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.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Amherst elementary schools add Spanish

Hampshire Gazette
By NICK GRABBE
Saturday, May 1, 2010

AMHERST - The elementary schools will start teaching Spanish to all students in the early grades for about 40 minutes a week next fall.

Additionally, the School Committee will work with administrators to develop a policy that will expand this amount of exposure to Spanish through sixth grade over the next three years.

Next year's budget includes 1.5 positions for elementary Spanish instruction, and it will involve kindergarten through first or second grade, said Maria Geryk, the interim superintendent. Research shows that language instruction works best when begun early, and a gradual rollout of a program is most effective, she said.

"We're working to honor the competing demands we have for students and the promises we made to taxpayers in the override and to staff in restoring positions," she told the committee Tuesday.

Member Steve Rivkin said the Spanish program is consistent with the school district's goal of social justice. Amherst has high per-pupil spending even after the cutbacks of the past year, and can afford to undertake this program, he said.

Member Catherine Sanderson said she would have liked to see Spanish instruction in all grades next fall. Defending the 40 minutes per week, she said there are benefits of studying language beyond fluency.

"Teaching language helps children learn about different cultures, and thereby helps increase empathy and understanding for those from other cultures and backgrounds," she said.

Sanderson said the introduction of world language into the elementary schools has been discussed for a decade, after being eliminated after the 1992-93 year. The passage of the override March 23 gave the schools the money needed, she said.

Geryk said that even if the schools had lots of money, a gradual expansion of the Spanish program would work be preferred.

Sanderson will join School Committee Chairman Irv Rhodes and Sean Smith, head of the foreign language department, in an effort to develop a policy to introduce K-6 Spanish instruction by the 2013-14 school year.

"If we're going to do it, I'd like to do it well," Smith said.

The only elementary foreign language instruction is the grant-supported Chinese program at Wildwood School, which will end this year.

Note: Just one correction to this story: the recommendation of the administration is to have more intensive Spanish than 40 minutes a week (1 1/2 hours a week). According to Sean Smith, head of world languages, this amount of exposure K to 6 (as the program is scaled up) will allow students who want to continue taking Spanish in the middle school to be a year ahead.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

Member Steve Rivkin said the Spanish program is consistent with the school district's goal of social justice

I just don't see how a language instruction program promotes social justice in any real way. Far better to spend the money on more preschool classrooms for families that don't have the money for PK (esp ELL families), MCAS tutoring, SAT prep, summer enrichment, and substantive homework help if equity in the classroom is the goal.

Finally! said...

It seems to me that the twin messages of last March's election are support for the schools -- and a desire for change. Amherst's schools need to become stronger, more academically challenging and more creative. Our schools and students are being left behind. The movement for change is being led by parents and the school boards.

Adding Spanish to the elementary school is a big step toward developing a richer curriculum for our children. The superintendent should add more Spanish teachers for next year and not water down the program.

I wonder where the adminstration and teachers are in all this? Reacting, defending or simply worn out? Are some privately cheering? Our schools need leaders and they are sitting on the Amherst School Committee.

Rick said...

I think this is a good idea and voted for it. I also think administration and teachers are generally for it, but like many of us are not sure how to weigh the trade offs. There are reasonable arguments to be made about other things being more important to add than Spanish.

We also need to think about this: we are doing a K-1 (or K-2) program with 1.5 teachers in 2010, at a cost of roughly $75,000, but committed to ramping that up to K-6 by 2013. That will require about 6 teachers or roughly $300,000. Where that extra $225,000 is coming from is definitely unknown at this point.

Anonymous said...

What a colossal waste of time and scarce resources.

Anonymous said...

Why can't it be added for all grades this fall? Otherwise current 3rd,4th and 5th will never benefit from this addition, though they've experienced most of the recent losses, like delayed instrument instruction, and smaller class size.

Anonymous said...

There are folks in town that would be second-guessing no matter what the School Committee did, because they've decided that they don't like the members on a personal basis.

So the use of the phrase "social justice" is like meat in the water for these people.

It's not about the substance; it's purely an ad hominem reaction.

But I am noticing that the usual boo-birds on this blog seem to be taking a vacation these days.

Anonymous said...

40 minutes of Spanish a week:
I would say that the only thing to be accomplished in a mere 40 mins of foreign language a week IS a promotion of social justice, in a weak watered down way.

