My Goal in Blogging

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

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Education Matters: She's baaaaack!

Amherst Bulletin
By CATHERINE A. SANDERSON
Published on March 12, 2010

Author's note: After considerable reflection and discussion with Amherst citizens, I have decided that it is important to continue writing this column for the Bulletin, although I will now write it alone.

Over much of the last decade, Amherst and Regional School Committees have supported programs and policies proposed by the superintendent and district administrators without requiring any objective evidence of their merit.

This lack of oversight and participation has resulted in some unfortunate decisions: purchasing two portable classrooms for Mark's Meadow while elementary enrollment numbers were dropping; investing further in an elementary school math curriculum with no evidence about its effectiveness; hiring three full-time administrators to oversee special education and not a single full-time administrator to oversee curriculum; and choosing trimester scheduling, which leads to long breaks in instruction, and, in tight budget times, less instructional time.

Perhaps as a reflection of dissatisfaction with the consequences of this laissez-faire approach, in the last two years the community has elected School Committee members who expect more communication, justification and transparency around school policy decisions.

This more activist School Committee has worked collaboratively with the administration to make decisions based on data and commitment to core community values. We closed an elementary school to focus our limited resources on preserving small class sizes and the music program. We redistricted the elementary schools to achieve equity among low-income students, because research shows this approach enhances children's educational success. We adopted a new policy that requires the district to send all families who choose to leave our schools an exit survey to better understand if our schools are meeting community needs. We adopted another new policy that directs the superintendent to conduct a regular evaluation - based on objective data and comparison to a set of benchmark districts - of all curricula and programs. We created an ambitious set of goals for the new superintendent, including conducting an evaluation of the middle school, initiating a review of the special education program, and evaluating the elementary math curriculum. These changes, which were endorsed unanimously by all School Committee members, will have real and lasting benefits for children in our schools.

Throughout the implementation of these changes, some people have worked hard to defend the status quo and resisted such evaluation or even consideration of changes in current practice. Much of this defense has relied on anecdotal evidence - teachers' beliefs about a program's effectiveness, emotional appeals from parents about their own child's experience and testimony from current and former students. But to best serve all students, we need to make decisions based on what actually works, not on what we think, feel or hope works. In the end, such evaluation may not change what we do today; however, it will show the community that our educational and fiscal decisions are based on data and best practices, and thus enhance the community's confidence in all of our schools.

On March 23, Amherst voters will select two candidates for three-year terms on the School Committees. I hope all voters will learn about each of the five candidates and carefully consider how they vote. Some people believe we should help struggling students by relying on strategies that feel good, whereas others believe we should use programs that have been objectively shown to raise achievement. Some people believe we should allow teachers to develop innovative curricula and practices to teach core academic subjects, whereas others believe we should adopt approaches with demonstrated success in other districts. Some people believe we should support all budget recommendations proposed by the administration, whereas others believe we need to carefully evaluate our spending practices to make sure that our limited resources are used in the best possible way.

Your decision will have a profound impact on our policies - and our children - going forward, and we need people in place who can make those decisions wisely, using the data at hand, with a clear sense of their implications.

Catherine A. Sanderson is a professor at Amherst College, and a member of the Amherst and Regional School Committees. This column reflects her own views, and not those of the School Committees.

33 comments:

ed said...

I have a gut feeling - and this comes out of years in student affairs - that a certain high school principal didn't read Machavelli, particularly the part about how you have to kill the king if you see to overthrow him.

Instead he reawokened a giant with a very mighty pen....

Isolda Ortega-Bustamante said...

Ms. Sanderson:

My comments below were posted on March 9th and though the current discussion may have moved beyond the issues I raised in the first part of my posting, I respectfully request that you respond. Thank you.

Part one:

This is my first year as a parent in the Amherst District and it is turning out to be a very disheartening one. For the School Committee to make this decision at this specific juncture reveals such a lack of leadership that I am moved to write for the first time on a blog with a troubling history. I can only hope that regardless of our disappointment in the timing of this decision and our continuing questions about several issues, those of us who strongly support the over-ride as in the best interests of all of the children in the Amherst Schools continue to make a strong case for it.

