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, June 10, 2010

Constructive Criticism

Over the last year, comments on my blog, in the press, and at meetings have revealed two very different views about who I am, and what I’m trying to accomplish in my work on the School Committee.

On one side are those who believe that I am for some strange reason intent on making up (or at least highly exaggerating) problems that don't exist in the Amherst schools and thereby destroy the district’s reputation. People with this view feel my statements (on my blog, in the paper, at meetings) are inflammatory or overstated, and that I have somehow manipulated the results of the three outside reports published this year that are critical of our schools. Conspiracy theorists believe that I have somehow managed to convince not only Dr. Rodriguez of these imagined problems (although I didn't vote to hire him and wasn't a clear supporter), but also two independent consultants: Dr. Irving Hamer (although I have never met him, emailed him, or had any contact with him whatsoever), and Dr. Barry Beers (who I met only at the start of his presentation to the School Committee on March 9th, and have never had any phone/email/in person contact with at any other time).

On the other side are those who believe that there are some real and fundamental problems in our schools -- as clearly outlined by Dr. Hamer and Dr. Rodriguez and Dr. Beers over the last year. In all of their reports, they recognize the dedication, talent, and commitment of our teachers. However, their comments on the school system reflect many of the concerns I and other parents and community members and even teachers have expressed over the last many years. The problem is not what happens in the classroom; it is the framework that turns teaching into education. These are structural problems in the way we deliver education, and include a weak elementary math curriculum, a middle school that has prioritized social/emotional development over intellectual/academic development, a high school that looks different from virtually all other high schools in many respects (including the unique and unevaluated trimester system, the unique and unevaluated approach to teaching English only in heterogeneous classes, and the lowest math and science requirements in the state), and an overall lack of curriculum alignment, differentiated teaching, use of data to drive decision-making, transparency and accountability. These are problems that I have highlighted attention to over the last 2+ years as a member of the School Committee, due to my belief that the first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem.

For those who are still trying to figure out which of these sides is right, or at least more right, I’d like you to contemplate what I possibly have to gain from convincing people that an otherwise perfect school system is flawed. Do I have some type of fiscal arrangement with local charter schools? Do I secretly wish to start my own school district and hope to recruit dissatisfied parents to enroll? Do I prefer smaller class sizes for my own kids, as more and more families flee our district? Do I relish the negative attacks in the Bulletin and on my blog each week? It is truly hard for me to understand what my motivation could be for raising concerns about the district that don't actually exist, and it is even harder for me to believe how I could somehow convince three education experts from outside Amherst that problems exist that don't. The only motivation I have for persistently and consistently raising these problems (in the face of pretty hostile attack) is to try to get these concerns addressed. Given that years and years of polite complaining to teachers and principals about concerns in our district has had no effect, being public and loud seems to be the only potential way to get a response.

I truly hope those who are now leading our district, including interim superintendent Maria Geryk and the administrators and principals who urged the School Committee to appoint her instead of conducting a search for an interim, to prove that they are not simply defenders of the status quo. Show some leadership in acting on the very real issues identified by Dr. Rodriguez and the other two outside experts. Stop responding to outside criticism by providing defensive justifications of current programs and curricula, and stop focusing on how insulting any criticism is to the school district, how it was delivered, who said it, and/or the tone and style that person used. Focus instead on the substance and content of the criticism, which is highly consistent and specific, and therefore should be quite helpful in identifying an action plan for the upcoming year that parents, community members, and teachers can all embrace with enthusiasm and excitement.


Anonymous said...

Catherine, Thanks for putting yourself out there. You have provided an excellent forum and an open ear for the disenfranchised parents who have trusted and been disappointed by the administration of our school system.

Nina Koch said...


Do you really believe that there are only two sides here? Since you are finding Side A hard to fathom, maybe there are a few more points of view out there that you haven't described and that might be easier to comprehend, especially when considered in the light of differences in values and core beliefs.