Yes, this is change, while I'd like to see foreign language be truly meaningful (offered 3 x a week)this may be step in the right direction. it does cost extra $ to do this.

I have hopes this Committee can accomplish the (to me) more important goal of ensuring that the kids coming through our schools are proficient AT GRADE LEVEL before going on to the next learning level.

I don't care how it's done--if it can be done within the constraints of social promotion being the norm, great.

However the biggest social INjustice we are doing our children, is to not ensure they have learned what they need to at every step of the way.

Early intervention pre-schools, special reading help early. Ensure that every child is provided the help he/she needs to READ in first grade, READ better in second grade etc.

I know that we all do have intellectual strengths in one field or another; yet if a student cannot read at or beyond grade level, that student is typically going to fall behind. Year after year.

Harry T.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 2:41 - I'm not sure if you've been following the School Committee meetings this year, but just to clarify -- this addition of Spanish language comes AFTER we've added a new preschool class for low-income students (there isn't space to add more than 1), afterschool MCAS prep (Achievement Academy) for kids who struggle on MCAS, and summer school for kids who struggle on MCAS. SAT prep wouldn't be relevant since this is money for the K to 6 schools ONLY.

Finally - I agree that this is an exciting change for the Amherst schools, and I'm delighted to see some movement on this front. I believe the superintendent has committed to this program (based on her statements at the last meeting), and I'm really excited to move forward on this.

Rick - I agree that this, like many things, is really about tradeoffs (and I would add trade offs in both TIME and MONEY). One note, however: the 1.5 positions may be for K to 2, which means we are close to half-way there in terms of staffing. I also asked at the meeting (haven't done my blog post yet!) Sean Smith about the cost of the full implementation of the WW Chinese program, and that was 1.7 teachers (and this was a bigger school with more classrooms than CF will have). So, this suggests to me that we should be able to do full implement at about 5 teachers, not 6, meaning we need to find about 3.5 MORE teachers (which is just a bit over one person building). I will also note that this is a more intensive program than I had suggested -- about double the language exposure -- so I have to assume the administration believes this is do-able at this higher level. But we should return to this issue at the next meeting -- I certainly don't want to implement a new program for only 1 or 2 years.

Anonymous 8:43 - so, what would you like to see this money/time spent on? A constructive suggestion might be more effective than simply blanket criticism!

Anonymous 9:30 - I asked for full implementation K to 6 ... and I agree that this would be better. I think there are two real reasons. One is that it takes some time to get the program up and running, and it is easier to start it small. I think the other is that it is easier to build the program starting with the youngest grades, and then continue to develop new curriculum and build UP over time. But I'm wondering if it might be possible to at least do K to 3, if we could get another .5 position?

Anonymous 11:02 - I certainly agree that there is some pretty consistent opposition to anything I suggest ... and I think it is distinctly possible that virtually anything I suggest now would be opposed. Nonetheless, I've heard a ton of excitment from many parents and community members about this proposal, and I'm really excited to have the superintendent's support on moving forward with this.

Harry T - read the note at the end -- it is going to be 1 1/2 hours of Spanish a week, which should provide more fluency (according to Sean Smith, head of world language). And I believe that we've already done a number of things to help all kids reach proficiency (e.g., afterschool MCAS help, summer school), which of course is also a really important goal.

Anonymous said...

Why not put more preschool classes at the East Street school?

Anonymous said...

Catherine- there have been lots of concrete alternative suggestions posted on other threads.

Anonymous said...

How about additional teacher support for the math curriculum, beefing up the science curriculum, returning instrumental music instruction to the third grade, teacher mentoring, better PE and health instruction. This is a wasteful, and unproven which I find completely ironic for someone who professes to be data driven.

Anonymous said...

40 minutes a week?
well considering that this will succeed in teaching very little, and the students will then have the upper grades of elementary school to forget what little they learned,this comes off as entirely pointless and a waste of money. but wait maybe there's another motive, oh yes, it's a "promotion of social justice". now it all makes sense.

Anonymous said...

No to be too cynical - but this has nothing to do with social justice and everything to do with the SC making a statement that it;s in charge.

Gavin Andresen said...

I agree with what Rick said. It is really hard to make rational, data-driven decisions when considering whether to spend money on X or Y.