As others have stated, Dr. Rodriguez was in charge of making deep changes that angered people wedded to the status quo. Most parents I have spoken with are not active in the name-calling that passes for civil discourse in Amherst School politics. Many of these parents found the change agenda compelling, the specific proposals sound, and Dr. Rodriguez himself personable and reasonable, regardless of whether or not one agreed with him or shared his personal political views.

Did the SC take on the hard job of meeting with Dr. Rodriguez to discuss an improvement of his management style--if one were needed--or of providing a private forum for administrators to express their issues in focused ways that could then be concretely addressed? To let him go after such a short time rather than working through the issues gives the impression that the SC is following disgruntled administrators rather than leading in the best interests of all the children. If the situation were truly beyond repair, which is certainly not at all clear, the SC could have chosen a less disruptive time to make such a drastic change to the system.

The enthusiasm and energy of many parents has been greatly diminished by the personal nature of disagreements over policy changes and by the inertia and indifference of certain administrators to concrete offers of help and to specific responses to their invitations for suggestions. At this point, what little time we have outside of work and family time seems best spent bringing extra activities and support to our child's classroom and teachers in our school.

Nevertheless, I am open to hearing what the SC and the District will be doing, with diminished resources, and now with the sudden departure of the Superintendent, around the following issues:

Isolda Ortega-Bustamante said...

Part Two

Nevertheless, I am open to hearing what the SC and the District will be doing, with diminished resources, and now with the sudden departure of the Superintendent, around the following issues:

1. Is the curriculum at every grade level in the district truly aligned to state standards? This was a concern for Dr. Rodriguez last fall and shocking to hear about.

2. Is the curriculum at every school truly aligned to every other school in the district? Teachers can obviously decide how to teach, but a child should be able to leave one school and smoothly transition to another school in town.

3. Does the SC or the District have a Strategic Development Plan designed to raise funds from public and private sources in an integrated fashion to meet agreed upon goals in a time of fiscal crisis? How does this plan connect with the worthy efforts of the AEF and of the PGOs?

4. What is the specific plan for raising the educational outcomes of low-income children, immigrant children, ELL students, and children of color who are not making adequate academic progress?

5. What is the specific plan for providing differentiated curriculum and instruction that engages and excites all learners, including one that challenges students who are above grade level?

6. What is the specific plan for engaging, integrating, and involving all parents that does not rely solely on parent volunteers? How does this plan address the specific needs of low-income parents, immigrant parents, parents of color, and LGBTQ parents?

In a time of fiscal crisis it may seem prudent to postpone change, circle the wagons, and cling to the past. However, at times like these the school system needs the energy, enthusiasm, and resources of parents and non-parents alike more than ever. Gain back the trust and excitement of most Amherst residents and I would wager that most of us would gladly give more time and resources than we ever thought possible.

In terms of this blog itself, in my opinion, opening up a public space for anonymous commentary carries a responsibility to monitor and exclude personal attacks and racist comments from such space. (Most newspapers follow such a policy). Dr. Rodriguez had barely set foot in town before anonymous and general comments were made about his supposed "machismo."

A much more direct example appeared on this blog recently, posted by a parent complaining about Crocker Farm being "a Spanish immersion school" because of the signs posted naming objects in the school in Spanish. It made me wonder whether our reading bilingual stories in the classroom could be resented by some families and it set this blog apart as a space where racist comments are permitted. Another way to raise the level of the discussion and to involve more parents might be to discourage anonymous postings and perhaps even to lessen the role of a private blog that seems to heavily influence media coverage of the schools.

Finally, expressing concerns and disagreement with the timing of this latest decision by the SC does not in any way argue against passing the over-ride nor dismiss the hard work that teachers are doing every day. Resources are desperately needed to continue to educate and support all the children in our schools. The scaled-down version of current programming in music, art, and physical education could not possibly bear any more cuts. Any further disinvestment would deteriorate the core educational programs in the schools.

