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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Amherst Meeting, May 18, 2010

So, I want to start with a quick update: I heard from a number of people that there was a problem with the live feed from ACTV last night of this meeting, so I've looked into that situation and here is the key relevant news. First, the meeting is now available to watch on demand (, so you can watch it now if you missed some/all of it. Second, they are broadcasting last night's school committee meeting tomorrow (May 20th) three times: 9:00 AM, 1:00 PM, and 5:00 PM. Additionally, they have let me know if in the future you notice a problem with the live feed (there was a glitch last night that apparently could have been fixed if they knew at the time), please call the station at 413-259-3300 immediately (the voice mail prompt will ask you to press #5 and leave a message that is received by our staff immediately).

So, now to the meeting itself (which, for the record, was a really great one).

First, we had public comments from a number of people. Joel Wolfe expressed support for both the elementary Spanish program and for looking into the Union 26 agreement. Abbie Jensen expressed support for looking into the Union 26 agreement as well as her enthusiasm for the world language program (and a desire that the impact of this program be evaluated). Mike Jacques expressed his support for looking into the Union 26 agreement as well as his concern about the increasing % of the budget over the last 10 years that is going to SPED/intervention coupled with a decreasing % that is going to regular education (and 80% of the students). Sue Borden expressed support for the new world language program, support for looking into the Union 26 agreement, and support for placing on the regional agenda making the 9th grade environmental science class optional as opposed to required. Then Farshid Hajir, Chair of the Regional Committee, delivered a critique of the Amherst School Committee's handling of the Union 26 agreement.

Irv then responded to this critique at some length (clarifying the nature of the communication between the various chairs), as did Maria (more briefly).

I then read aloud an email that was sent to the entire Amherst School Committee by Irv Rhodes after last week's meeting (with Irv's permission). I am pasting the statement in its entirety:

I want to make the following pledge to the Amherst School Committee: Irv Rhodes


  • To be open, honest and transparent about any and all matters that come before the Amherst School Committee and keep you informed about any events that directly or indirectly involve the work of the Amherst School Committee
  • Seek your input on all meeting agendas
  • Work collaboratively with the School Administration
  • Provide leadership and guidance on all critical issues facing the committee
  • Manage all school committee meetings effectively and efficiently so that the members time is respected
  • Seek guidance and advice from School committee members as appropriate
  • Represent the will of the committee to the administration, school community and the Amherst Community
  • Keep a clear focus on how to advance student learning
  • Working with the School Committee in identifying strategies to promote organizational effectiveness of the school district through the policies and decisions of the school committee*
  • Working with the School Committee on establishing a process of periodic goal setting and assessment to promote the work of the district and guide the superintendent as the administrator of district policy*
  • Working with the School Committee by guiding its work in fulfilling its mission as the guardian of the public treasury by establishing a budget that fulfills the district's goals and monitoring the financial operation during the year to ensure the integrity and clarity of fiscal management.*
  • Working with the School Committee on establishing and clarifying the purpose of the school district through its mission and vision statement, policies and actions at the meeting table.*

I expressed my appreciation for Irv's statement, in that I believe it really shows respect for all members of the Amherst SC and his desire to serve and represent all of us. I also noted that although as Vice Chair of the Regional School Committee I participate in meetings at which the agenda is set, the decision by the Chair of the Regional School Committee to add an item (the discussion of the Union 26 agreement) at the request of the Chair of Union 26 was not discussed with me at all, which I thought was unfortunate. There was then some brief discussion by Rick and Rob about the process the Amherst SC went through involving the Union 26 agreement.

Next, we turned to a report by Sean Smith, head of world languages, on the planning for the elementary world language program. He reviewed the 2008 World Language Report (he co-chaired this committee), and its recommendations and discussed next steps (this report will be posted on the ARPS website soon and I've already posted it on my blog earlier this month). These next steps include forming a "steering committee" (including parents/teachers/staff) that will meet starting in June to plan the specifics (e.g., how will this program be implemented next year, in which grades, etc.). There will be an announcement on the ARPS website later this month/early next month about how to express interest in participating in this committee. I thought Sean did a great job reviewing the relevant literature, and I'm looking forward to hearing updates on the planning of this new program later this year.

