC metro area are on block schedule.

One of the schedule attributes to look at would be the total number of course blocks available to students. In the midwest, many schools had a 6 period day which offered 12 blocks. This affords students the least amount of choice of electives, while giving them the greatest number of minutes per class. The 6 period day is less common now due to increased graduation requirements in these states. A lot of the schools in Michigan that went to the trimester were coming from a 6 period day.

There is also a semester schedule with a 7 period day. This gives students 14 course blocks. The trimester has 15 course blocks. And there are still quite a few schools with an 8 period day, which has 16 course blocks. The 4 by 4 block schedule (such as in Northampton) has the equivalent of 16 course blocks.

The schools with 16 course blocks give the fewest number of minutes to each course over the year. So if you wanted to evaluate schools based on that criterion, you would need to sort out the 7 period day from the 8 period day because the 8 period day has two extra blocks. Catherine mentioned Princeton, so I looked at their bell schedule and they have an 8 period day. This means that they devote fewer minutes per class than we do. If there is something bad about doing that, then quite a few schools are doing it. It would be interesting to do a comparison of 7 period schools with 8 period schools and see if the number of minutes per course appears to make a difference.

As far as having a gap between terms, the place to look for research on this would be at schools that use the block schedule. With a block, your course runs from September to January, or January to June. It goes half a year and then it's done. While there has not been a lot of research on trimesters, there is a lot of research on block schedules. If the gap is an issue, it should be apparent in that research. Of course, as with so much educational research, the results are mixed. You can read some research reviews here:

block schedule research

I did happen to find one study (at just one school) that looked at the "gap" issue in a school with trimesters:

trimester research

I thought it was an interesting way for a school to look at its own data and we should probably try the same thing.

And finally (because I really hope this is the last post I do on scheduling), I want to restate that we went to the trimester in an attempt to solve some problems. One of them was that kids were having a hard time signing up for internships and college courses, due to the complicated rotation of our semester schedule. If you look at various schedules, you often see three or four different classes rotating into the last period of the day. Our current schedule has the same two classes (D and E) at the end of the day every day. Other problems were that our class periods were considered too short by most teachers, and that we felt it might be better for kids to focus on fewer academics at a time. So there are quite a few reasons for the schedule.

If we go to a 7 period day, we may solve some problems, while simultaneously gaining new problems (like how to offer our 3 term courses). I just want people to appreciate the complexity of these matters.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 8:11 - I actually think you are oversimplifying here. I believe it is great to challenge and excite kids with hands-on experience of science -- as do many educators in many districts. That is precisely why many elite private schools (e.g., Deerfield, Bement) and many top-notch public schools (e.g., Newton, Brookline), and many large urban schools (e.g., Springfield) have adopted Physics First. That would have been a GREAT way of exciting and interesting kids in science -- that has been validated in research. I'm all for integrated stuff ... as long as it works. We have still ZERO evidence that our unique required science curriculum works. I would have been MORE than happy to have our high school science teachers review research from different sources and what other high schools are doing and then propose adopting ANY science curriculum with a proven track record--because I'm open to different views and different schools do have different classes in 9th grade. But most schools don't create their own curriculum and hope that it works. We do, and that is where you lose me.

In terms of Ken's point -- I posted an article from the Gazette. I didn't write the article. I didn't conduct the research. I didn't have a lead-in saying "this article proves we should adopt Everyday Math." I just posted it, as I've posted many articles over time. Yet Ken, and now you, have taken my posting of this article as evidence that I believe MCAS scores in and of themselves definitely prove whether a curriculum is working -- hence your statement that Ken is "calling me out". That is my objection. I'll take responsibility and ownership for anything I say -- but this article isn't "what I say."

Nina - my understanding is that the proposed alternative system was a 7-period schedule (as presented by Miki Gromacki), so that is the comparison (not blocks). I would also imagine this schedule would make it EASIER for kids to take classes at the colleges, since the colleges are all on semesters?

Rick said...

Yes the breaks in instruction when a course is first and last trimester is a definite drawback for trimesters.

I’d like to see the study that was done when the switch to trimesters was made to see what the rationale was. Rather than reinvent the wheel, let’s look at that and see what was said – possibly it doesn’t apply anymore and/or was wrong to begin with – or not. There should be a goal of doing this re-evaluation of trimesters by June, September at very latest. We should also try to separate out the study hall aspect of it from the rest; in other words, if we had zero study halls, which is better?

Doing more of what Nina does in the post above is what we need – maybe neither semester nor trimester is best.

The key is to do it; get this re-evaluation done. I will definitely push for this if elected.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Rick - I've asked for the report, and I've never gotten it. If you read old SC minutes, you can see many other SC members have asked for data on the changes following the move to the trimester, and have never seen that data.