Sincerely,

Isolda Ortega-Bustamante
Crocker Farm parent

March 12th note:
Ms. Sanderson did begin moderating comments after March 9th.

Tom Porter said...

Catherine,
Thank you for the cogent re-cap of our current predicament, the well-meaning but un-grounded impulses that got us here, and the tremendous opportunity that we have right now, with this school committee election, to accelerate progress to make this school district not just good but - once again - great.

I attended the mid-day candidates' forum yesterday at the Middle School and came away with a much clearer understanding of each person's hopes and motivations. All are passionate about making a difference. One - Rob Spence - seems to have his priorities most in alignment with the needs of the children AND a willingness to ground decisions in evidence and evaluation of comparative data. He's got my first vote.

Anonymous said...

Roar!

Robert Frost said...

Thank you for returning to the public forum, Catherine.

Amherst is the town that Robert Frost built. His library, his words, and much of the sociology of knowledge that he based his work upon, are alive and well in Amherst.

First is '"good walls make good neighbors". In Europe, there is a concept called "the wall" -- the mysterious barricade -- that which separates one person from the other. In Amherst, this would be "good manners", which keeps us from speaking truth to the most outrageous and manipulative misstatements. People who point out the obvious are called "rude". I am sure you have heard this word in your travels.

Second is the "fork in the road".

In the case of Amherst, there is the expectation that we will get to vote on which path we will take, that everyone will get to voice their opinion on the paths. And then, each will have a turn to speak to those opinions. Without a motion on the floor.

A committee to research those opinions, while ignoring the best advice of the best people we hired to present us with the best options, will be formed and a new plan will be devised, voted on, and adopted. Some people will disagree with the majority and hire a lawyer, costing the town an extra $1.25 million.

A structure will be built, a very pretty structure, a parking structure with no parking spaces, a monument to Amherst politics. Watch the cars go in and came back out.

The fork in the road, it is an illusion. A road is just a road. Right or left, you are on a road.

The Superintendent's job is to carry on the goals of the School Committee. We already hired and paid for an outside consultant. Framing Dr. R as an outsider is a convenient way to dismiss the conclusions of the Hamer report and design our own parking structure.

Say what you will about him, Dr. R was doing the job you hired him for. Even though he (sadly) stepped on a land mine, the goals remain.

During the parking garage debacle, I picked up Vince O'Connor hitching on East Pleasant St, going into town, and I asked him, "what's with the parking garage?" to which he answered, "too much dust". That would be $1.25 million worth of dust.

Please do not be deterred by this bad news. Do not let the 'dust', the departure of yet another Superintendent, blind you to the task at hand. You have a perfectly good plan; all you need is the mettle.

Dr. Rodriguez is a horse; he pulled the wagon we all ride in. Sometimes, you have get out and push, is all.

A woman is like a tea bag, someone said. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water. It is Maria's turn now. Same goals, a muddy road. Everyone, out of the wagon. And, PUSH!

Robert F.

LarryK4 said...

Come on there Robert, you are showing your age. Catherine never left "the public forum."

Her blog has way more power than a Bulletin column. Although, having been a Bully columnist for 14 years back in the pre-Internet 'Dark Ages' I have to admit it makes for a potent combination.

Anonymous said...

It is ironic how Ms. Bustamante has not received a response, and she made some good points and asked some good questions in a calm and respectful way. I can understand why many people in this community feel like their voices are not being heard (especially people of color). Do not only respond to people that agree with your point of view.

Anonymous said...

I came to Amherst in 1959 when it was fashionable to laugh at the happenings within the Hadley town bodies and to look down our noses at the community of Belchertown. My, how have times changed!

Anonymous said...

It does seem to be a continuing theme in the history of progressivism in the United States, that those who push and struggle for significant change of institutions inevitably are condemned for endangering them, for being insufficiently loyal, for ruining what's good about them.