I've been dipping my toe into some of the research, and although it's easy to get a sense of direction for any one particular policy decision, it's really hard to get a magnitude that would help.

For example, everything I read says that foreign language instruction improves student performance.

But: even after skimming through five or so research papers, I have no idea how much. So should we spend money on foreign language instruction, or would spending that money on pre-k education be more productive?

Foreign language, probably. The data on benefits of pre-k education is mixed (best research shows no benefit to pre-k by the time the kids reach middle school).

How about foreign language versus smaller K-3 class sizes? The research is clear that smaller K-3 class sizes DOES have a positive lasting impact. But I don't know what the magnitude of the effect is...

ken said...

Gavin,

I tried to make this point in an earlier thread about the foreign language proposal. Research does say that knowing 2 languages is cognitively benficial--for BILINGUALS. The problem is when we say "language teaching" and "language learning" to refer to anything from a small smattering of languages classes per week like this proposal, and full, 2-way language programs leading to bilingualism, we confuse the research showing the cognitive benefits of "learning" another language with whatever model we happen to be discussing. There is no research that I am aware of (I have been in the language teaching field for 30+ years) that predicts any demonstrable and permanent cognitive or academic benefit to dabbling in another language. (And I might add, not a real social justice benefit either, tho saying so might put me at risk of being a boo-bird looking for meat in the water).

Probably most readers of this blog can reflect on their own experience learning high school French or Spanish, and decide for themselves what special benefits they got from it.

Anonymous said...

Another question to consider is what's going to get "bumped" in the school day to accommodate that hour and a half of Spanish per week. I doubt that there is an hour and half of free time currently in each classroom, so something's gotta give. Has there been discussion of this at SC meetings? Is there going to be consistency between classrooms about what gets reduced or eliminated? I'm asking this because I think the goal of working towards better alignment between classroom experiences is an important one and without adequate thought and planning, the addition of another subject area (with the inherent difficulties that go along with parsing out specialist time) could undermine our ability to realize it. There is no question that language study has immense value. I only wish the trade off discussion had been given more time (including offering the kind of forum Rick Hood has suggested) so that we're all cognizant, not only about what we're gaining, but about what we're potentially giving up.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 3:55 - the East Street school is being returned to the town ... and no one has suggested using this for preschool classrooms (nor do I know if this would be an appropriate place for this activity). And although I agree that preschool education is very important (and wrote a column on this in the Bulletin a few months ago), I also think the SC would have to think carefully about whether it is appropriate to move funds intended for use K to 6 to preschool which will benefit only a small proportion of kids.

Anonymous 4:17 - and I've responded to those ideas in previous threads ... my point is simply a blanket criticism doesn't help further the dialogue.

Anonymous 4:22 - so, of the ideas you support, it isn't clear which of these would be BETTER than world language (just that YOU think they would be better). There are parental concerns about the math curriculum, which is why there is now a review of this curriculum (and I don't know if more teacher support would answer these concerns or would be something that makes sense). There is a review of the K to 12 science curriculum planned for next year, and since classroom teachers teach science (NOT other teachers), it isn't clear to me why this would require additional teachers. The instrumental music program is already increasing by .6 for the upcoming year, and there will be one fewer school -- thus it isn't clear to me whether adding more positions here would actually take priority over providing world language (many kids will now have two music lessons a week already!). No one has suggested adding a teacher mentoring, better PE or health instruction -- except you, anonymously, on this blog. If you believe these are better uses of the money, send an email using your actual name to the superintendent and the entire SC and that way all members of the SC and the superintendent can understand your preferences. And just FYI -- lots of data suggests K to 6 world language has a number of benefits (which is why 25% of elementary school currently teach world language).

Anonymous 4:30 - perhaps you should read the entire article before posting your comment. First, there will be 1 1/2 hours of instruction each week, not 40 minutes. Second, this program will start K to 1 or K to 2 and then GROW with the kids, so that the kids who have the program next year in K and 1 (or 2) will CONTINUE to have it throughout elementary school, meaning they will be able to skip 7th grade Spanish if they continue in this language. The intention is NOT to offer it continually only in grades K and 1 (or 2).

