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, December 1, 2010

Articles on Education in Amherst: Math (again), Budgets, Superintendent Search

My apologies for the less frequent updates here ... this is a hectic time of my semester, so I'm not as up to date on my postings as I normally am. But I hope my blog readers will enjoy these three pieces related to education in Amherst.

First, here is a link to a thoughtful piece by Lisa Kosanovic published in the Amherst Bulletin about the current math debate (http://amherstbulletin.com/story/id/189691/). I found her observations very insightful (particularly since she is both a math teacher in Holyoke and a parent with kids in the Amherst schools).

Second, here is a link to my November Education Matters piece, which focuses on the School Committee's role in managing budgets in a way that is responsible to tax payers (http://amherstbulletin.com/story/id/188918/).

Finally, here is a link to a Gazette story on the characteristics identified by the search firm as needed for the new superintendent (http://www.gazettenet.com/2010/11/24/amherst-panels-eye-skills-schools-chief). I believe it is always helpful to have an outside perspective, and certainly agree that an effective superintendent needs to be able to work to bring boards together around a common vision -- something the Amherst School Committee actually has done quite well (and has been doing for sometime) but something that Regional School Committee has struggled with at times (and certainly it is more challenging to bring people together on a larger board with more diversity of opinions and views).

But I'd also encourage community members - and indeed prospective superintendent candidates - to actually check out the meetings on ACTV ... because the vast majority of meetings (even at the regional level) are in fact constructive and respectful (even when we disagree). At last week's meeting, we had a pretty long debate about expanding the membership of the search committee, and ultimately the motion to move to 10 members (and include residents of Leverett and Shutesbury) passed unanimously. Last night we had a long discussion about a motion by Steve Rivkin about gathering information on the effectiveness of the two different math programs in the high school -- and this motion ultimately passed by a large (though not unanimous) majority. So, is there active and vigorous discussion? Absolutely. But ultimately I believe this type of debate leads to better decision-making, and thus better outcomes for kids, which I think is something parents, teachers, School Committee members, and superintendents should want.

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

From supt article: "community's concerns...that fighting among the board members was having an adverse effect on staff morale"

I think that staff should protect their morale from outside forces. No one can make you feel anything without your permission.

Are people suggesting that everyone on the SC needs to agree like they did in the good old days? I'd like to see someone compile a list of all the great achievements that the wonderfully harmonious SCs of the recent past brought about. Any takers?

Anonymous said...

Great point!!! Anon. 12:51 pm. I totally agree!

Anonymous said...

The emphasis on staff morale is a canard. It's really about an administration that wants to impose its will and its interests on the community, and resist any form of accountability.

In the long run, it may succeed.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, I just read the $96,000 schools-Umass contract.

Can the SC ask for that money back?


I mean, really...


(trying my BEST to keep the tone positive)

Abbie said...

The raw results of the parent Math Survey are available at http://www.arps.org/node/2515.

I pulled the k-5 satisfaction data (I didn't include in that if there were also kids in 6-12 in that response). There were 160 k-5 responses and here are the data:
Very Satisfied: 30 (19.7%)
Somewhat satisfied: 66 (43.4%)
Not very satisfied: 37 (24.3%)
Not happy at all: 19 (12.5%)

If someone wants to double-check, that would be great. My conclusion, more than a third of elementary parents are unsatisfied with the math (36.8%), while 64% are satisfied. I think this is a very different conclusion than that presented by Ms. Graham.

There are also flaws in the design of the survey that make it impossible to gather some important data. There is no useful information in responses where multiple school levels are included (there were many in this category).

Much of the important informatio (imo) is in the individual comments.
I hope the math council reads those comments and knows that more than a third of elementary parents are unsatisfied with math.

ken said...