We then turned to the "first read" of the policy on world language, which I've pasted below. The process of approving policies is that we have a first read at a School Committee meeting, and then get comments from SC members (as well as parents/teachers/staff/administration), and then the policy subcommittee meets to discuss revisions, and brings a revised policy back to the SC for a "second read" and then approval. So, if you have comments on this policy, send them to Irv Rhodes (chair of policy subcommittee) at:

Policy X (number to be determined) on Elementary World Language

Evidence finds substantial benefits from the study of a foreign language in the early elementary grades. These include better cognitive acquisition and pronunciation, more rapid acquisition of vocabulary, an understanding of the structure of language that fosters learning in English language arts, and the acquisition of knowledge about other cultures which should help our students develop a better understanding of themselves as members of a global community.

Given the evidence, the long-standing desire for an elementary school world language program in Amherst that is summarized in the 2008 World Language Report, and the fact that Spanish is by far the most often non-English language spoken at home by our elementary school children, a Kindergarten through sixth grade Spanish language program will become part of the Amherst Elementary School curriculum. The program will adhere to principles consistent with the Massachusetts Frameworks and National Standards and will be integrated into the elementary classroom curriculum. Instruction will be differentiated in order to engage and meet the needs of all native and non-native Spanish speakers.

The overarching program objectives are

1. To develop a level of oral proficiency in Spanish that enables children to enter middle school language study at an advanced level;

2. To gain an understanding of the diverse cultures and traditions in Spanish speaking countries; and

3. To increase the school participation and involvement of families in which English is a second language.

We then had a brief discussion about some issues related to this program (e.g., staffing, budget, etc.). Rick raised some concerns about whether we would have the funding available for the full implementation of this program (that would be 5 or 6 teachers, compared to the 1.5 dedicated for this fall). Steve then noted that he felt we actually had much more funding than is often portrayed. In particular, he went through a list of items that are being described as "cuts" that don't actually impact the education we provide at all. These included saving $30,000 by moving the science coordinator position from the budget to a grant, $81,000 saved due to a decrease in actual health insurance premiums below expected increase (with no effect on coverage), $43,300 saved due to a decrease in health insurance costs due to lower employee enrollment, $30,000 saved due to no teachers taking sabbaticals ($30,000 budgeted), $24,000 saved due to a reduction in cost of utilities, $18,000 saved because the school bus no longer stops at all houses (children must walk to corners), $15,500 saved due to the elimination of busing to maintain language and ethnic clusters, and $18,000 saved because the substitute teacher coordinator has been replaced by new software). The superintendent stated that she disagreed that we aren't doing a lot of cutting.

Next, we turned to the superintendent's update. This update included a lot of really useful information, including the status of the K to 12 math review (Dr. Chen has been hired, will start now and submit a report in September), the equity/social justice initiative (Dr. Ray Taylor will visit and create an action plan on student achievement), the end-of-year surveys (Debbie Westmoreland and I are working on drafts of these), Response-to-Intervention efforts (IDEA funds - grant - will be used to increase our use of RTI to reduce behavioral issues and increase achievement), afterschool programming (there is a desire to have LSSE run the afterschool programs at all schools to provide a more consistent approach for students at all of the schools), and the curriculum director search (finalists will come this week, hopes to have an announcement next week).

We then had a few questions from the SC. Steve asked about whether we should require summer math of all students, as we require summer reading, to reduce the achievement drop that occurs over the summer for some kids. I noted that a number of 6th grade parents had questions about math placement issues for the middle school, and I wondered whether the superintendent could discuss whether there was a plan in place, or when there might be a plan in place, regarding this issue. The superintendent asked Mike Hayes to speak to this issue. He noted that he has heard from some parents that they are concerned with how to get their child to be able to skip 7th grade math and move into honors algebra in 7th grade, and that there seemed to be a lot of anxiety about this issue. He stated that a letter will go out to all 6th grade parents in May describing the different math options and how kids get into the different levels.