I definitely don't see my point of view represented in your description.

Cathy Eden said...

I'd just like to thank you Catherine for your tireless efforts on the SC -- which has led to the saving of nearly $1 million at the elementary level and resulted in being able to add preschool and after school programs for income eligible students and a world language program for all elementary students. For the first time in many years we are ADDING programs rather than cutting at the elementary level. And, although it was a unanimous vote by the SC to close MM, you went above and beyond your duty by creating this blog and responding to countless concerns, complaints, and insults during that process. I appreciate your tenacity and I hope that the admin and the SC can work together in the future to continue to address issues and make improvements to a system that has so many talented and dedicated and intelligent faculty and staff members.

Anonymous said...

Good post coming from a position of strength rather than in defense mode. You go girl.

Anonymous said...

Come on Nina, that response doesn't take us anywhere.

How many canaries in this coal mine have to drop dead, how many second opinions do you need, before you can acknowledge that there are problems?

And how many more referenda do we have to have before administrators realize that the voters are not comfortable with the current status quo?

So being able to articulate YOUR point of view is the least of our problems.

Anonymous said...

Let me give you one simple index that there's something wrong:

The sufficiency of feedback on the written work of students.

Parents see this all the time, and there's great unhappiness about it. It's not what you would expect in such a highly regarded school system.

Rich Morse

Ed said...

Nina said "I definitely don't see my point of view represented in your description.

And Yeats said "...and the middle shall cease to hold..."

Nina, there are two groups of people at this point: those who are attacking Catherine (and those who support them) and those who are not. One of the points I kept making to the UMass Republican Club over the years (and the reason why I am no longer the adviser to the club) is that there are rules of war and if you don't observe them, not only is the other side not going to either, but that you won't be able to say a whole lot about it.

Harvey Silverglate describes this in the context of A man for all seasons and if you chop down all the trees chasing the Devil, and then the Devil turns on you, exactly what tree will you be able to hide behind when he is chasing you?

Or as I said to a young man last summer "I don't care if [another student] is a [jerk], you still don't conspire to get people arrested for things that they didn't do."

The principle of the Western Christian Liberal Enlightenment was that every individual had an inherent human value.

My point, Nina, is twofold. First, I think it would be fair to say that you are more or less on the side of those who are attacking Catherine and I don't see you saying they should stop the deluge of ad hominem invective that people you have influence over are throwing at her. John Adams defended the British Soldiers accused of murder after the so-called "Boston Massacre" not because he particularly liked them, but because he knew that they (the soldiers) were in the right and there was no way he could claim the moral high ground in his cause without defending his enemies when they, too, were right.

And second, if you think she is wrong - that there are "more points of view out there" then you describe what the tertiary, quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary and denary ones are...

Anonymous said...

This is why we need you on the school committee Catherine. We needed you years ago. Thanks for all your work.

Teacher X said...

"Let me give you one simple index that there's something wrong:

The sufficiency of feedback on the written work of students."

Interesting that you bring this one up. I am a hs teacher who reads a lot of student writing. The other day in town I bumped into a former principal of ARHS, whose child was in one of my classes this year.

He stopped me to thank me for the comments I had written on all of his child's papers. I think he said something like, thanks for the taking the time to write all of those comments on my child's papers.

So, before one voice, Rich, leads people to believe that there is one only version of that story, please know that other views do exist.

I'll join Nina and say that my view is definietely not represented in CS's simplistic portrayal here.

I also don't recall a report from Alberto Rodriguez. What I recall is a brand new supt hiring others, at quite an expense, to do work I would have thought he would do himself. And one of the people whom he hired was a long time friend of his. Nepotism?
I certainly hope you are not including the recent letter from Rodriguez bashing the schools that he ran from, after he picked up his last paycheck as a report.

If you are, that is very telling indeed.