Anonymous 6:03 - well, as much as I'd like to take credit for what I think is a great idea, I can't. The recommendation of this K to 6 elementary language was made by a committee of teachers and staff in the Amherst schools, chaired by Sean Smith (head of world language at ARHS) in 2008. This committee was appointed by Jere Hochman prior to my arrival on the SC (or the arrival of any current Amherst members). This SC was just willing to actually implement these recommendations from the teachers/staff in Amherst.

Gavin - good points re. the difficulty of evaluating the trade-offs. I think the other thing to keep in mind is that we are limited in terms of space to do a lot in terms of K to 3 class size ... we have 1 or 2 classrooms "extra" at each school as of now, so adding an extra classroom in each K to 3 would be impossible in terms of space. So, even if this was a "better" use of funds, we can't really do it. That's another reason why world language seems like a good way to go.

Abbie said...

I am very much against the WL 'if' it takes away from regular class time. So for you to seriously consider expanding the program to those above 1st (or second grade) without expanding the number of hours in the school week then I think its a serious mistake. I'm all for it IF you can pull off an end to the early release on Wednesday, for example.

Anonymous said...

If you watch the last School Committee meeting, there's some remarks there from Irv Rhodes about his daughter who is now grown up and about her introduction to foreign language in the third grade here in Amherst. And Irv's pretty compelling in talking about the benefits of this kind of study. He talks about how it changed his daughter's life.

Will we do it perfectly right away? Of course not, but this is something that we used to do in Amherst. It's something that I got in Northampton, from the third grade on. It's something that is happening in other places. This is why I'm getting a wee bit tired of the cramped, zero-sum game, hyperrealism that supposedly comes with being a moderate in Amherst.

If we can't make this change happen (and if you have to roll it out very slowly, so be it), we might as well just pack it in in this community. I'm beginning to think that we have a shared problem; we might it call it "that vision thing".

Rich Morse

questions said...

Catherine, is the "new preschool class for low-income students" going to be a class based only on SES? Or are there simply more slots added so that more children can attend the preschool overall?

Where you've asked for ideas about how to better spend the money, I would say by bringing back reading recovery unless I've missed something and it's back already. Our kids have benefitted so much from that program.

Can anyone clarify how Spanish would promote social justice?

I would love our kids to learn Spanish but I question the use of the money for that purpose unless there is a real plan that shows where the money will come from to sustain the program long-term.

Re: Abbie's comments, it would be great to hear specifically how Spanish would be fit into the schedule. What would there be less of - at every grade level, in case it will vary between grades?
For instance, now how exactly do the WW students' schedules differ from kids in the same grades at the other schools where they aren't studying Chinese? I'm not sure if this is a rumor, but I recall hearing that at MM, the students have specials twice a week (vs. once at the other schools). This must be really important from the perspective of curriculum alignment that you're working on. Also, is anyone interested in or working on finding out whether there are consistent opportunities for pe and recess across the schools and whether our schools meet national recommendations for physical activity? I would really like to see how each grade divides up time for the subjects/specials/recess, how this varies from school to school now, and thoughts about what works best and how we can standardize this across schools. Just a description of what goes on now would be great.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Catherine,
The school committee said/led those who gave up/gave back their raises, that the money gained this way would be used to reinstate their co-workers who would lose their jobs... What happened to that?? A Spanish program was chosen/given preference, over lost teachers jobs???

Gavin Andresen said...

Ken: good point about bilingual education (for bilingual kids) versus teaching foreign language.

So I went google scholar diving again.

Maybe it is the file-drawer effect (the tendency for "has no effect" results to remain unpublished), but there IS research to support foreign language instruction in elementary schools. Like this dissertation:

"The Relationship between Elementary School Foreign Language Study in Grades Three through Five and Academic Achievement on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) and the Fourth-grade Louisiana Educational Assessment Program for the 21st Century (LEAP 21) Test"

The findings of the present research indicate that foreign language students significantly outperformed their non-foreign language counterparts on every subtest of the LEAP 21 test and were more successful passing this test. Moreover, foreign language students significantly outperformed their non-language peers on the language portion of the fifth-grade ITBS.