I raised three topics regarding this issue. First, I noted that there was anxiety about getting students into honors algebra because this placement both eliminated the year spent doing extensions (since these kids move directly into honors algebra as 7th graders) and resulted in these kids having a very small math class (about 10 kids in geometry) during their 8th grade year. I therefore wondered if thought was being given to eliminating extensions, given that this approach has concerned some parents and is unusual (as was noted in the Beers report). Second, I noted that in my review of other districts as part of my work on the Math Curriculum Council, I couldn't find any other districts in which only "honors algebra" was taught and not "regular algebra." I therefore wondered whether some students might be ready for "algebra" in 7th grade but not "honors algebra." Finally, I wondered why the decision has been made to give the math placement test in the fall as opposed to the spring, when what research shows is that many kids lose math skills over the summer (per Steve's earlier point) and therefore more kids might place into math in the spring than in the fall.

Mike stated that he was interested in hearing the outside consultant's report on extensions, and noted that extensions had been successful in increasing the number of kids in honors algebra. He also noted that only 2 to 3% of kids are "gifted and talented" and therefore able to handle honors algebra as 7th graders. He also stated that the placement test was really two parts, and the second part was quite difficult and was only given to a small number of kids, and that giving this test in the spring would be demoralizing.

I will finish updating the rest of the meeting tomorrow -- it was a long one!


Wondering Parent said...

You forgot to mention the part where there was someone else who wanted to speak and they were not allowed to speak.

You also forgot to mention that 3 out of 4 of the people who voiced support of pulling out of Union 26 were Fort River parents....I wonder...does the fact that 3 out of 5 of the Amherst SC members are Fort River parents have anything to do with that?

Cathy Eden said...

Steve Rivkin's comments about budget were amazing - and it's unfortunate that they are being overshadowed by the conflict with Union 26. I hope the information and perspective that he shared becomes more widely dispersed by either being revisited at another SC meeting or reported by the press in the coming weeks.

And, I also heard Maria's point that we want to move forward -- but the fiscal future does not show signs of pennies falling from heaven to fund new programs. Which means we're going to have to be creative and make cuts that allow us to move forward.

It's unfortunate that teachers have to give up professional development days - however, people in the private sector are also having to work more for the same salary or deal with pay cuts. I hope that school employees realize that -- and also realize that other Amherst town employees (police and fire) sacrificed their raises.

But this is a good example of how it is important to have a strong school committee working TOGETHER with a strong administration.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Wondering Parent - at the beginning of all meetings, the Chair asks who wants to speak, and people raise their hands. I did not see anyone raise their hand at that time who wanted to speak -- if you did, why not give your name and say what you saw, instead of calling yourself "Wondering Parent"? This is not a really controversial point!

I'm trying to see what you are implying -- that because 3 of the 4 parents are Fort River parents that makes their thoughts less valid? And the fourth was a Wildwood parent who is moving to Crocker Farm. I should also note that of the four parents who spoke, two are members of town meeting (one from Wildwood, one from Fort River), and therefore have a keen understanding of budget issues facing our town (and potentially the conflict between Amherst and Pelham in resolving those).

Cathy - that's a great point, and I totally agree. It is really unfortunate that there has been no coverage of this in the press, although it really is essential for people to understand. I believe this meeting was a great example of a strong School Committee working together with the administration, and I hope we can have more meetings like this at both the Amherst and Regional level.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

One more thing: just to clarify - Steve noted that there are many things being described as "cuts" in the budget that aren't truly "cuts." I've added more to my blog post to clarify this point, which I agree is important (and I glossed over due to the lateness in my post last night).

Anonymous said...

Professional development is hardly optional. It means your child will be taught by a teacher who is not necessarily up to date on research and methods. Bona fide professional development is not something that can be put off indefinitely, or there will be consquences for teaching quality.

Janet said...

Mike Hayes' response about there being "anxiety" from parents trying to get their kids into 7th grade algebra, is an innacurate read of the situation. Many parents are trying to expose the process of HOW one gets a child into 7th grade algebra (or 8th grade algebra for that matter) so that OTHER parents can know the process. Many of us who are pushing for transparency already know of this system because we have older chidren in the district, or friends whose kids have gone this route.