That charge has worked for decades for those who support runaway defense spending.

Rich Morse

Nina Koch said...

Catherine,

I don't understand your paragraph that contains several sentences starting with "Some people believe...". There are only five candidates running for school committee. So who are the "some people"? And how were you able to determine what they believe?

I don't think you have any basis for your statements. If you have something concrete about a particular candidate, you should simply state that and say why you disagree. If you don't have anything concrete, you shouldn't say anything.

Anonymous said...

Nina,

I believe that Ms. Sanderson is trying to stay out of explicitly endorsing or opposing candidates who may end up serving next to her.

We've had that happen in the recent past and it doesn't work well. And we've had certain individuals who just can't grasp that involvement in town electoral politics damages their ability as incumbents to govern effectively. (and, yes, Nina, I'm not naming them)

When she's not subtle, you are critical.
When she is subtle, you are critical.

Rich Morse

Abbie said...

Nina,

I read CS as saying some 'voters' believe... and they should/might vote for those candidates that share those views. I didn't read it as saying that some of the 'candidates' believe...Its up to the voters to LEARN about the candidates beliefs and I think that's what CS was saying.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Ms. Ortega-Bustamante - thank you for your comments. As I'm sure you understand, I am limited in terms of what I can say (legally). However, the School Committee did not "make this decision." This was a mutual decision between the superintendent and the School Committee, which followed the receipt of evaluations from senior level principals and staff. As you can I'm sure imagine, this was a difficult decision for many people involved. However, given your concerns, it certainly be appropriate for you to send your letter to the current superintendent, Maria Geryk, and all members of the School Committee, which you can do by emailing: schoolcommittee@arps.org and gerykm@arps.org. Although I am the only School Committee member with a blog who regularly engages in open communication with all members of the public (including those, like you, who are very critcial of this blog), I am not the chair of either committee, I didn't meet individually at any point with Dr. Rodriguez or members of senior staff, nor am I currently serving as superintendent. You raise a number of good and valuable points about how this district will act moving forward -- yet many of these are not decisions that are made by the School Committee, but by the superintendent (e.g., aligning curriculum, helping struggling students, etc.). Thus, I believe it would be entirely appropriate for you to come to a School Committee meeting and/or email the entire School Committee and superintendent in order to have these questions answered.

Finally, I think it is very important to consider what is described as racist behavior -- because that accusation often shuts down dialogue. I read the comment regarding the presence of Spanish language at Crocker as written by someone with a child in that school who doesn't speak Spanish and perhaps doesn't feel very welcome in that environment - - I didn't read it as "that person is a racist." And I believe I have a responsibility as a School Committee member to hear from all parents and to try to understand what they are saying, and not to immediately judge or label their comments in a particular way.

Tom Porter - thanks for your kind words, and a special thanks for taking the time to attend candidate forums to hear from all the candidates and really get informed before this very important vote!

Robert Frost - thanks for the welcome back to the pages of the Bulletin! And I agree that the outside perspective provided by the Hamer report (commissioned by Dr. Rodriguez) was very helpful, and should be a useful guide for moving forward.

Anonymous 2:08 - it is really pretty amazing to me that my failure to respond to Ms. Ortega-Bustamante's comments within 24 hours is greeted with such disdain. I have full time job as a professor (and this week I gave an exam to 70 students and am working on grading over 90 papers). I have three kids in elementary school. I am spending a ton of time on School Committee business. And I'm maintaining this blog to communicate with all residents so that I can get anonymously attacked for not responding fast enough. Amazing.

Rich Morse - well said. And very sad.

Nina - the three questions I stated at the end of this piece are questions that I believe are essential, and are at the core of the types of decisions the School Committee will make in the years to come, and thus I encourage voters to figure out what THEY feel about these questions AND ask candidates who are running what they feel. I don't know what the candidates themselves feel on these issues (though in some cases, they've provided answers in other forums), which is why I haven't stated "like Ernie believes" or whatever -- that's why I identify the questions and encourage voters to find this information themselves.