Abby,

Other conclusions to draw: the responses reflect only a small number of all possible responses, and in polls such as this, "I'm not happy!" responses tend to be more mobilized than "I'm satisfied" responses. One could conclude that is quite probably a lot more than 64% that are satisfied among ALL elementary parents. Be that as it may, it's inaccurate to state, as you did, that "My conclusion, more than a third of elementary parents are unsatisfied with the math (36.8%), while 64% are satisfied." That statement implies "of ALL elementary parents."

Anoher conclusion is that it seems as though the weight of the third that is dissatisfied (even if it is even possibly a smaller % of all elementary parents) seems to be greater than the weight of the 64% of satisfied parents (even if that % is actually greater than that). The dialog, at least on this blog, is mostly about having the minority opinion triumph: that is, getting rid of the program that a large majority seems to like.

Finally, I'll take the opportunity to address one thing you wrote 2 or 3 threads ago about our MCAS performance in 10th. You said that we shouldn't count the fact that our students catch up to the comparison districts by 10th as really important or proof of a strong math program, because there is an uptick of all 10th grade MCAS scores. The test seems to be easier. But ALL students take the same test, and if no catching up was actually happening, everyone would tick up similarly, but earlier gaps would remain, just at a higher level. That test measures the math standards at 10th grade of the Commonwealth, which is built on previous grades. Therefore, regardless of test strength, because all students taking it are being measured in the same way about the same standards, you can look at the catching up by 10th as not just a mirage. It would be the case if we took an easier test than other districts at 10th grade, but we don't.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

A few brief thoughts.

First, Abbie - thanks for doing that sort of in-depth analysis. I appreciate it, and I will try to check and do a blog posting on my own numbers (for elementary and other grades). I share your concern that the survey wasn't designed to easily allow this sort of comparison, and agree that Beth Graham's reporting could have been more thorough and descriptive.

Second, Ken, I guess I'm confused about your response for two reasons. One is that I think we likely agree that more affluent/involved/educated/white families probably responded - that is almost always the trend in surveys. Yet as you've continually pointed out, those families probably have kids who are on the whole doing better than others. I'm dissatified with our current math program, but I have yet to have a child not reach the proficient level in math. So, I would imagine that the families whose kids are doing the worst are probably the least likely to have taken this survey, and they may in fact be the most dissatisfied. Thus, I'm not sure why you are sure that the 1/3 Abbie points out are dissatisfied is actually over-represented.

I also believe that having 1/3 of parents dissatisfied with something is a problem, even if it "only" one-third. If 1/3 of our families thought the schools were expressing racism, would we say "well, it's just 1/3"? I imagine we'd take these concerns seriously, even if they weren't a majority of families.

But let's look at the big picture. We have a math program in the elementary schools that about 1/3 of families report isn't satisfying, and in which our 3rd graders are below the state average (after 4 years of this curriculum), and in which a randomized study shows our curriculum is less effective than others, and in which an outside expert has noted that children aren't challenged. So, we have some concerned parents, some concerning MCAS scores, a randomized study showing the curriculum isn't as effective as others, and an outside consultant noting that the curriculum isn't appropriately challenging in our classroom with our kids. I guess some people can dismiss this evidence as ancedotal (it's only some parents and one outside expert and one study) and irrelevant since our 5th grade MCAS scores are higher ... but the totality of that evidence to me is pretty striking.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

A few brief thoughts.

First, Abbie - thanks for doing that sort of in-depth analysis. I appreciate it, and I will try to check and do a blog posting on my own numbers (for elementary and other grades). I share your concern that the survey wasn't designed to easily allow this sort of comparison, and agree that Beth Graham's reporting could have been more thorough and descriptive.

Second, Ken, I guess I'm confused about your response for two reasons. One is that I think we likely agree that more affluent/involved/educated/white families probably responded - that is almost always the trend in surveys. Yet as you've continually pointed out, those families probably have kids who are on the whole doing better than others. I'm dissatified with our current math program, but I have yet to have a child not reach the proficient level in math. So, I would imagine that the families whose kids are doing the worst are probably the least likely to have taken this survey, and they may in fact be the most dissatisfied. Thus, I'm not sure why you are sure that the 1/3 Abbie points out are dissatisfied is actually over-represented.