But regardless, there are three clear things:

1. A trimester system with NO study halls costs $300,000 MORE than a semester system with NO study halls.

2. A trimester system will always have gaps in instruction (ranging from 3 to 9 months), whereas a semester system does not.

3. A trimester system will mean fewer minutes in each class than a semester system (because the school day doesn't change), which means our kids have LESS time getting instruction than kids in other districts.

It is going to be hard to convince me that there are enough great reasons to stay with a trimester system to compensate for less time in each class, breaks in instruction, and a greater cost. However, this is actually not a School Committee decision -- because the SC gave away the right to choose the HS schedule to the teachers. Thus, the HS schedule is not even within the control of the SC or the superintendent, although it clearly has major educational and fiscal implications!

Anonymous said...


Anon 7:33 here. Thanks for the very thorough answer. I think I understand your reasoning and commend you on the depth of thought you put into all of this. The problem, though, with recommending dropping one study hall now, is that we're already 450,000 dollars BELOW the administration's restoration number for adequate services WITHOUT dropping a study hall. And what if state aid goes south or the override doesn't pass? The deficit could be much higher.

Nina Koch said...

The problem with a rotating schedule is that if you have periods D E F and G all rotating into the last block, then you have to devote all four periods to your college class or internship. It's unworkable. Of course, not all schools are in college towns, so it doesn't always matter to them. We could try to reduce the amount of rotation, but there would be dropped periods, so it would be impossible to put the same thing at the end of the day every day.

I remember the schedule discussion very clearly and I know that one of the highest priorities was to have a M-F schedule (as opposed to a 7 or 8 day rotation) and to have the same periods in the afternoon every day. This was specifically for the purpose of freeing up kids to do things outside the building in the afternoon.

While it is true that the college courses break at a different time than we do, most of the students who take college courses do it all year, in which case the timing of the break doesn't matter. For someone who only wanted to take a fall college course, there would be a problem because they would have to devote two blocks in order to take the course. So again, pluses and minuses, but I would say on average, for college courses, the trimester works out better for kids. For internships, it definitely works out better, because the internship can simply be the length of one trimester.

Nina Koch said...

okay, I swore I wasn't posting about the schedule any more, but I need to address this statement from Catherine:

"A trimester system will mean fewer minutes in each class than a semester system (because the school day doesn't change), which means our kids have LESS time getting instruction than kids in other districts."

This was my whole purpose in pointing out the difference between a 7 period day and an 8 period day. Our schedule has fewer minutes per class than some districts and more minutes per class than other districts, such as Northampton. We are in the middle.

I think you need to avoid making these sweeping statements where you are posing a simple trimester/semester dichotomy. It's not simple.

G.A., Amherst Parent said...

CS 8:40- Yes, the SC gave control over the HS schedule to the teachers in the last contract. And the contract is due - when? - next year or the year after... Until then, we can figure out and decide what kind of system we want to put into place and why. Block, semester, trimester... it can't be that hard to make a pros/cons list for each. However, I do not understand why if we realize that we have NO control over this, why does it continue to be discussed as a heated issue? It sounds like sour grapes (for agreeing to a pretty bad contract) and that we're taking yet another opportunity to portray teachers as villains. Can we all agree that the current trimester system is not a result of teacher wrongdoing or manipulation? Please, I feel like enough is enough.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 7:33/8:48 - well, my assumption is that the principal and superintendent did NOT prioritize having kids only have one (or no) study halls - hence that never appeared on any add list. So, it is a bit of a puzzle - I complain about the order of priorities, and am accused of micro-managing (not you, but others), but then I let the principal/superintendent choose the cuts list and when neither of them propose returning to one study hall, and people aren't clear why I let this stand. Again, this is the hard part of the SC job ... I don't think the current cuts list is good. I DEFINITELY think that moving to one study hall should have been a higher priority than maintaining class sizes at the HS ... and yet this addition was never even proposed by the HS leadership team. It is then a bit hard for me to say "put this on the list" when they don't think it is important ... and again, this is why I wanted to have more time to really understand these lists.

So, I think it is clear the HS leadership team doesn't prioritize this as an add (and hence I didn't think it was important to budget for), but we clearly know the cost: $300,000. And we could easily get this by increeasing class size IF we passed the override, OR by changing the cuts list to movet one study hall EVEN if the override failed (there are over $400,000 proposed cuts that were saved with the change in % state aid cut), OR of course the HS teachers could elect to move to a semester system which would also lead to one study hall at no cost (there is still time to do this for the fall). We could also of course gain additional funds if the state aid estimates are better than assumed (0% and not 5% cut) or if the teachers did a give back.