Or "The Enhancement of Figural Creativity Through Second Language Learning at the Elementary School Level"

The main hypothesis of this study is that the experience of learning a second language at the elementary school level is positively correlated to divergent thinking in figural tasks. Research studies on learning sets and on bilingualism suggest that through experience individuals become more flexible in their thinking. This study is concerned with flexibility in thinking through experience with a foreign language. Comparisons are made between second language learners and single language learners using multivariate analysis of variance with figural fluency and figural flexibility as dependent variables. The second language learners score significantly higher than do the monolingual pupils on both variables. Second language learning appears, therefore, not only to provide children with the ability to depart from the traditional approaches to a problem but also to supply them with possible rich resources for new and different ideas.

Anonymous said...

that anonymous poster isn't the first and only person to mention adding teacher mentoring on this blog or anywhere else. Nina Koch has written brilliantly about the need for math coaches on this blog and elsewhere and I am sure that teacher mentoring has been brought up at meetings since it was part of each school and had to be eliminated because of budget cuts.

ken said...

Gavin,

The studies you cite are interesting, but the main question is still how many hours of foreign language study per week did the students that showed the test gains have? My guess is there must be a tipping point where on one side of "x hours per week", there are no gains, while on the other, gains start.

If it was just the fact of 2 languages versus 1, then all ESL students would automatically do better on average at school than native English speakers, which is demonstrably not the case.

Of course, dabbling in language learning itself certainly does no harm, but when the rubber meets the road in scheduling, that's when adverse consequences--usually for the most struggling learners--happen. It's the reason I was against the very similar proposal when it was put forward several years ago. Suddenly struggling learners who need academic support will be crunched in the schedule, or have to not take Spanish in order to get their needs met--creating yet another have vs. have not situation (hurray for social justice) in a school district which already has too many. And/or, social studies and science time will get eaten away to make room for it, yet the expectations on teachers vis-a-vis social studies and science will not change. And/or it will be something else. The "law of unintended consequences" takes over when things are squeezed into an already overstuffed school schedule, which often revolves around the specific scheduling needs of part time teachers and not necessarily what makes the most coherent sense for a school-- and struggling learners and certainly teachers will bear the brunt of it.

Anonymous said...

Gavin that's great but is the method of instruction in those studies the same as what will be implemented here? 40 Minutes/week. I don't think that anyone is arguing against the value of teaching a second language if it really teaching a second language. And given other pressing issues at the elementary level this right now seems like a waste of resources.

Anonymous said...

"Member Steve Rivkin said the Spanish program is consistent with the school district's goal of social justice."

Just saying that something is consistent with the district's goals of social justice does not make it so. Many on this blog have pointed out how the planned Spanish program is NOT consistent with social justice goals. These comments are brushed off by Catherine (and I am sure if Steve Rivkin ever commented here, he too would brush them off) as one would brush a pesky fly off away from their face. Just because these comments are made by anon posters does not make them any less worthy. But once Catherine makes up her mind about the worthiness of something, nothing, not even data-based observations of the folly of her cause, will deter her. And yes, she will come back by saying the current planned Spanish program was suggested by the Superintendent...but we should not forget that it was suggested by the Super in response to Catherine and Steve opining in a recent SC meeting that they were going to push for mandatory K-6 Spanish in all schools. The Super was put in a position of having to come up with something and,after consultation with Mr. Smith, presented K-1 or K-2 Spanish.

It is not at all accurate to say that the Super came up with this idea and the SC is just OKing something that the Super wants. Quite a spin has been put on this Spanish program.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I'm just going to make 2 very quick comments here:

1. The Spanish program voted to adopt is actually NOT what I proposed. I suggested 40/45 minutes of Spanish once a week. The administration recommends 1 1/2 hours a week. So, that is double. I have no idea where this fits in Ken's "dabbling" idea, but that's what it is.

2. Let me be very clear: in 2006, when I was NOT on the SC, Jere Hochman proposed adding Chinese to Wildwood. This was funded by a grant and that grant was contingent on implementing world language in all the schools within 3 or 4 years. That was NOT my idea. Then, in 2008, Jere Hochman formed a world language committee chaired by Sean Smith, head of world languages at ARHS. That committee consisted of NO SC members (I was not on it), and entirely teachers/staff in our district. That committee studied different models of world language instruction in different elementary schools, and ultimately recommended 1 1/2 hours of language a week (which is what the superintendent is now recommending).

So, do I think Spanish is a great idea? Yes. I'm for it, and I'm excited about it. But it was NOT my idea. It was the idea of superintendents and teachers and staff in our district.