I don't see that as a report. I see that as a child trying to get in the last word.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Teacher X - thank you for posting, and I can understand your desire to be anonymous (hence I allow anonymous postings). I really appreciate having your view.

A few thoughts here.

First, you clearly write a lot of comments, and that is great. It is also possible that you are not "typical" -- which I believe is what Rich Morse was noting (and I've heard this from other parents as well). One of the challenges is that many individual teachers are doing a great job ... but if the system isn't set up so that ALL teachers have clear expectations (e.g., homework guidelines, feedback norms, etc.), parents/kids then focus entirely on getting into the "good" class with the "good" teacher, and I know that isn't good on many levels.

Second, the first expert Dr. Rodriguez brought in was Dr. Irving Hamer -- and I think his credentials are pretty strong. I do know they had a prior relationship, but I'm still not sure why that relationship would lead Dr. Hamer to make up problems in our district that don't exist? I talked to many administrators after that report, who really thought it was helpful and well done. Now that Dr. Rodriguez has left, does that report become wrong? I'm not sure how/why that would work.

Finally, you criticize Dr. Rodriguez for hiring others to do the work you think he should have done (I guess this is Dr. Beers and Dr. Hamer), which was at a total cost of $15,000 or so. Are you also going to criticize Maria Geryk for hiring an independent math consultant, an equity/social justice consultant, etc.? Both of them are working with a position (of curriculum director) not filled as of now, and thus it seems reasonable that other people are needed to provide such information.

I feel that your response is precisely what I describe in my post - you criticize me, you criticize Dr. Rodriguez, you criticize Dr. Hamer/Dr. Beers, and you defend current practices.

Can you see anything helpful in what we've learned over the past year from outside experts who reviewed this district? And if so, can you clarify what parts of any of these reports you agree with?

Anonymous said...

I know that we all have to clarify our remarks before they are distorted beyond all recognition by those inside the schools.

I am seeing teachers who provide written comments on written work that are infrequent, sparse and untimely.

Is that true of all teachers at ARHS and ARMS? Of course not. And there are teachers at both schools that I and my family are grateful for my child having been exposed to. Perhaps you are one of those teachers, Teacher X, and, given the disapproval of this blog expressed within the schools, I respect your need to be anonymous.

But some teachers thrive with the autonomy they have and their work is a gift to this community. Others do not.

What's my standard? The written comments I got on my written work at Northampton High School in the early 1970's, when class sizes were higher. Is my child getting a better secondary school public education than I did? In some respects, yes (especially in terms of the diversity of her classmates, the celebration of participation in art and music, and the human sweep of the history and social studies she's had) and in others, no (such as training in writing and grammar, and a confusing math program with bewildering choices for children and parents).

And we as parents worry that our children will be retaliated against for our speaking out about schools that we simply want to be better in the future.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Just as school personnel have varying and alternative views, parents also have varying and alternative views. So, what I hear Teacher X saying is that parents should just shut up if they have a concern or complaint? Do you worry that Rich's comment will somehow poison everyone else's view? Rich's comment was his opinion and he identified himself. Parents realize that when a parent comments on something about the schools it is one person's experience with a particular subset of teachers.

The problem is that our children's educations should not depend on lucking out and getting the particular teachers who have high standards - we should have uniform expectations for all of our teachers.

We can't really run a successful school district if people outside the schools can have no opinions or input into what goes on there. I understand that as a teacher, you are very vulnerable to public scrutiny -- but teachers need to feel confident enough to hear criticism and either listen to it and adjust or say, "that doesn't really apply to me," and move on. These hypersensitive reactions seem like the kind of behavior that children use to get their parents to back off and leave them alone.

I think that SCs of the past have let the schools do whatever they want for too long. The SC's job is to contribute to the discussion of what we want our schools to be - and to challenge the admin in decisions that they make - NOT to act as a rubber stamp - what is the point of that?

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:35 said "the SC's job is to challenge the decisions the administration makes."