Nina - I haven't heard anyone discuss a rotating schedule? I've only heard mention of a 7-period day. And I'm still not clear why the trimester system helps students who are taking college classes, when our colleges are on the semester. However, I did mis-speak in terms of time spent in class: what I should have said is that students at ARHS would have more time in class on a semester THAN they do now under a trimester. And that seems like an advantage.

GA, Amherst Parent - well, the teachers could vote at any time to move to a semester system. They voted not to do so this time last year, and hence, with the budget cuts, we needed to move to two study halls (whereas if they had voted to move to a semester system, we would have only had one study hall this year and next year for the same dollars). I think some parents/community members are concerned about the schedule choice because it is seen as an example of not using limited resources wisely (by having a high school schedule that requires more dollars for the same time in class), and not particularly good oversight by the superintendent/SC (who gave away the right to control the schedule) ... and that is particularly salient for voters who are being asked to devote more resources to the schools and trust the SC/superintendent that these funds will be used well.

G.A., Amherst Parent said...

If you couldn't remember to add study halls to the SC resolution on the regional budget, I'm not sure you're in a position to question the high school leadership team for not removing study halls. I do see the role of the SC to "direct" school leadership teams on what our priorities are and to make sure those priorities show up in budgets and cut lists. Should they have initiated it? That would have been nice. Should you have requested it? That would have been nice too.

And yes, I think Amherst voters, the SC and the Supt will all be more careful in making sure that the next contract doesn't give away the store .... or the ARHS schedule. But it does appear that we always grab opportunities to beat this drum against the teachers. Let's stop.

Amherst is becoming an "us" and "them" town. That doesn't sound like an environment where good decisions get made.

Concerned Taxpayer said...

If Amherst votes to approve an override, that will again be "giving away the store" in preparation for the next contract negotiations. It will send a signal to the negotiating unions that "no matter what, money will be found." And the unions will have no incentive to agree to a lower raise contract (much less things like a semester at the high school and dare I suggest going to a FULL DAY instruction on Wednesdays at the elementary schools). The best way to get our deficit problem under control is to control the cost of raises and benefits and the best way to do that is to vote NO on the override. Voting yes will solve the problem for one year but it will continue to come up. My household is voting NO. We can live with the cuts that have been proposed.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

GA, Amherst Parent - well, gosh, this seems like a no win for me! I got hundreds of emails from parents and students. Guess how many asked for no or one study hall? Zero. Not one. People asked us to save wood technology, ceramics, wind/jazz music groups, but no one seemed to care about 2 study halls versus one. Thus, I didn't see this as a priority for the parents/students, and it was NEVER mentioned as a goal by the HS leadership team. I do see it as a priority, but I guess this is a hard line since I'm supposed to reflect the community values and/or support administrative recommendations, and I got neither. In terms of making the teachers "bad guys" - Mark Jackson said on numerous occasions that he believed it was more of a priority to keep class sizes small than to have kids not in study halls. That was his strong belief, as repeated on numerous occasions, and since these are a direct trade-off (e.g., less study hall means larger classes), I believe most members of the SC accepted that recommendation. I don't agree with it, but then, I'm not the HS principal. And I can already see the Bulletin letters accusing me of micro-managing the HS budget if I had dared to suggest removing study halls by increasing class size against the principal's recommendation.

Concerned Taxpayer - I believe each individual has to vote on the override for what they believe, and I can certainly see why people would vote "yes" as well as why they would vote "no".

Anonymous said...

I guess Rick Hood has decided to become Catherine Sanderson's fact-checker, a sort of independent arbiter of when Catherine is right and when she's wrong.

I guess that this is better than letting the anonymous teachers (other than the relatively brave Nina Koch) who post here do it.

Anonymous said...

Discussion of Everyday Math vs. our current math is interesting and got me thinking about other things that effect children's learning of math- especially the teachers. Several of the elementary teachers we had candidly said to us that teaching math was a weakness for them. Also, during elementary school we had a couple of teachers who were much less skilled as teachers compared to other teachers at the school (and not b/c they were less experienced. Talking to families at all of the schools in Amherst seems to bring up a few teachers at each school that you hope your kids won't have. The majority of teachers that our kids had, though, were outstanding).

Obviously teachers with better math-teaching skills would be desirable with any math curriculum. Is there anyway to assess this and intervene? Would it be cheaper or more expensive than changing? Even if the curriculum changes is there some way to assess the teachers' comfort and skills?

Ed said...

Do the Amherst Schools Suck?

Let me answer that in a different way: there are a lot of people in DC right now who think that the roads are still snow clogged and thus suck.

Looking out the window at Georgia Avenue - right now - I see a bare road that is plowed curb to curb. What are people complaining about? Looking at the cross street, I see a well plowed road where assorted parking spaces are lost to the standard 4-5 foot high snowpile. Again, dry pavement.

What are people complaining about?