Anonymous said...

"it is really pretty amazing to me that my failure to respond to Ms. Ortega-Bustamante's comments within 24 hours is greeted with such disdain. I have full time job as a professor (and this week I gave an exam to 70 students and am working on grading over 90 papers). I have three kids in elementary school. I am spending a ton of time on School Committee business. And I'm maintaining this blog to communicate with all residents so that I can get anonymously attacked for not responding fast enough. Amazing."

Wow, what a response! I was just making a point and was not being disdainful, believe me! I was not attacking you and why ould I feel comfortable in eaving my name when you respond like you did? Catherine, she had posted that she originally posted on 3/9 and you have responded to other people within that timeframe. You have made many posts between 3/9 and now,as a matter of fact. I am also a working mother and a professor, so I do understand that you are busy as a working mother , but my point was that some people get quicker responses than others, especially if they agree with your point of view. If not, they get the type of response that I got from you. Thank you for taking the time to answer Ms. Ortega-Bustamante but your hostile response to me was unnecessary. It is indicative of my point about certain people who try to get involved, but are alienated becaus they have a different viewpoint or disagree with you.

Nina Koch said...

Sorry, I must have misunderstood the paragraph. I agree that it is very important to ask people what they believe and furthermore to try to find out why they believe that.

I think a major impediment to communication occurs when someone attempts to characterize someone else's beliefs. In fact, I am not sure where this characterization comes from: "Some people believe we should help struggling students by relying on strategies that feel good." When has anyone articulated that belief?

LarryK4 said...

Well then Nina:

Why don't you start your own blog? Rather than symbiotically sucking off this one!

Abbie said...

Frankly CS,

I think LK ought to be banned from posting on your blog. If there is a way to block a particular poster then I ask that you please please block him. To my knowledge, he has never offered any constructive dialog and he frequently insults other participants, many who are respectfully participating.

Just because he offers his name he shouldn't be offered a blank check to abuse us. He is a bully, who is more interested in making news then reporting it, more interested in his own stature than issues, who is compelled to have the last word.

I think it is in the best interest of your blog to exclude Larry Kelley.

LarryK4 said...

You seem to spend a lot of time on MY (evil) blog now don't you Nina?

For instance, you toggle between the two of us so often that two days ago you actually forgot you were on MY blog and posted this comment which you deleted within minutes (my AOL account instantly forwards me comments so even if you delete them I have a permanent record which I can use someday in my book.)

-----Original Message-----
From: Abbie
To: amherstac@aol.com
Sent: Thu, Mar 11, 2010 6:18 pm
Subject: [Only in The Republic of Amherst] New comment on School bullying--even in Amherst.

Abbie has left a new comment on your post "School bullying--even in Amherst":

I believe this thread is becoming too damaging, too many folks with their pitchforks sharpened, some out for CS, some for Principle Jackson.

If possible, in the best interests of the community, CS and P. Jackson, I think it is time, in my opinion, for CS to block anymore posts.

###############################
For someone involved in education I find it ironic you would now ask Catherine to engage in censorship.

Especially since you contacted me two years ago and asked me to be nice to Principal Mark Jackson during the 'Vagina Monologues' disaster (part 2) at Amherst Regional High School.

Anonymous said...

And after you ban Larry, what if someone says they don't like your posts Abbie, or they don't like Rick's posts. It's a slippery slope.

Anonymous said...

Dear 12:00p.m. I am posting here anonymously but I would like to respectfully say that it did come across as though you were directly attacking Professor Sanderson if that was your post at 2:08 a.m.

I respectfully say to you that I have been posting here often, and often write very positive things in general and I have never gotten a personal response from CS. I noticed that things were a little quiet from her end for several days after that SC meeting last Tuesday night. This was not a surprise to me in the sense that I know she is a full-time professor, mother of three, wife, and SC member, for starters. I am extremely thankful for this blog because I have learned a ton from it. But that has not necessarily happened because I've gotten answers to questions I pose.