Really? That's the SC's job?

It's attitudes like this that will make it hard to find a new Super.

Ed said...

And we as parents worry that our children will be retaliated against for our speaking out about schools that we simply want to be better in the future.

Rich, you are an ADA and a lawyer and I am neither. Is it time for you to write up a brief common-language explanation of what both Chapter 51A (mandated reporter) and the Whistleblower Act (149 MGL 185) and what both mean to both to school employees and parents.

I really think that we are going to see Malden pull certificates when the South Hadley mess is all sorted out. And retaliating against a child because of - well - anything is something that could (a) get the teacher/admin certificate revoked, (b) allow the parent to sue the teacher/admin and (c) public employees are not indemnified in circumstances like this, they get sued personally.

And the other thing is that there are two circumstances where the state can come in and take over a school - poor student outcome or for the general good of the children. The former is very rare and I have never heard of the latter happening, but I think it can...

Ed said...

a former principal of ARHS, whose child was in one of my classes this year.

And as a researcher, I would have to exclude that student from any study. You know the parent, who is a former principal - there is no way to know if you treat all students that way or not -- and no way for YOU to know that either.

I really don't care what the parents who know you outside of the child/parent/teacher relationship say about your ability as a teacher, what I want to know is what those who DON'T know you say.

And perhaps that is the problem -- could there be TWO schools -- those for those whose parents know someone (who are getting good services) and those for parents who don't (who have legitimate complaints relative to their children)?

Michael Jacques said...


From all of my posts it is clear that I support Catherine’s point of view. My perception, based on your postings, is that you support what exists within our current system. I would like to know what your third option is. But before you reply please understand that even though I agree with Catherine most of the time, there are areas that I am flexible on. This does not mean I have a third option rather that there is some flexibility for me regarding the changes that I feel should be made.

I will give you an example. Catherine has stated that she has issues with not offering 9th grade biology. It is clear to me that the science department in the high school is a great group of teachers really committed to teaching the best science possible. So if they choose to go against the grain of other districts with biology or physics first that is fine. But, I would then expect them to use that enthusiasm to ensure that we have a science department curriculum that includes AP Chemistry, allows doubling up, and has a path for capable students to take all of the AP Science courses offered before graduation. So I don’t really care what science you offer in the 9th grade as long as there is a commitment to the highest achievement possible for all students.

I will even go so far to say that if the Science Department agrees with what I wrote but have road blocks to achieving this goal please share them with us so that we can help go over, around, or remove those road blocks. Having watched their presentation it was clear just how deep there dedication to great education is and I really appreciate that and I am sure my kids will benefit from that in the coming years.

So all in all I think Amherst is a very good school system with many good and dedicated teachers. It is not quite what I would call excellent in all areas of educational offerings. For the money we spend per pupil one would expect that we would not leave much to want in our school. So this is where we fall short, not by much but still short.

So from this example do you offer a truly different route or just a variation on how education is currently structured? For what it is worth while I may not agree with all of your posts I do appreciate that you use your name and share your views with us. Through continued dialog I am still hopeful that we can all find some additional common ground and effect meaningful change.

Teacher X said...

CS: First, I agree with parts of what I heard in the reports from the individuals the former supt hired. I definitely think our schools can and should improve, always, no matter that we send kids to the best colleges in the world every single year.

Can we get better? Absolutely. Do I think more AP tests are the answer so that we can get our name on the U.S. New and World Report 100 top high schools? Definitely not. I am not impressed with a tool that purports to measure excellent schools when the only criteria are AP test scores.

Second, Mr. Morse did not use any qualifying language to indicate whether he was discussing a typical teacher or the exceptions. Actually he used very broad language to imply a large group, if not all, of the teachers of writing.

Third, you stated that I criticized you. Where is that? I'm not seeing criticism of you in my post. If it is the word, “simplistic,” then I have to disagree that this is criticism of you. I think it is a response to your stating there are only two views. I see things as a lot more complex than this.