Most parents and students are totally unaware that this option exists. We are trying to make it clear for others. Why is it such an uphill battle to get this tranparency?

Anonymous said...

Nurses are expected to keep up on their own, sometimes at their own expense. But always on their own time. And it's constant, something that goes on every day. Why can't the teaching profession do the same thing?

Anonymous said...

Excuse me?

This is a new one for me: the Fort River Conspiracy?

Who knew that the SC was using such sophisticated mind control methods? I knew that there had been problems with air quality over there, but I never thought that it was political.

Blundering Parent

Michael Jacques said...

Wondering parent

Maybe we should call the conspiracy the Fort River Four? But wait one of them was a Wildwood Parent so I guess I will have to get a new name. For what it is worth I am one of those Fort River Parents. If there is a conspiracy I really wish my neighbors would let me in on the benefits. To date I spend a lot of time reading blogs, reading web sites, and talking to other parents to make sure my experiences are not just singular and represent more than just my children. I would rather do something else with my time but if I want to make improvements to my children’s education then I must stay involved. There were at least 5 Fort River parents in a row that evening and we had the principle of FR behind us. Hmmmm maybe he is in on it too.

There are a lot of vocal Fort River parents who get involved with the SC meetings but are much more involved with FR Parent Council. So on occasion I don’t think it is outside the norm for a bunch of us to show up at a SC meeting. As for conspiracy, I will keep dreaming of a day when all of my time helping with SC campaigns, writing letters to the paper, going to meetings, and reading web sites will pay off in some unforeseen way that some other Amherst resident could not achieve by simply asking for it.

Nina Koch said...

I agree that professional development needs to be a priority right now. It should be happening in the summer, on curriculum days, and on an ongoing basis in the classroom through the coaching model. I was discouraged to hear Steve Rivkin say that the loss of the curriculum days won't really impact instruction. He doesn't have a basis for saying that, other than a few teachers that he says he talked to. Individual teachers don't necessarily know all of the things that are going on in the system, and they may vary in their own degree of commitment to the idea of professional development. I have already been in two meetings this spring where somebody has said "Maybe we can do that on curriculum day" and somebody else replies "There is no curriculum day."

Steve also stated that the issues with math education at the elementary level aren't budgetary. A better approach would be to ask if budget problems are affecting math education. The answer is yes. It goes back to professional development. Due to budget cuts from FY2009 to FY2010, we lost our math coaches. The math coaches provide ongoing professional development for teachers to help them understand the mathematics more deeply themselves and to help them see how to develop that same understanding in their students. It doesn't matter if we are using Investigations or Everyday Math -- either way, if you want the kids to really understand the math they are learning, then you are going to need this kind of professional development for teachers. If you look at places like Newton, Cambridge, Wellesley, you will find math coaches.

Anonymous said...

Nah, no conspiracy at Fort River. Just friendships.

Haven't they fixed that air quality yet?

Anonymous said...

Mike has an agenda. It's to make the same level math for every kid for every grade. It makes it easier on the teachers to not have to differentiate.

Abbie said...


I believe you don't have any basis either. You teach HS and you interact with HS teachers. Do you have any direct experience in the ESs? There are only 3 out of how many curriculum days lost? I give you credit where due, but here I think you overstep. Steve's remarks were specifically about the elementary schools. Your experience and example was HS.

While I like the 'idea' of math coaches, it is yet another layer where accountability is dispersed. I would prefer, instead we have 'math' teachers who are accountable for achievement (no fingers to point at someone else). If it really is as hard as it appears for some regular teachers to teach ES math then hire specific math teachers, who do only that.

If teachers really cared about how effectively they taught math, then I think they could could do it. We are not talking 'differential equations'. We are talking about adding, subtracting, multiplying (and if you are lucky, maybe division) and then maybe throw in some therapy sessions for the kids after the experience.

I am trying not to get worked up here but you don't seem to WANT to understand the depths of the disfunction of our math system, at least through MS. I am afraid my head will explode if I start talking about 'extensions' and 'honor's algebra'.

Anonymous said...

Well put, Nina.