Anonymous said...

The history you outline, Catherine, is not in dispute. Although, you failed to add that in the first Amherst SC meeting after the override Steve Rivkin said that now that the override has passed and the Amherst schools have all this "extra" money, he wanted to propose that the Amherst schools begin offering K-6 Spanish instruction in all schools, beginning Sept 2010. This is the proposal that I alluded to when I said that the Super was reacting to the SC wanting to implement World Language, K-6, very soon.

Yes, there has been much discussion over the years to add World Language to the elementary curriculum. And, it has not been done because of budgetary constraints. Well, those budgetary constraints are still with us, and are perhaps worse than they have ever been. I beg to differ, but the Amherst schools DO NOT have alot of "extra" money laying around.

I continue to maintain that adding Spanish right now to the elementary schools is a bad idea no matter whose idea it is. And please, stop trying to pretend that neither you or Steve brought this up in early April and that the Super is reacting to the two of you. And stop trying to pretend that you and Steve give two hoots about social justice. Or that we have alot of extra money laying around. You and Steve just know how to put a good spin on things.

And lastly, we still have not heard what will be taken away from the elementary school day to make room for 1.5 hours of Spanish a week. As others have pointed out, each day is already pretty well jammed up with essential instruction.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 10:53 - three quick points here:

1. Go back and read the SC minutes (all available on line) and count the number of times in 3 years that Kathleen Anderson asked for world language. She repeated this request, and it was ignored. Do you also believe Kathleen doesn't give "two hoots" about social justice?

2. It is clear that we do have extra money. The elementary SC asked for $400,000 ABOVE the amount the superintendent and principals requested -- which would be given to the elementary schools if the override passed, which it did.

3. I assume you protested the WW Chinese program in 2006, since they've been doing 1 1/2 hours of Chinese since then (the same amount of time that we will now devote to Spanish)? If so, just point me to the SC meetings in which that is minuted. Or is it OK to have Chinese at WW if someone else suggested, but necessarily a bad idea to have Spanish for all kids if I suggest it?

Gavin Andresen said...

Direct link to the dissertation I cited (which begins with what looks to me like a pretty thorough literature review): http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-1103103-111054/

Results were for an average of 33 minutes per day of foreign language instruction (immersion programs were excluded).

Before looking at the research, I was skeptical, maybe because I'm TERRIBLE at foreign languages and hated French class in high school (and hated the year I had to take at college even more). But I guess it was good for me.

And again, I have no idea how to compare the positive effects of an hour and a half of Spanish per week versus an hour and a half of something else.

ken said...

33 minutes per day is 2.5-3 hours a week, so to also answer Catherine's questions about where 1.5 hrs/wk fits in with my "dabbling" idea, it means that even this "enhanced" Amherst proposal is only about half of what research shows would probably yield cognitive benefits.

But then, that's just data, and who wants that?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Ken - please email Sean Smith, head of world languages, with your concerns. This is HIS recommendation based on his review of the research, in his capacity as head of world language.

Anonymous said...

If you have a chance could you please respond to "questions"? One low-income preschool class is exactly the problem that the redistricting was supposed to help address in the free lunch percentages in the elementary schools.

I would also like to hear more about the schedules at the different schools.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong: I'm for the anonymous posting because otherwise certain perspectives on substance wouldn't get aired (apparently), although the danger posed to the prospective speaker escapes me.

But the carping and nay-saying on the Spanish language initiative, much of it with this digging, personal edge directed at the hostess of this blog, from folks who simply won't put their full names on posts inescapably reminds me of this from Teddy Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Obviously, the "men in the arena" Roosevelt was talking about in Amherst nowadays are, to a large degree, women: Sanderson, O'Keeffe, Brewer, Stein, to name a few.

Equally clear is that there is no better place to observe Roosevelt's "cold and timid souls" than on this blog and others. Whatever the opposite of "stand-up guys" are, they're right here.

I know that others will disagree but I submit that there's an independent value attached to things said, observations made, and arguments advanced in the public dialogue using one's own name. And something intangible in quality is lost when we don't.

The evidence is in that depressing knot in your gut when you read any thread of anonymous posts on something you care about.

Rich Morse

ken said...