Fourth, you did not address my lack of recollection of a report from the former supt. What report are you referencing and where can the public find it?

Teacher X said...

Teacher X: part deux

Fifth, this part is for Mr. Morse:

"The sufficiency of feedback on the written work of students.

Parents see this all the time, and there's great unhappiness about it. It's not what you would expect in such a highly regarded school system."

Mr. Morse: Those are your exact words.

Then you retorted with these words:
"I know that we all have to clarify our remarks before they are distorted beyond all recognition by those inside the schools."

Do you think your original words were distorted beyond all recognition? Which ones? You use a fairly aggressive tone here for someone who claims to want to work with people to improve the local schools.

You state that "parents see this all the time and there's great unhappiness about it." What does “all the time mean”? Literally, it means that whatever behavior you described is happening all of the time, every bit of the time. The word “all” is inclusive of everything under consideration. You chose the word. I didn't. Can one draw the conclusion that you are implying all teachers of writing are not providing sufficient commentary on student work? If that is not what you intend, then why did you use the words? Please tell me which lines to read between.

You also use the clause "and there's great unhappiness about it."

What does “great” imply here if not a very substantial amount.

In fact, I have never once heard from a parent or supervisor that I am not providing sufficient feedback on writing, and I’m in my third decade as a writing teacher.

Is this lawyer-speak? Please explain why you stated your position using these words if you intended to say something quite different?

Sixth, to anon, 11:35: No I don’t intend to say that parents “should just shut up if they have a concern or complaint?” In fact, I’m a strong advocate for parents communicating with teachers. I encourage all parents reading this to contact your children’s teachers directly when you have questions about their education. If you are not satisfied with the communication you have with the teacher, then I encourage you to contact the teacher’s supervisor.

In the current teacher’s contract, the teacher’s union agreed to a new evaluation process. All teachers develop professional growth plans, are observed teaching, have meetings about the teaching and are evaluated. Before you dismiss the process as an unsubstantial, inside agreement, please realize that this process is an agreement between the town and the teachers. Two parties set it up. In fact, the town side is the one that proposed this plan.

There are ways in place to participate in your child’s education. Use the evaluation process. Ask teachers and supervisors. Get involved with the parents association.

I am hypersensitive to Mr. Morse’s particular language. I interpreted that he was all inclusive of writing teachers based on the words he chose, as outlined above.

I would love nothing more than for the dialogue about the Amherst schools to recover its civil tone, but that is going to require enormous effort on everyone’s part. This blog has generated a lot of incivility on all sides.

I tried to explain my post and why I interpreted Mr. Morse’s language as I did. I stand by the interpretation but am willing to hear Mr. Morse explain without directly stating that I “distorted [his words] beyond all recognition.”

Is the blog a good idea? Sure, it’s a great idea for people to discuss their children’s education. Has it become a Hatfield - McCoy feud? Perhaps. Should the argument then go to who fired the first shot? I don’t think so.

When will it end? How do we find our way back to civility? Maybe while we are hiring a lawyer we should also hire an mediator.

Ed said...

In the current teacher’s contract, the teacher’s union

The logical flip side of this is a taxpayer's union who in the same contract mandates a certain outcome from education and stipulates a penalty is it isn't.

And to those of you who are upset, the simple fact is that management can not be unionized.... Hence you are either union or management -- and if the former, forget the policy questions....

Nina Koch said...

We actually have some data on the issue of teachers providing feedback on student work. In the parent/guardian satisfaction survey, respondents were asked the degree to which they agree with this statement: "The feedback my child receives on assignments is helpful"

I am guessing that if Rich filled out the survey, he would have said "Strongly Disagree" because that was his experience. However, he would be in a small minority in saying that, as the data show (single digit percentages). That is not to negate Rich's experience, only to show that what he feels is not necessarily as widespread as his comments would suggest. Of course the survey is not a random sample but it gives you some idea.