Nurse, just because one profession doesn't pay to educate its members doesn't mean we should use that profession's standards as a model (and BTW I know nothing about how the medical profession educates its own, except that Big Pharma used to have a lot to do with doctor training before all those free lunch w/seminars, mugs, pads, pens, trips, golf outings, etc were outlawed).

Too bad Big Publisher didn't do that for us! (Though they probably do wine & dine the state committees that do textbook adoptions, if allowed).

I'm a teacher and I do plenty of self-development. I take workshops and courses (when I can afford them); read education publications, websites, and blogs; talk to my peers; and constantly muck around with boooks and materials to see what I can come up with (we call this "creativity"). All on my own time & dime.

I also buy new materials constantly for my professional use at museum shops, tag sales, bookstores, dollar stores, and wherever else I can find them affordably.

Here's a good example, however of where Professional Development is needed.

Recently I wanted to learn how to use "Words Their Way," a very good research-based spelling program that can do a lot for reading skills as well. It gets pretty technical and I know I need at least a few hours of real WTW training, especially modeling of how the activities work in real-life settings (very similar to teaching concerns with math curriculum that involve a lot of hands-on activities, such as Investigations).

WTW training is NOT available except in groups or via an elusive online course I still haven't been able to find on the publisher's website.

In other words, if your district does not hire & pay for the training, it's likely not going to happen. And a really good program is thus either not used or is used in a half-baked way (w/o the proper training).

That's what I meant when I said lack of exposure to new methods and materials is going to cost students in the long run. A language arts curriculum coach could also help here -- one person getting the training could then train everyone else.

Anonymous said...


I am honestly trying to understand your post. Are you saying that ES teachers do not need Professional Development? Or that they should figure out how to do it on their own time?

Abbie said...

It has taken me some time to be able to articulate my assessment of the 'extensions' model of 7th grade math at the Amherst MS. 'Extensions' is essentially outsourcing MS math education to parents/guardians. Parents/guardians spend many (unpaid) hours/week teaching the extensions material (to the best of their abilities) their children or pay math tutors. The success of this outside teaching depends heavily on the educational background of parents/guardians (or their persistence in learning it de novo) or their financial resources.
I have heard M. Hayes say this model has been successful in increasing the numbers of students in Honor's Algebra but has not decreased the achievement gap. To my knowledge, no one beside M. Hayes has seen those data. However, I would not be surprised to find they were true, nor should anyone else. Of course having what is essentially an additional math course (taught outside the school by devoted parents/guardians or paid tutors) would increase student achievement. (duh?) The question should be 'is it the role of parents/guardians/private tutors to TEACH this virtual math course'? I think 'no' and believe, instead, that the material ought to be taught by our paid, trained math professionals. In my opinion, credit for any increases in enrollment in 'Honor's Algebra' goes to the students, and their parents, NOT to the MS math department.
The very design of 'Extensions' is guaranteed to NOT DECREASE the achievement gap for the very reasons that provide any successes of the program. Student achievement relies on both student commitment AND parent/guardian resources, either the education of those individuals or their ability to hire tutors. It would be interesting to see whether implementation of Extensions has widened the gap. I predict it would, unless the gap was already near its maximum width prior to adoption of the program.
In my opinion, parents and guardians should be appalled and troubled that such a program continues to exist. Individuals with no expertise or training in educational program development created this program and there has been no public assessment/evaluation of this program despite yearly criticism by parents/guardians. This is OUR middle school. Should we have to pay twice for it (both tax $$ and our unpaid hours teaching our kids math (or paying tutors) that should be taught by teachers)?
Why so little outrage? My guess is there is a large number of families who are unaware of extensions until their child reaches 7th grade. At that point there is no hope of changing the system and so they put up with it, perhaps with some complaining. But who wants to complain to teachers/staff while their kid is in that situation. Very tricky...Really, what choice do they have? Captives of the system...powerless.

(Writing this has relieved some of the pressure in my head...)

Abbie said...

to anon@1255:

I'd be happy to reply if you post with your name. Catherine graciously replies to all comments, including those from anons. I lack that grace and patience...

same for those sure to follow my post on 'extensions'.

Anonymous said...