And then as I go through town, there are places where half a lane (of a road 2 lanes wide EACH WAY) is gone to snowbanks, where snowbanks are pushing parked cars out into a travel lane, etc.

What are people complaining about?

I have seen this in Maine all the time - roads narrowed, parking lost, and no one thinks anything of it. I have seen it at UMass as well - I remember the year that Mass Ave lost a lane to snowbanks.

And this isn't about snow removal, really....

And the point I am trying to make is threefold. First, what are the needs of the community? Loosing a lane at UMass or in rural Maine isn't that significant - but it is causing major traffic jams in DC.

Second, what are the expectations of the community? Amherst pays more for its schools than other communities, the comparison ought to be how much is paid per student than anything else. (Again, like DC)

And third, what constitutes normalcy? Amherst is an educated community with three colleges in town, DC is a southern city where snow is an abnormality. People's expectations are higher because of their expectation of normalcy.

So the Amherst schools can (in theory) both be above average and suck. Concurrently. Much like the DC DPW and their snow removal efforts. (They both did a good job and are incompetent, depending on the standard of measurement.)

And as I look out the window at a road that is dry and clear curb to curb, I can just imagine members of the DC DPW (or whatever they call themselves) saying the exact same things that certain school folk are saying in Amherst in defending the schools and the status quo.

And I can't see either group fathoming the greater expectations they must answer to because of the particular municipality they represent and its non-standard expectations.

And in this context, in the context of Easthampton doing better than Amherst on math, the Amherst schools do suck. Amherst shouldn't hold its own with Easthampton, Amherst should have left Easthampton in the dust....

Sorry folks, you work for the AMHERST public schools and not the Easthampton or Belchertown or Wichendon schools...

Anonymous said...

I guess this is a hard line since I'm supposed to reflect the community values and/or support administrative recommendations,

Democracy 101: An elected official is supposed to support community values and essentially do what the collective community would do if they had the information which she had been able to obtain.

You are NOT supposed to support the administration, they are paid to be providing you the information upon which you make a decision (anything else is the dictatorship of unelected authorities). And you are NOT supposed to do what the parents alone ask, you are supposed to do what the community as a whole - including the parents - asks.

Anonymous said...

"Us" vs. "Them" in Amherst?

One group criticizes another. Taxpayers, parents, others say the schools aren't living up to their very high costs -- highest in the region.

The other group looks to increase everyone's taxes -- including the elderly on fixed incomes and furloughed state employees -- to fund their raises.

So, let's look at Us versus Them

One Side:
Sometimes harsh words about schools that do some questionable things and don't seem to justify their very high costs.


The Other Side:
Steadily increasing tax bills to pay for someone else's raise -- and really high administrative salaries.

Doesn't seem like a very equal debate.

Rick said...

The cuts on the table for ARMS + ARHS are here. That is not the final budget of course, but it’s the final cuts list that was sent to BCG for them to figure out an override number.

The assumption being made at this time is that state aid will drop by 5%** versus last year. If it does, the items in dark green will not be cut. Everything else will be cut without an override passing. If state aid stays at 0% change, the light green will not get cut. If state aid drops by 10% the dark green items get cut (e.g. everything on the list gets cut). The light gray items come back in if the override passes and there is no drop in state aid. The dark grey items get cut no matter what.

You can look through the list for yourself and see if these cuts matter to you or not.

To go back to one study hall requires:

a. The override to pass and/or or no cut in state aid.
b. Replace some of the items in dark green, light green and/or yellow with a move to one study hall.

While I agree that we should allow class sizes to grow some, which we are already doing to some extent, Mark Jackson has made the point more than once that he is concerned that this may cause teachers to start using more multiple choice testing methods, which are easier to grade rather than tests that may be more challenging, but take more time to grade. Is this important? I don’t know. I am just saying this is what he says and I think he’s sincere and truly concerned about it.

I really think we should focus in quality first and quantity second. But where to draw that line is really hard to tell. I can see why a push was not made to go to one study hall – this is a tough call.

** What will really happen with state aid? No one knows. The Governors’ budget proposal is for 0%, but nobody believes that will happen, thus the -5% assumption.
One thing I heard at the four towns meeting that sounds bad is that the Governor’s budget assumes $600 million in federal funds, which has been approved by the house, but not by the senate, and the senate is talking about $200 million. If that federal aid would to be say $300 million instead of $600, I imagine that could effect local aid by a lot.

Anonymous said...

Rick wrote:

"While I agree that we should allow class sizes to grow some, which we are already doing to some extent, Mark Jackson has made the point more than once that he is concerned that this may cause teachers to start using more multiple choice testing methods, which are easier to grade rather than tests that may be more challenging, but take more time to grade."

hmm, sounds like teacher bashing.

Or, extortion. Give us more money or we'll degrade your child's education.