Now could the results be better? Yes they could. I'd like to see higher numbers in the "Agree" and "Strongly Agree" categories. Probably a lot of us wish we could devote more time to giving students feedback. Do keep in mind the time factor. If I bring home 60 papers to read and spend only five minutes on each paper, that takes five hours.

I am going to spend some time this summer trying to develop an electronic tool that might make me more efficient in giving feedback. I don't know if it will work or not. But it is definitely an area I have given a lot of thought to and I imagine many of my colleagues have also.

Anonymous said...

In regard to the comment that this blog has some how created an environment of incivility - I say there has always been an undercurrent of incivility in this town (ie letters in the Amherst Bulletin). This blog just happens to have a faster turn around time for comments.

There are a lot of smarty pants and a lot of demanding parents in this town - so I understand why teachers might be quick to defend themselves.

But I think that CS gets unfairly branded as being the enemy of the school because she has challenged some of the decisions of the admin and teachers over the last few years (math ext, 9th gr Env Sci, etc). She is doing her job - why bother having a SC if they are just expected to rubber stamp everything the admin does?

As a parent, I appreciate her willingness to ask questions and challenge the admin.

And in regard to ARHS sending students to the best schools in the world - an argument that many people use to defend the status quo in ARPS - certainly teachers have a role in this - but is it really that surprising that children of college educated parents from homes where education is highly valued are getting into great schools?

Anonymous said...

" it really that surprising that children of college educated parents from homes where education is highly valued are getting into great schools?"

A really great school system should most pride itself on how many kids go to college, not WHICH college. Especially first-in-the-family to attend college. A rising tide is supposed to float all boats, et cetera. Whether it's Westfield State or Williams, who cares as long as the kid gets in and eventually graduates.

It is not so important to me that a kid whose parents are graduate-school educated professionals goes to a top school. That is to be expected, more or less. It is the kid whose parents don't have that education whose success most pleases me and proves that the school district knows what it's doing and does it well.

ARHS Parent said...

Nina and Teacher X, regarding teacher comments on papers. In the survey parents completed, we were asked about feedback in general, not by subject. That is a problem. In my experience at ARHS and ARMS (and yes, we are only one family), some teachers provide excellent and timely feedback while others lose papers with alarming frequency and/or just hand papers back with a grade or comments like "No!" when an answer is wrong. I also experienced this huge amount of variation at the elementary level (although it is less worrisome there because your child is with the same teacher every day and a lot of the feedback is verbal). I have especially been disappointed in my children's experience with the English departments. Before they entered the regional schools, parents of older kids warned me but I was optimistic. I shouldn't have been. Sorry, Teacher X, but that has been my experience. Perhaps my kid didn't have you.

AnonM said...

I beg to differ with a previous anon poster about the level of incivility. I have lived in Amherst for over 35 years..and I have never seen the problem of incivility as bad as it currently is regarding school issues.

I do not blame the current Amherst SC for this high level, but I do think they are PART of the problem. The behavior of some of them towards colleagues (not sure if I spelled that right) on the Amherst SC, Union 26 Committee and Regional Committee is inexcusable and contributes to the tone of incivility.

And yes, again I will say, tone matters. As does the content.

And, I'll say for the record...from what I have heard (I have no direct knowledge of this topic) it does sound like we need to do something about 7th grade math extensions. But I hear wonderful things about the 9th grade science class...I think the only thing we could possible change is that either 9th graders are allowed to take biology as an alternative 9th grade subject or that high schoolers are allowed to double up on science so that they can take additional classes if they wish.

Anonymous said...

To anon 11:19
I think that both how many students go to college and where they go is important. A student at the top of the class should have a top tier school as an option and I wouldn't want ARHS to become so alternative in its approach that top schools disregard our students.