No problem, Abbie. I was just curious to understand more clearly what you were saying. But its not a burning desire that I understand your post. I just thought if it was not clear to me perhaps it wasn't clear to others.

For my part, I don't know enough about how much Professional Dev ES teachers receive so I don't have an opinion about it until I learn more.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing about not responding to anonymous posts. I could post and call myself
Bob or

and that makes my points more valid?a

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 9:54 - actually, I'm not sure this is true. There are two recent studies showing that professional development has absolutely no impact on children's achievement. I will post those links soon -- may do a separate blog post. Nonetheless, let's remember how this came about -- TEACHERS voted to give up 3 professional development days. They could have voted not to take any salary reduction, or could have voted to reduce the size of their pay increase (from 3% to 2%, for example). The fact that teachers VOTED to give up these days to me means they aren't seen as valuable by the majority of teachers, right?

Janet - well said. Thanks.

Anonymous 8:15 - I don't think this is a question for me ... but you raise an interesting point.

Blundering Parent - it becomes increasingly clear that all those who agree with me/Steve will be dismissed. First, there was no public support for information on getting out of Union 26. Then, there was support, but it only came from Fort River parents, so that is worthless since I paid them all off. Well, except for Abbie Jensen, who spoke in favor of getting information and is a Wildwood parent, but probably I paid her off too since maybe it is a Town Meeting members conspiracy.

Mike Jacques - thanks for posting. What do I owe you for doing that?

Nina - I know that you believe strongly in math coaches, as you've made clear. I have talked to few parents who agree with that view. In addition, two recent studies have come out that suggest professional development (including math coaches) have no impact on children's achivement. This is another case in which math coaches "feel good" -- but I think we need to seriously examine how best to use our always limited resources. One way (your preference) is on math coaches. Another way would be buying a math curriculum that requires less teacher support and has been shown empirically to improve math knowledge. Another way would be to have smaller classes in elementary school. These are all options that require resources, and it isn't at all clear to me that more professional development is the right choice.

Anonymous 9:13 - I'm not friends with Abbie Jensen (nothing personal, Abbie). She's never been to my house, I've never been to her house, we've never had coffee. Why in the world did she request that we look into the Union 26 agreement? Do you think it is possible that some people in Amherst who aren't my personal friends believe that having one town pay 94% of the bill and get 50% of the vote is the right way to go?

Anonymous 9:14 - I have no idea what your point here is. Can you clarify?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Abbie (at 9:53) - I agree with all you said here. Thanks. I don't think all problems with K to 6 math could be solved by math coaches.

Anonymous 12:29 - I think we need to make sure, as a district, that we are getting "the biggest bang for our buck." That means investing in things that lead to benefits for kids -- and things that have measurable results, not just things that "feel good." I would be interested in learning about what the research shows in terms of different types of professional development, and I'd like to learn about districts that have used different approaches successfully.

Abbie (at 1:04) - as one who started working on the issue of "extensions" in 2006, when my oldest child was in 3rd grade, I feel your pain. I joined the Math Curriculum Council, I ran (and won) for School Committee, I have attended countless meetings, and I have been unable to make any progress on changing the "extensions" program. In the report this spring of the middle school, Dr. Beers notes the following based on his interview with parents: "Most
parents felt it was not effective and that parents had to do the teaching. A few saw no problem
with it. Most agreed that the only reason they had their child do “Extensions” was so they could
take Algebra in the 8th grade. Some felt the work was not challenging, merely more to do." In the observation of classrooms, Dr. Beers noted the following: "There was little to no evidence of the use of data-driven differentiated instruction." In his review of lesson plans, he noted: "There is nothing in writing that the consultant was able to obtain that listed any expectations for delivery of instruction, planning and/or assessment. There are no grading or homework policies. There is no identification of effective teaching strategies that should be employed by the teachers
at the school." Finally, here is Dr. Beer's statement regarding 7th grade math: "Students who are obviously ready for the challenges of pre-algebra could be assigned to
that course to best prepare them for algebra in the 8th grade. Students in Mathematics 7 who demonstrate progress during the year could still receive Extensions in order to accelerate their learning and hopefully prepare for algebra in the 8th grade."