Catherine,

Well, 90 minutes per week is certainly better than 40. But are you saying that Steve made an extensive review of the literature available on language learning, and he proposed 90 minutes per week as the optimal amount of time
--just coincidentally, at the same time that the 40 minutes per week idea was floated by the SC? Or is it that Steve is trying to rescue some semblence of pay off by trying to get 90 minutes a week instead of 40, and 90 is all the budget will bear? 1 year of language advance in 7 years of study is certainly better than a tiny fraction (if that), which is what 40 minutes per week would have yielded.

There are 3 basic questions, none of which Steve has anything to do with. The first is whether people will stop thinking that this proposal will result in "lots of benefits" for students. The second is whether, given the present state of our schools and the budget, this level of language program was the best use of money, at this time. The third is how scheduling issues are going to impact the school day in general and struggling learners in particular.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Rich - well said, as always. Thanks.

Ken - you write "Steve" in your post repeatedly, but it is not Steve (I assume you mean Steve Rivkin). It is SEAN Smith, who is the head of world languages at ARHS, and has been employed in our district for a long time, and is (from what I hear) an outstanding Latin teacher who has been nationally recognized. Thus, I would imagine Sean Smith is a relatively informed person regarding world language. Sean Smith co-chaired a world language committee in 2008 at the request of Jere Hochman. That committee included no School Committee members. It included ONLY teachers and staff members in our district (including elementary, middle and high school teachers). That committee met for several months, reviewed elementary world language programs in various districts, reviewed the literature on the benefits of various world language models, and made a recommendation. Their recommendation was 1 1/2 hours a week, which is what the superintendent is now recommending. This is DIFFERENT from what I recommended (because I actually shared your concerns about time and money associated with a 1 1/2 hour a week program as opposed to a program that was half that), but if this is the strong recommendation of Sean Smith, I'm going to defer to his thoughts, which is why I supported this revision to my motion. And finally, this recommendation by the world language committee was issued in the fall of 2008 ... it was NOT "at the same time" as my motion. It was far earlier.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the anon poster thinks that Catherine can go back in time to implement her incessant, nefarious plots to enrich the education of all the children of Amherst.

Anonymous said...

Teachers voted to "give back" 3 curriculum days for next year. If there is now extra money, perhaps the SC could give back one of those days to the teachers instead of adding new programs.

Frustrated Teacher

Anonymous said...

Catherine,
I don't see you offering any comments about the trade off questions being posed here. It makes me wonder whether you're willing to sacrifice curriculum alignment for world language exposure. That would be a fine choice, as far as I'm concerned, as long as it was a choice and not simply an unintended consequence. Any thoughts on the matter?

Anonymous said...

Frustrated Teacher-

I think you should know that Amherst fire fighters and police officers completely gave up their raises because of the difficult financial situation we were facing. I think 3 personal days is quite small in regard to what our public safety personnel gave up.

-Frustrated Tax Payer

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Two quick responses:

Frustrated Teacher - in early February, the Amherst SC asked for $400,000 ABOVE the budget requested by the superintendent and principals, so that if the override passed, we would have additional funds (which one might call "extra"). We specifically described some potential uses of that money (go back and watch the meeting - I think it was February 8th), and one of those was WORLD LANGUAGE. Then, the teachers voted in mid-March to do additonal give backs of the three days. That is two different sets of money. If you didn't want to give up those days, you hopefully voted against it. But that vote happened more than a month after the Amherst SC asked for extra money to support world language.

Anonymous 7:26 - there are lots of trade-offs involved in all things about the schools (money and time). But I honestly have no idea what type of trade-off you are talking about -- adding Spanish decreases curricular alignment? I just don't see how those are tradeoffs! The superintendent and principals are working hard on alignment (horizontal and vertical), and that work will continue whether we have Spanish or not. However, I think one advantage of Spanish would be to provide teachers with MORE planning time -- so, teachers could then have more opportunities to create models of differentiated instruction, work on alignment, evaluate progress with struggling students, etc. The world language committee (I've posted the report) recommended adding K to 6 world language at 1 1/2 hours a week, and this report included elementary teachers and principals, so they clearly felt this was do-able. In addition, many schools have world language now in elementary schools -- this is not a totally novel construct, nor do I believe that schools that have world language have decided not to have alignment!