I'm frustrated with people in this town saying that people shouldn't care about things like which colleges their child attends. Everyone has different priorities and we shouldn't judge others because they value different things. It's not fair to say what is important to one person is necessarily right for everyone.
For a town that claims to be open minded there is so much my way or the highway mentality.

Anonymous said...

How Nina has responded to Rich's comment is a perfect example of how the schools typically deal with negative comments. I hope that is a lesson for all of you parents out there on what you should do with your comments...

Anonymous said...

If you have lived in Amherst for 35 years and not witnessed incivility, you haven't been paying attention. The soccer fields, the parking garage, the charter, business development, Israeli/Palestinian issues, etc, etc have all been fought over just as strongly as the current school issues. It is just easier for more people to participate in the discussion on a blog as opposed to the Bulletin.

Anonymous said...

Tone matters on all sides. When the SC voted to close MM, there was a letter published in the Bulletin that compared what the SC did to murder -- and blog posts that claimed the SC was tearing families apart. It takes 2 to make a situation uncivil. I see that the SC has called for data, evidence, and greater transparency - if that is uncivil then I guess we disagree.

AnonM said...

I think Nina's response to Rich was measured and perfect. Rich was making overly broad generalizations about a topic based on his own personal experience. That does not negate his experience..he has no reason to lie about it and I am sorry his kids did not have the quality of teachers we all want for our children.

But, it is wrong to make such broad brush comments about the system as a whole based on a singular experience. When people have a good experience in the schools and say so, their comments are dismissed by folks on this blog as "just the experience of one and not indicative of the quality of the schools in general." Nina's comments about Rich's experience are nothing different.

Nina Koch said...

to 6:55 am: actually the survey did ask the question subject by subject. Click on the link I gave and go to page 14.

to 9:00 am: I'm not sure what you find problematic in my response, since you gave no specifics. I offered additional information about the situation and also indicated that there was room for improvement. That seems like a reasonable response to me.

In general, I would say that parents with concerns need to talk to the teacher. If that does not result in a satisfactory resolution, they should follow the steps outlined here:

Parent Concerns

I'd like to see us collect data on how many parents are directly contacting teachers with concerns because I don't believe it's very many. If you feel that your child would benefit from getting more feedback on his or her work, then tell the teacher that you feel that way. In the course of that conversation, you may get additional information about the situation that your child did not communicate to you. And the teacher will get additional information about how his or her practice is perceived by you and your child.

Additional information is good.

Anonymous said...

Since I started some of this, let me say that I find Nina's responses on this perfectly reasonable. And, if parents are not lining up to complain on this topic, I stand corrected.

My comments are based on our singular experience, conversations I have had with other parents, and conversations with Catherine about comments made to her from other parents. So, a lot of hearsay, and so, perhaps my generalization was overly broad.

So I would rephrase the question this way: how satisfied are we as a community with the total amount of feedback that students get on their writing over their entire secondary school careers? I would submit that it's inadequate. This gets us back to NOT personalizing the problem with teachers (which I probably did unwisely earlier) and looking instead at systemic problems that reduce the effectiveness of dedicated teachers.

Systemic problems, which I would submit are NOT figments of the imagination of me, Catherine, Alberto, or any of the consultants who have been brought in recently.

Now if even THIS comment is seen to be uncivil, God help me.

Rich Morse

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Just one quick comment here: I did a summary of the ARHS parent surveys, which was posted on my blog. Here is the overall summary regarding core learning:

"Of those who responded, a clear majority (75% or above in virtually all cases) felt that they knew the course expectations, that their child was prepared to meet the course expectations, that there was adequate support available to their child, that their child has made some or significant progress over the past year, that their child receives meaningful homework, and that report cards accurately reflected their child’s progress across each of the five major academic disciplines (English, math, science, social studies, world language). A somewhat smaller number of parents felt that their child received helpful feedback on assignments (between 50 and 68% -- except for 77% in 9th grade social studies) and felt regularly informed of their child’s progress (42 to 67%) in the core disciplines."