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Abbie (at 1:11) - this marks the first time on my blog that someone has referred to me using the terms "grace and patient." Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Abbie, for the comment on the outsourcing of mathematics.

The extensions model appears to be a solution to a problem that has become very important in the Amherst schools: how do we preserve the appearance that we are one big democratic, happy family of academic equals even though we have classrooms with kids of very different aptitudes for math?

Outsourcing. The phantom tracking system.

Anonymous said...

Here's the good news:

In many ways, 7th grade at ARMS is the most messed up year educationally your child will have in the Amherst public schools system.

It only gets better after that.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 2:53 - I have a 6th grader. Your comment is NOT totally reassuring.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:55 here to Abbie:

No problem, Abbie. I don't mind your not answering.

Anonymous said...


The teachers who are anonymous posters on here want answers RIGHT NOW, unlike the comments on papers our children get back from THEM months later.

Anonymous said...

To the person who commented about the lack the timely return of student work. This issue has been a frustrating one for our family. We have been in the district for over five years now an it appears that for us there has been less and less of my child's work return in a timely manner. It sometime seems like my child's work has been swept in to a black hole.

To make matters worse in a district were the elementary schools only give progress reports twice a year (and one is ridiculously late in the year) how are parent to know and see how their children are doing.

For us the trend has really made us question the quality of education that our child is getting here in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

I'm no expert on professional development. But even I can see that there is a difference between training designed to make all teachers experts at using a specific curriculum fully/properly vs. training that has more vague goals and aspirations.

Eg, making optimal use of the Investigations curriculum vs "let's try to bring up reading comprehension scores."

When the district buys a curriculum or program, shouldn't it also provide teacher training for that program?

Would you buy your teenager a car but not teach her how to drive it? Or, suppose your teenager knows how to drive an automatic, but the car you buy is a standard. Would you just let her figure it out on her own?

Maybe Investigations will be tossed out, but in the meantime, it's what gets taught, so shouldn't everyone be trained to do it as well as possible? And provided with ongoing support, in whatever form that takes?

How this can be described as "feel good" is beyond me. It doesn't feel especially good to do professional development.

CS, when you go to a professional meeting and take the time to attend panels that are not your highest personal priority, but you go anyway so as to inform yourself about the topic, is that "feel good?". To me, that's called "work."

I do agree that when the union voted to eliminate curriculum days, it sent a message, but I'd want to hear from the AEA officers what they thought the message was.

Because I don't think it's "PD is stupid anyway so getting rid of it doesn't really hurt us." I find that a very cynical interpretation.

MaryAnn said...

Anon 8:17 said "I do agree that when the union voted to eliminate curriculum days, it sent a message, but I'd want to hear from the AEA officers what they thought the message was."

PD is about more than just curriculum days. That is only a small portion of what the term Professional Development encompasses.

Catherine said: "This is another case in which math coaches "feel good" -- but I think we need to seriously examine how best to use our always limited resources."

Newton, Cambridge and Wellesley, three schools that are frequently mentioned by several members of the Amherst SC as schools we should emulate, use math coaches. What do they know about the benefit of math coaches (I call them math professionals) that we don't?

Also, Catherine mentions needing to use our "limited resources" wisely. But I thought, based on Steve Rivkin's comments at the May 18th Amherst SC meeting, that the Amherst ES were flush with money. We have all the money we need with money to spare. Nothing to worry about next year!!

So, which is it? We have all the money we need and then some or we have limited resources? If we have all the money we need, then we should be putting some of it toward Professional Developement that will lead to better differentiated learning in the classroom. We should be putting some of it toward language and math professionals who will gather the information needed to better educate our children with best practices in the field, and then train all of our ES educators in cutting edge instructional best practices.

To say in one broad stroke that PD does nothing to aid student achievement based on two very distinct studies is too broad a statement in my opinion.

Why don't we talk to the educators in Newton, Cambridge and Wellesley and find out why they use math professionals and what their experience is on how the use of these professionals has impacted educational outcomes.

I agree with Catherine on some things she has said and done in the past. But lately I find myself on the other side of the debate. And this is one of those times Sorry, Catherine.