These sorts of threats -- along with claims that teachers will start to flee our schools for greener pastures (although our pastures are pretty green) -- will only increase as the override vote looms.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:32.

Actually its your email that sounds like teacher bashing. Principal Jackson was just stating the realities of the teaching profession. You, on the other hand, are engaging in teacher bashing. A favorite sport on this blog.

Anonymous said...

and for A CUP OF COFFEE A DAY I can rid the high school of a study hall AND have my high school child be able to have non-academic electives..... which may be just the thing that motivates them about high school or supports their academic/personal growth.

Even if you take the largest numbers being thrown about for the override (about $300 year per average Amherst household I think), that's about $5.80 a week, or 82 cents a day = about 1 cup of coffee a day from dunkin donuts. Is that right? If so....

I think I'll vote for the override.

Anonymous said...


Mark is quoted as saying it, I didn't hear it so it's only second or third hand at this point, that if the teacher load goes up they won't work harder -- something many of us are doing in this recession -- they will keep their workload steady by making student tests less challenging and less intellectually rewarding.

The comment attributed to Mark shows the teachers to be rational economic actors who will choose not to increase their workloads, not to sacrifice for the good of their community -- although the override is asking for the community to make financial sacrifices.

That's their right, but it does paint them as paycheck oriented and not student oriented. Again, they're well within their rights to be that way. Rick Hood and Mark Jackson (allegedly) are the ones who pointed that out rather than making teachers out to be self sacrificing educators who will continue to offer the most challenging education in any environment.

The statement about standardized tests is a form of teacher bashing.

How is anything I wrote about that what Rick wrote and Mark allegedly said teaching bashing?

Oh, I forgot, all comments that teachers dislike are by definition teacher bashing.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:53

I'll vote for the override when I'm guaranteed the money will go to end forced study halls.

Have you seen such a guarantee? I haven't.

ARHS Parent said...

An override would NOT remove one study hall for high school students. Whether or not the override passes, our high school students will still be sitting in two mandatory study halls per year. This is one reason why I am NOT voting for an override. We already pay some of the highest taxes in the region as well as the second-highest (behind Longmeadow, I think) teacher salaries in the region. For that, I would expect to get MORE, not LESS, which is what my kids are getting. Once my kids get as much instructional time as other kids in the region, I will support an override, but not before.

Nina Koch said...

okay, I don't appear to be able to refrain from clarifying about the schedule ...

Catherine, I really feel like there is a lot to learn about school schedules and that you just don't know enough yet about all of the various attributes and factors in order to have a strong opinion about it.

The 7 period schedule doesn't necessarily mean that all 7 periods meet every day. Some schools do that, but it is more common to have a rotating schedule where different periods drop on different days. This allows longer class periods. But it also makes for some fairly confusing schedules. Take a look at Newton North's 7 period day

On Monday, B period doesn't meet and E period is last. On Tuesday, C and E periods don't meet and F period is last. And so on. The bells ring at different times every day, and they even get dismissed at different times on different days which is fairly unusual.

In Newton, a student who wanted to leave school by 1:15 to go do something else would need to allocate E, F and G periods to that endeavor. Over the course of a year, that student would spend 6 out of 14 blocks on the college course/internship. In contrast, an ARHS student who wanted to leave by 1:15 would spend 3 out of 15 blocks and still have 12 blocks of high school courses left. The Newton student would only have 8 blocks of high school courses under that scenario. That's a big difference.

Now again, it is an issue of pros and cons. Newton did not want to have short 40 or 45 minute periods, so they went with the idea of dropping classes on certain days to allow the other classes to be longer. They also clearly valued having a M-F schedule instead of a 7 day rotation, but in so doing increased the complexity because they need to drop 7 classes over 5 days, hence the bells ringing at lots of different times.

So again back to the original rationale for our current schedule, we wanted longer periods and we also preferred to have every period meet every day. There are a lot of problems associated with dropped periods. Kids bring the wrong notebook to school, they go to the wrong room at a certain time, they come in and say they didn't do their homework because they thought we dropped B period and so forth. Our current schedule does have the advantage of being fairly simple to follow:

ARHS schedule

I think this detailed information is probably getting pretty boring for people, but I am just trying to show how many different factors there are to consider. This is why you see so many articles in journals about master schedule -- schools all over the place are trying to figure this out.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 10:02

And the beat goes on. Where do you think the schools are going to get the money for no study halls without the passage of the override. As I used to say to my kids when they asked me every summer for a swimming pool in the backyard - Money doesn't grow on trees!

How much sense is this: Until the schools do something that will cost $600,000 to do ($600,000 that they do not have), I will not vote to give them more money. Some of the posts on this blog are just downright silly.

Anonymous said...