Anonymous said...

Frustrated Tax Payer,

The distinction you are making is duly noted. And it indicates a clear difference in the level of responsiveness to the popular will.

What you are seeing is a School Committee trying to assert control of the schools as the duly elected representatives of the residents of the Town. But, in a town where education is the primary industry, teachers and school administrators have far more political clout than cops, firefighters, and public works employees. (People come here for the schools, after all.)

So teachers and school administrators have traditionally had far more autonomy than those other workers. The sense of entitlement and the pushback against greater democratic control is therefore going to be stronger. And the willingness to make financial sacrifices to save the jobs of others is also not there.

--Frustrated Parent

Anonymous said...

A lot of the comments about money reflect a basic level of ignorance on budgets and finance. When money is allocated, it is put in a specific pocket and can't be moved. World language and curriculum alignment aren't mutually exclusive either. I think the school committee is doing a great job of seeing the bigger picture. When you're in the system (a teacher), you tend to only see your tiny perspective of the world. The school committee and the superintendent of schools have the big picture in mind.

Anonymous said...

I think that 7:26 is talking about trading off time from some academic subjects for WL. There are a certain number of hours in the school week. If something (WL here) is added, something else would be subtracted. You mention that teachers, etc. feel that finding time for WL is do-able. Have they told you what that time will come out of? I didn't see the answer to an earlier question about where the time for Chinese comes from at Wildwood or where the time for extra specials comes out of for MM. How can families/taxpayers support a program if they don't know what the trade off is?
Personally, I wouldn't want Spanish if it took time away from math, reading, or recess. My kids might be willing to give up math!

If the sc doesn't have the information, could you let us know who has the information about how schools divide up their instruction time?

Gavin Andresen said...

RE: adding world language subtracting something else:

All the research I ran across found that adding foreign language did NOT decrease achievement in other subjects, even though less instruction time was give to those other subjects.

I have no idea why, but my guess would be that the more different stuff we learn the smarter we get.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 7:33 - the superintendent has asked for Sean Smith (head of world languages) to make a recommendation about the implementation of this program (based on his read of the extensive elementary language literature that the world language committee did two years ago). I do not believe these details have been worked out, but again, we are not "re-inventing the wheel" here. Lots of districts have elementary world language -- as did the Amherst schools in the 1980s/early 1990s. These schools are able to balance different demands, and I have every confidence that we will be able to implement a program that works well.

Gavin - great point, thanks. I have also heard that world language instruction in the elementary grades is often integrated into other disciplines -- which might also explain that this isn't exactly the same trade-off. For example, in kindergarten you are studying Spanish WHILE you are studying sounds/letters which improves overall literacy. This might be the key distinction -- it isn't like taking Spanish in the MS or HS when you take Spanish in a particular block that comes out of some other time (e.g., PE, music, art, etc.).

library? said...

Thanks for the updates on what was/wasn't lost, Catherine. I'm not sure if it was last year or previous years when we heard about loss of library services. How does that look for next year?

Abbie said...

Hi CS,

I'm going to ask this question again, while trying not to be a pain-in-the-ass, but how many of those schools with WL have a schedule like Amherst (ie early release on Wed), as per your recent post, when Amherst ES did offer WL, did we also have the early release on Wedn? I understand that the state mandates the number of school 'days' required per year. Is there also a requirement for # of hours? How common is Amherst's model of early release?

We have not heard from many ES teachers about the challenges they might face in fitting these WL hours into their schedules. I would be interested...

Nina Koch said...

Hi Abbie,

Under ed reform, the state mandates 900 hours of structured instructional time for elementary students and 990 hours for secondary. It's referred to as "time and learning."

You might find more info here:

doe site

I think early release is pretty common in districts, although it's not always weekly. I don't have any numbers on that, however.

Abbie said...

Hi Nina,

thanks for the info. My off the cuff calculations suggest that the ES hours are at the absolute minimum of 900 hours (taking out an hour for lunch and recess). I assume this is something that the teachers unions determine (and not the district). Is that correct?

Are other high performing, enviable ES also at the minimum of 900 hours?

Anonymous said...

As Gavin points out, there is no achievement lost- likely it is gained with the addition of foreign language. But what will there be left out on a practical basis? Catherine, have you heard any thoughts from teachers or principals on that?