Ultimately, Prof Sanderson has been quite prolific in the last few days-- she came out with her article; she posted several new articles with accompanying analysis; the middle school report and related info has appeared. I am often in awe about what she is able to post, rather than what she does not post.

My feeling is that if you really have questions that you would like to try to have answered, the first thing to do is email the SC directly. Or perhaps try emailing an SC member who does not have a blog, or one who may perhaps be less busy than Prof Sanderson. Another good place to start might be an SC member who is running for re-election, as that person would probably welcome the chance to provide info and get more votes.

I would be curious to know how long a response would take if Isolda emails her questions to the other SC members and the interim superintendent.

I learn a lot from the people who disagree with Catherine on issues. And I certainly don't think for a minute that Prof Sanderson has any problem with people who debate and disagree in a respectful way, or with some sense of civility and decorum.

I think Isolda's comments and inquiries gave us all something to think about, and I am particularly interested in what direction the SC wants to take with kids who are especially enthusiastic and eager learners who could use more support in terms of differentiated instruction and one-on-one time with teachers. I truly believe that excellent schools will help *all* kids and I believe that we all can agree that raising expectations in Amherst is a good place to start. I think we can do that even if the override doesn't pass.

Anonymous said...

There's a new editorial in the New York Time this morning (March 14, 2010) entitled, National School Standards, at Last.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/opinion/14sun1.html?hp

It looks like the rest of the country's public schools are having similar problems to Amherst in terms of the lack of clearly defined curriculum and standards.

Nina Koch said...

Larry,

I have no idea what you are talking about. I did not leave a comment on your blog, nor did I ask anyone to censor you. The comment you reference is from Abbie, not from me.

My only request has been to ask you if you would be able to drop the on-line persona and to participate in a discussion about education. So far, you appear to be unable to do that, but I have not yet given up on you. I know there must be more to you than what you show here.

Abbie said...

Larry Kelley

you are a BULLY and it is not censorship to stop bullying. Apparently you are unable to control yourself, I suggest you seek professional help, probably a personality disorder or narcissism disorder (both?). Should teachers allow bullying because of their 1st amendment rights?

This is CS blog. It is within her power to decide who gets to participate and at some point, some folks, like me will no longer visit. Its been awfully close at times recently.

LarryK4 said...

Ooops! Sorry there Nina, I meant to say Abbie (as you can clearly see I was responding to her and clearly she is asking Catherine to censor me and clearly she spends time on my blog.)

But it is also easy to mix you two up--as I also did when I referenced your emails to me two years ago defending Mark Jackson.

Anonymous said...

Remember:

Larry is only about the amount of attention he can get.

Like bugs at a picnic, you have to decide whether he's going to ruin your good time.

Anonymous said...

To Abbie: "personality disorder or narcissism disorder (both?). "

How is your comment not bullying? What's the difference?

Nina Koch said...

thanks to 8:38 for pointing out the article on national standards. It's short, but very interesting reading.

There are some national standards produced by professional organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Science Teachers Association, the National Council for the Social Studies, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and the National Council of Teachers of English. I think it would be good to have these standards presented at a school committee meeting (maybe one academic area per meeting).

I don't believe the school district has ever adopted a set of national standards as policy for the district and I would like to see that happen. I think that having standards in place as policy could guide a lot of other decision-making, in what textbooks we choose, what courses we teach, how we assess student progress, whom we choose to hire and so forth. Since, as Dr. Beers pointed out, we may have differing definitions of what it means to engage or what challenge means, it would help to be able to refer to the standards to try to develop some common definitions. I think it would really help when we say we want to choose a curriculum that "works." We have to define what we mean by working, and national standards would go a long way toward helping us do that.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rich Morse/Abbie - thank you for clarifying for Nina the intent of that paragraph she questioned - to NOT endorse a particular candidate and to encourage voters to consider these questions for themselves, to find out what the candidates think about these questions, and to vote accordingly.