ARHS Parent: Getting less to the students has been going on for years while administrative staff has grown.

The focus on teachers' cost of living increases has been the only salary concern that seems to be brought to light.

Yet, nobody seems to have the knowledge that the previous teachers' contract was negotiated very stringently with the understanding that the current contract would "make up" for that tightness ...and that was due to fiscal "crisis" Amherst was experiencing during the negotiations for the previous contact.

Nobody brings up the generous package proffered to the new Super when we had already started the current fiscal "crisis". Housing and travel allowances....yes a drop in the bucket compared to the overall budget BUT indicative of how the financial decision makers are spending our tax dollars.

The talk about two alterative schools seems to have disappeared. Concerns regarding the number of admin. positions created at the high school over the past 5 or so years are also rarely expressed.

And just try to find out how much travel $ are spent by the schools and who's traveling. Maybe it can be done now but during the last override, it was impossible. Kids & teachers have to raise $ for field trips...

My question is long does the community want to support a town government that has fiscal crisis after fiscal crisis?


Ed said...

Or, extortion. Give us more money or we'll degrade your child's education.

My point exactly. And I will take a hard-line management position here: teachers, do your damn job or be fired.

The whole argument is extortion. Give us everything we want and we might possibly, if we feel like it, do our jobs. Well that is worse than extortion and there are some very real questions to be asked of the middle managers who put up with this.

Call this teacher bashing or call this hard-headed objects-oriented management -- we would be better off with a whole crop of newly-graduated teachers than a cadre of extorters.

It is extortion. And there is only one response to that: just say no. And if the teachers want every child in a charter school, well, so be it...

Ed said...

Or, extortion. Give us more money or we'll degrade your child's education.

My point exactly. And I will take a hard-line management position here: teachers, do your damn job or be fired.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh, Ed. Just a tad over the top, don't you think????

You really have some anger issues going on. It's unfortunate that you continue to day in and day out take your anger problems out on the Amherst teachers.

I expect, however, that any Amherst teacher reading this blog is not affected very much by your tirades..I am sure that they consider the source and move on without a thought.

why isn't this us? said...

Hadley's Hopkins Academy ranked by U.S. magazine
By Nick Grabbe
Staff Writer
Published on February 12, 2010
HADLEY - Hopkins Academy is one of the top 37 high schools in Massachusetts, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Hadley's public high school received a bronze medal in the magazine's third annual ratings. More than 21,000 high schools in 48 states were analyzed, including 345 in Massachusetts, and 1,750 received awards.

"I'm not terribly surprised we're getting that kind of award," said Superintendent Nicholas Young. "In the last 10 years, we've built a very strong district. Test scores illustrate that, but also the school climate is very positive, with strong working relationships. We're a district on the move, and we're moving up."

The only other school in western Massachusetts to receive an award was Greenfield High School, which also received a bronze medal.

The first step in determining which schools receive awards is to identify districts that perform better than statistically expected for the average student in the state, factoring in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students, according to the magazine. The next step looks at whether the least-advantaged students perform better than average.

The criteria for the awards also look at college readiness, using advanced placement and International Baccalaureate test data, according to the magazine.

The top 100 high schools received gold medals, the next 461 top-performing high schools earned silver medals, and an additional 1,189 received bronze medals.

Hopkins Academy achieves its success with per-pupil expenditures that are much lower than in Amherst or Northampton, Young said. "We're a bargain," he said.

Anonymous said...

So here's my "two cents."

It strikes me as ridiculous that NO ONE seems to be "listening" to any of the points anyone else is making. Both sides make very valid (albeit largely disrespectful) statements.

As a teacher in the schools, I will admit that I have some of the same concerns that both Catherine AND Ken have. I'm not convinced Investigations if the best math curriculum. I think the Administration needs to provide some clear information about previous spending. I think there's not enough focus on the needs of low-income/ELL kids and I think ALL of the conversation is pretty pointless since NO ONE is REALLY listening to ANYONE else. Everyone is talking AT others and simply waiting for the next time to respond as opposed to REALLY "listening" to the points made. This makes this entire blog pointless. What's the point in offering open discussion when no one really wants to discuss anything. Everyone just wants what they want and if you don't give it to them, they'll hold their breath and stomp their feet and kick and kick.

In MY classroom, both sides would be missing recess time or sitting with the guidance counselor until they were willing to do some active listening.

Anonymous said...

Good points teach! Your kids are fortunate to have someone like you holding them to a higher standard of discourse than what goes on here. I would say though, that I really think Rick Hood has demonstrated the ability to really listen to diverse viewpoints and to seek understanding before drawing conclusions. I don't know him personally, but have been impressed with his postings; both tone and content. He'll be getting my vote for sure.

Anonymous said...

