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 special ed survey criticized

Hampshire Gazette
Friday, April 30, 2010

AMHERST - A survey of parents with children in special education programs has come under fire as the school district nears the end of an evaluation of their cost and effectiveness.

Amherst's K-12 special education programs will cost almost $10 million this year, or 20.1 percent of total school spending. In fiscal 2008, they cost about $8.75 million, or 18.7 percent of spending, according to budget documents provided by Finance Director Rob Detweiler.

The school district hired the Public Consulting Group of Portsmouth, N.H., to do an evaluation, and a report is scheduled to be presented to the School Committee in June. The firm has been reviewing student achievement, observing classes, doing interviews and conducting an anonymous survey of parents and guardians.

At the April 13 School Committee meeting, parent Michael Aronson compared this survey to the 1986 space shuttle disaster. He said it was biased and should be discarded and restarted. "Garbage in, garbage out," he said.

More than 300 parent surveys have been received, a participation level that exceeded expectations, said Jo Ann Smith, interim director of special education.

After speaking with the consulting firm, she said the evaluation should move forward using the data obtained in the survey.

Later, Aronson said the school district is "aggressively seeking out the answers they want." The survey mostly lumps administrators and teachers together, so parents can't determine from where the comments are coming, he said. He said the survey did not seek comments about legal activities and questioned the survey's confidentiality and the security of its online component.

Aronson said some of the surveys didn't include open-ended questions that allow more general comments. A new survey should be undertaken, with parents involved in its design, he said.

"Decisions made from this data will be made in ignorance and could very well compound the problems of our flawed system," he said.

Smith said the open-ended questions were included in the survey's development, but were not included when the firm went to press and posted it online. But within 24 hours the mistake was spotted, and the questions were added online and a second mailing was made, she said.

The paper survey's directions asked parents to return them to the Student Services office or to drop-off boxes in the schools, Smith said. The surveys were designed to be anonymous, but after concerns from parents about direct submission to the district, they were provided with the mailing address of the firm, she said.

Smith has offered to conduct a parents' focus group to get additional comments, she said.


Anonymous said...

Why not assemble a panel of experts in survey research (surely easy enough to find in a university community! there are several research institutes that come to mind, eg PERI at UMass, for one) to quickly evaluate the survey -- identify what about it is valid and what is not from a professional standpoint -- and then only use the data that is considered valid?

While there's no sense throwing out anything useful from the survey (after all it was paid for), there is also no reason to use information that was derived from a flawed survey.

People wil not trust the survey outcome and it will only cause dissension if something isn't done to establish its validity or invalidity.

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate the quotes and recognition that the SPED survey merits significant criticism, I would like to clarify the intent of invoking the 1986 Challenger disaster.

The point was that the Challenger disaster was avoidable. My assertion is that the Reagan administration, in its forceful efforts of self embellishment, wanted to reap the PR benefit of putting a teacher in space and as a result failed to consider data at its disposal to inform it operations decisions. Edwin Tufte pointed out that their failure to analyze the data correctly led to the disaster.

The analogy was not about the potential for a fatal disaster but about the misuse of data and how that leads to poor outcomes.

The reality is that the data coming from the survey is irredeemable. Once data is corrupted by poor survey design, flawed data collection, or other issues, that survey is unusable.

My criticisms were not aimed at the PRC or District Administrators. They just point out flaws in the survey that prevent the generation of a reliable result.

I would be happy to provide the full text of my analysis to anyone interested.

Michael Aronson

Anonymous said...

Did they get to investigate the policy in use of closing children in 'closets' to vent out their anger by punching and banging the walls in the BB program now housed in Ft. River?

Anonymous said...

Anon May 3 11:18 said:
Did they get to investigate the policy in use of closing children in 'closets' to vent out their anger by punching and banging the walls in the BB program now housed in Ft. River?

OK -- whoever you are -- you've brought this up on the blog repeatedly. PLEASE take your comments someplace where they can be heard, or come out publically with your concerns. Nobody here on this blog can do anything about what you keep bringing up.

I too have heard shouting, screaming, crying and banging at FR on occasion. Please understand that the children are NOT restrained; they are in a safe place where they can vent until they calm down. There they cannot hurt themselves or others.

I do not know if the room from which these noises were heard was locked or not. I do know that the kids are not restrained by any devices and any adult restraint employed (which I never saw in two years at FR and I worked in SPED) would follow district policies and training.

Also, are you talking about BB or Theraspace? It sounds like you are talking about Theraspace but calling it BB.

This is not the place for this discussion although I do feel your concerns deserve a response. Just not here.

Please be careful about accusing people of improper or illegal restraints. That is a big accusation. Many people work at FR and nobody I know of seems to share your concerns.