What seems clear here is that with the exception of 9th grade social studies (in which only 23% aren't satisfied with feedback), between 32 and 50% of all respondents do NOT report being satisfied with the feedback their child gets on assignments. In other words, 1/3 to 1/2 of high school parents ACROSS the core academic disciplines are reporting this on the surveys last year (and it is similar for MS parents: 34 to 44%). This strongly suggests to me that in fact, this is the experience of many kids (not most, but clearly many) at both the MS and HS.

And I think this should be concerning to people -- this isn't just Rich Morse's anecdote, or people complaining to Catherine.

Imagine if we had 1/3 to 1/2 of parents saying "my child doesn't feel safe at school" or "my child experiences discrimination at school". This is a pretty sizeable proportion of people expressing dissatisfaction with the amount of feedback, and I would certainly say this is something that I hope appears in both school improvement plans for next year.

Nina Koch said...


Are you including the group who check "neither agree nor disagree" as being dissatisfied? If so, I would say that is an example of distorting statistics. You are including the neutral category as a negative.

Sometimes parents check the neutral category because they don't have an opinion or they don't have enough information to judge. There are quite a few 15-year-olds who don't share very much with their parents about their schoolwork.

People who are interested in this should simply look at the survey themselves:

Parent Survey

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Nina - the question was "the feedback my child receives on assignments is helpful." If you think it WAS helpful, you clearly put one of two things: agree OR strongly disagree. Parents who put the middle response (neither disagree nor agree) are obviously not able to agree with this statement -- presumably either because they don't know how much feedback their child gets or because the amount of feedback has varied over the years (depending on the teacher) so they are choosing a middle response.

It is also striking that the responses on this item are actually different from that on other items - meaning, a SMALLER percentage agree that their child receives meaningful feedback than agree with many other things.

Anonymous said...

If Catherine is putting the neutral votes (neither agree or disagree) in the disagree column then I agree with Nina, she is playing fast and loose with the numbers.

The neutral comments should not be counted at all when looking at the % who agree or disagree with the statement.

Abbie said...

thanks for posting the link. My suggestions for improving the presentation of the data are (1) include total # of respondants for each questlon (my guess for some is only 3 replied, i.e business ed-- 33.3, 33.3. 33.3) and (2) graphs would be helpful. Also the demographics provided at the beginning seem to be those of the district. What was the demographics of those who filled out the questionaires?

I hope the HS adminstration actually uses the data, there is a lot to consider in that data (if its valid, ie. sufficient sample size). What's up with Health and PE?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Abbie - my summary (see the whole thing on my blog this January) also summarized the survey respondents:

"The high school population is predominantly white (69%), with somewhat fewer students of color (African American: 9%; Asian: 8%; Hispanic: 10%; Multi-Race, Non-Hispanic: 4%). Compared to these demographics of students, respondents were somewhat more likely to be white (73%) or multiracial (9%), and somewhat less likely to be African American (4%), Hispanic (9%), Asian (5%). There were 1,201 students in the high school, and 284 parents completed the survey (parents with more than one child in the school were asked to only complete one survey reflecting their oldest child’s experience)."

I agree that graphs would be helpful. I believe on the raw data the SC got, we also got the number of respondents.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nina Koch said...

Hi Abbie,

That has been posted for a while, since September, I think. I got it as a pdf and I wasn't able to edit it in any way. I agree the presentation can be improved and I think giving the "n" is always important. I did have some fun figuring what the fractions might be, however, for various percentages. But I am probably one of the few people who would consider that fun.

For the health and PE, they should not have been included along with the core academics, in my opinion. Kids in the upper grades aren't even taking health and a lot of the questions don't make sense for those subject areas. You can disregard those responses.

The sample is not statistically valid, but I think it's still useful information to look at and think about. The school council spent a lot of time discussing it.