Nina posted this:
"So again back to the original rationale for our current schedule, we wanted longer periods and we also preferred to have every period meet every day. There are a lot of problems associated with dropped periods. Kids bring the wrong notebook to school, they go to the wrong room at a certain time, they come in and say they didn't do their homework because they thought we dropped B period and so forth."

This troubles me because this comment demonstrates the low expectations we have in Amherst for our students.

I went to a high school that had similar demographics to Amherst and we had dropped periods. Forgetting a notebook or blaming the schedule was just not acceptable. No excuses were acceptable. You got a zero on your homework assignment or it was marked late if you turned it in the next day. How long would it take a kid to learn the schedule once they got one zero on an assignment?

Nobody should vote for an override in a school district that uses low expectations about their students to justify policies and schedules. The only way to make Amherst public schools excellent is to hold all of our students to the highest standards, not the lowest.

My household will not vote for an override. But we will vote for any candidate for SC that thinks looking at other schools and school districts is a *required* step in assessing our curriculum, policies, and any changes.

Also, Nina, I think your posts are valuable and I thank you for honestly including the thought process regarding the scheduling in your post. This post is in no way meant to criticize you.

Rick said...

”But we will vote for any candidate for SC that thinks looking at other schools and school districts is a *required* step in assessing our curriculum, policies, and any changes.”

I agree with that. Please reconsider your view on the override; we really need that money to have the best possible schools we can.

PS: I like your last paragraph – exactly how all of us should be communicating.

Nina Koch said...

Hi 11:06,

I didn't find your post to be critical. In fact I appreciate the tone.

I should probably clarify. I don't think that we were holding kids to lower standards. They did in fact get a penalty for late homework or whatever. Some kids care about the penalty and some kids don't. But it also makes the class harder to run when some kids don't have the things they are supposed to have with them.

There were plenty of kids who learned the schedule well and did just fine. But there was also a portion, more often special ed students, who genuinely had trouble keeping it straight and would often go to the wrong room. It's just one extra thing for them to manage, and a lot of school is already hard for them to manage. And, there were teachers who made mistakes too --me included. There's nothing like that moment of horror when you realize, "oh no --it's D period! there's a room full of kids and I'm not in it!"

I mentioned the confusing rotation as a disadvantage of the 7 period day. It would not be the primary reason for rejecting it. For me, the most important consideration is being able to focus on fewer classes at a time. That goes for students and for teachers.

I hope you don't see the override vote as something that supports lower standards for students. I think the opposite is true. When teachers have fewer students, they can hold them to higher standards. I know that when I have a week where I feel especially overwhelmed with work, one coping strategy is to cut back on what I assign that week or perhaps when I collect something, I just check it off as complete rather than reading through it and writing comments. It's really not my preference, but sometimes I just have to choose a task that I won't do because they can't all get done.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of this information, Catherine. Your hard work is appreciated! It really brings up a lot of questions, but it seems that the schools, like institution or system can be improved and knowing that people are working on the schools from different directions is really all one can ask for. I support the override because of what we will lose in our schools. That doesn't mean I'm against improvement- let's keep improving. There are great people working on things and let's not limit what we can offer our students b/c some areas could be made more efficient.

teachers? said...

Is this related to union issues? There are very skilled teachers who are highly respected by colleagues, families, students etc. who are getting their pink slips right now while a few teachers with tenure(?not sure if that's what it's called) who have long histories of not being skilled have job security. Is there any way to keep really wonderful teachers who have not been around long enough to have tenure? IN other industries, when cuts have to be made it seems like it's easier to keep the best.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think it's just a tad ironic that in a school district were a significant number of students are the children of TENURED members of the faculties at local colleges that we have folks calling for abolishing tenure?

Anonymous said...

It's also quite sad that in a town dominated by colleges and a major state university that so many people don't know the differences between the sorts of evaluations that go on for tenure in higher ed and in our K-12 public schools.

This is not to criticize a single K-12 teacher, but let's remember that at on the College/University level tenure requires:

5-7 years of students reviews of a professor's teaching. That can be 1,000 evaluations.

5-7 years of evaluation of service to your department the college or university and the profession. The number of national and international boards and committees on which the professor serves (and better yet chairs) matters.

An accounting of the number of articles in refereed journals produced by the professor, often with a hierarchical list of the journals from most prestigious (ie, hardest to publish in) to least is also key to the process.

Recognition that a book or books are on prestigious enough presses is central in some fields.

In the sciences, success as a researcher can be measured in the hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars of grant money brought back to the home institution.

Oh, and all of this is reviewed not just by your department, and the dean, and the upper administration, but also by a group of 8-15 senior outside experts at prestigious institutions. Often they have to be people with whom the candidate has no prior affiliation or connection.

So, how does that compare to the review process for tenure in the Amherst public schools?