Anonymous 12:00 - I had, as you can imagine, a very busy week. The comments that Ms. Ortega-Bustmante posted on March 9th were very long, and contained a number of highly specific questions that really should be addressed to the entire SC and/or superintendent, not just me. I did not want to respond in a cursory way, and I did not have a chance to respond in a thoughtful way during that time. And your comments did feel like a criticize, and an assumption which is obviously incorrect, that I only respond to comments that support my views.

Nina - I believe the Amherst schools are full of examples in which we do things that "feel good" and not necessarily things that have been shown to work. We have clustered kids by language spoken in the elementary schools and that may or may not have improved their acquisition of English. We have chosen to have a trimester system at the high school (with one of the reasons being that kids who fail a course in one trimester can retake it again and not be behind), but we haven't examined whether having fewer minutes in class and longer breaks in instruction contributes to the likelihood of failure. We have a system in 7th grade that seems designed to help struggling students (extensions), but in reality may well work to favor those who have parents who can help with math homework and/or hire tutors. Those are all examples of things we've done that I think "feel good" and seem like they would be good -- but we have no idea if they are actually good.

Nina/Abbie/Larry - I am going to hope that everyone can stick to the issue .... which is education in Amherst. I am not going to post more discussion regarding who gets to post. I am just reminding everyone to keep the focus on the actual issue, which is important.

Anonymous 10:20 - thank you for your thoughtful post. I agree with all you said.

Anonymous 8:38 - thanks for giving the link to this interesting article!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Nina - the recently adopted policy on evaluation in fact states that one of the factors that will guide evaluation of curriculum is the national standards, so that is very much in line with your suggestion. However, it is important to note that the standards in some areas are not without controversy -- the NCTM standards, for example, have been widely criticized by some (including some mathematicians). The policy which the SC unanimously endorsed includes professional standards as well as other factors (e.g., research/data, best practices, comparison to other districts, etc.).

Nina Koch said...

Catherine,

I asked you when someone had articulated the belief that we should do things because they feel good. You have not provided any evidence of that belief.

Your sentences that start with "Some people believe" come from you drawing inferences about someone's beliefs, not from reporting what they have actually stated. I think you often draw those inferences incorrectly. Developing an understanding of what people believe and why they believe it is a crucial element of collaboration.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Nina - the key here is whether these things work -- if we are doing them, it is because we expect them to work, because they feel good. Feeling good is not the same as being good -- that's the key distinction, which I think is a pretty big point in the article. Obviously when we choose to do things (extensions, trimesters, language clustering) it is because we THINK these choices would be good. I don't believe the intent of anyone in the district is to do things that are BAD. But the key point is that for all of these things, we have no idea if they actually are good, because no one has studied them to figure out if they are good. I would like data and objective analysis -- that's how I believe we should make decisions about how we do education. I believe you place much less of a priority on this -- and that's fine. My point is just that voters should decide which candidate shares their view.

And yes, I've heard numerous people within our district defend each of these programs because they feel good to that person. And for me, that isn't enough.

Nina Koch said...

I think it's one thing to identify camps where there are people openly stating certain beliefs. This probably applies to the override situation where people are making explicit statements pro and con. I wouldn't say that there are only two camps, since there are a variety of reasons for people's opinions. But yes, there are camps on this issue.

Your column, on the other hand, attempts to identify a camp that cannot be located. You say "Some people believe" but you are unable to point to any place where someone is stating that belief. This is a fundamental flaw of the column.

I don't think it boils down to some people wanting to do what works and some people not. Obviously, everybody cares about doing something that works. The divide is located in how we define what it means for something to work and how we measure it. That's where national standards come in.

I agree that it is good to look at other districts, but they too, have to make choices based on something. We can't all just look at each other in a big circle. The Newton Public Schools math page makes it very clear that they are designing their programs to meet the NCTM standards and I would like to see us move in that direction.