I don't offer this as critique of K-12 tenure, but to ask that inappropriate comparisons not be made.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm well aware of the tenure process at the college level. Although the criteria and the process might be different the end result is the same.

Anonymous said...

No, college/uni level tenure is not like K-12 tenure (or as they call it in Amherst, Professional Status).

Tenured faculty can and do change jobs to improve salaries & perks. Once you're tenured you "own" your tenure. Nobody leaves a tenured job to take a tenure-track job (unless they switch fields or something unusual).

Public school teachers can't do that because seniority is district-based. You don't take your tenure with you. As soon as you leave your district, you start from square one with seniority.

And I heard that 17 non-professional elementary teachers are competing for the 5 known open elementary jobs, with interviews starting next week (in APRS).

Maybe now is the time to write a kind note to HR speaking up for a favorite teacher. I don't think most of them have talked publically about the situation, though, and some may not want community involvement as it could backfire.

Ed said...

Is this related to union issues? There are very skilled teachers who are highly respected by colleagues, families, students etc. who are getting their pink slips right now while a few teachers with tenure(?not sure if that's what it's called) who have long histories of not being skilled have job security.

There are two things here - tenure and seniority and do not confuse them.

Tenure - in K-12 - is technically a "continuing contract." Teachers technically are hired each year with an annual contract, and the first three are totally at the discretion of the district who essentially are hiring you from scratch each year.

Once you get your third contract, the district is REQUIRED to keep offering you new contracts each year (continuing contract) unless you can be fired and that is only for some very specific things like sleeping with a student.

Now, Reduction In Force (RIF) is something else -- one of the reasons not to offer a continuing contract is that you are reducing the number of teachers. And this is very much a union issue and layoffs are very much last-hired, first-fired.

And this goes cross-subjects and depending on the certification, cross-school. And it used to be that you didn't even have to have the appropriate certification (you still don't, but must get provisional certification). Hence, you could have a high school social studies teacher winding up as a middle school math teacher - and forcing the less senior (but far more qualified) math teacher out of the system.

Is there any way to keep really wonderful teachers who have not been around long enough to have tenure?

No. And it is seniority, not tenure, here. And it is all the union rules and the contract.

IN other industries, when cuts have to be made it seems like it's easier to keep the best.
Not in those with unions. The auto industry comes to mind...

Ed said...

Don't you think it's just a tad ironic that in a school district were a significant number of students are the children of TENURED members of the faculties at local colleges that we have folks calling for abolishing tenure?

It has long been said that the best game warden is an old poacher, as he knows all the tricks.

Could it be that those in higher ed know so many of their colleagues who literally are dead wood hiding behind tenure that they don't respect it in any form?

That they recognize the fact that K-12 folk are hiding behind tenure because they have knowledge of what hiding behind tenure looks like?

Anonymous said...

Whatever the problems of tenure in higher ed, its process of evaluation is less likely to produce lots of "dead wood" than a seniority system that seems to include almost no form of evaluation.

Are Amherst K-12 teachers ever evaluated?

Nina Koch said...

to anon 7:40,

I'm not sure why you believe that Amherst teachers are not evaluated. Evaluation is an ongoing process, which involves meetings with teachers, overseeing the establishment of goals and improvement plans, classroom observations, and written evaluations. It represents a significant amount of the workload for administrators. That is one of the reasons why we need assistant principals. You can find more information here:

Evaluation Handbook

Anonymous said...

As a parent, I was asked an ES principal if evaluations had been done before a particular teacher at that ES had received tenure.

His honest answer was "no."

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I "once asked"

BTW, the link to evaluation is broken.

Nina Koch said...

sorry, here is the link again

Evaluation Handbook

I am sure there are cases where the policy has not been followed, but it is the principal's responsibility to make sure that it happens, especially for teachers in their first, second and third year.

Also, even after a teacher receives the fourth contract, there are still measures that can be taken. It's not like it's a job for life with no consequences for poor performance. People who have concerns should raise them first with the teacher and then with the supervising administrator.

I really wish that parents who have concerns about a classroom practice would contact the teacher and just ask about what is going on. The parents might learn a fuller picture of what is going on, and the teacher could get some feedback on how certain practices are perceived.

Anonymous said...

If you think any building administrator in Amherst has the time to do the in-depth teacher assessments they'd like to do right might still believe in Santa, too. But it doesn't matter because they aren't hiring anyone new now, and all the teachers w/o professional status have been let go and only a few will be hired back.

And wait 'til you see who is being put back in the classroom in some situations. People who haven't been in the classroom in years. But they have seniority.

Anonymous said...

Nina said:
It's not like it's a job for life with no consequences for poor performance.

In theory, this is true. But when was the last time a teacher with professional status was fired from an Amherst elementary school?