I also believe that having 1/3 of parents dissatisfied with something is a problem, even if it "only" one-third. If 1/3 of our families thought the schools were expressing racism, would we say "well, it's just 1/3"? I imagine we'd take these concerns seriously, even if they weren't a majority of families.

But let's look at the big picture. We have a math program in the elementary schools that about 1/3 of families report isn't satisfying, and in which our 3rd graders are below the state average (after 4 years of this curriculum), and in which a randomized study shows our curriculum is less effective than others, and in which an outside expert has noted that children aren't challenged. So, we have some concerned parents, some concerning MCAS scores, a randomized study showing the curriculum isn't as effective as others, and an outside consultant noting that the curriculum isn't appropriately challenging in our classroom with our kids. I guess some people can dismiss this evidence as ancedotal (it's only some parents and one outside expert and one study) and irrelevant since our 5th grade MCAS scores are higher ... but the totality of that evidence to me is pretty striking.

Abbie said...

Ken,
Discount the survey, I am not surprised...

I provided data (and my conclusion) pulled from the survey, that's all. I don't have a magic ball to guess what those who didn't take the survey think. You might not want to read the comments in the survey as you will likely need to ignore those as well.

WRT MCAS: I guess you have never heard of a ceiling effect? It is so patently obvious that the 10th grade MCAS is easy (that almost every kid in MA does very well) that Ms. Graham commented in a SC mtg that it is not a useful measure of achievement.

More data from the survey. Again the data is from single groups (i.e. k-2, 3-5 (not those containing multiple grade levels)).

k-2 (59 total)
very satisfied: 13 (22%)
somewhat satisfied: 29 (49%)
not very satisfied: 11 (19%)
not happy: 6 (10%)

3-5 (60 total)
very satisfied: 12 (20%)
somewhat satisfied: 23 (38%)
not very satisfied: 16 (16%)
not happy: 9 (15%)

From these responses (and numbers are small): parents are more satisfied with k-2 (71%) while at later grades (3-5) parents' satisfaction drops (58%).

Again, if anyone wants to double-check my numbers, that would be great.

Anonymous said...

2 points:

For years people have been saying the teachers are demoralized but the old reason given was budget cuts.

Many elementary teachers don't like and modify Investigations. The teachers that modify it the most (Pelham) have the most successful students. Who really is clinging to this math program? And why?

Abbie said...

To address Ken's conjecture that the survey is not useful because people tend to vote negatively-

It appears he is wrong.

Here is the data from 9-12 (156 total)
very satisfied: 58 (37%)
somewhat satisfied: 39% (39%)
not very satisfied: 27 (17%)
not happy: 11 (7%)

My conclusion from these data is that more than three quarters of parents are satisfied with HS math (with a whopping 37% very satisfied!) and only 24% are unsatisfied.

I encourage everyone to look at the survey, in particular the write-in-comments.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Just to add to Abbie's comment - I was on the Math Curriculum Council in 2007 when we (under the direction of Jere Hochman) conducted a survey of all parents, teachers, and students (5th to 12th graders). This survey revealed precisely what Abbie noted in the 2010 survey - many elementary and middle school parents (and kids) say that they aren't satisfied and that the math wasn't challenging, whereas high school parents are much more satisfied (and a sizeable percentage said math was "too challenging" which you didn't see at all in the K to 8 data).

Ed said...

in polls such as this, "I'm not happy!" responses tend to be more mobilized than "I'm satisfied" responses.

No, Ken, you don't get away with this one.

The opportunity cost of a parent saying something negative about the school system is way higher than the opportunity cost of one praising it -- if anything, and the methodology of the survey including the extent to which it was anonymous matters here (Abby???) but if anything you are going to have variance (and significant variance) in the other direction, toward the positive.

Look at it this way: one person thinks that GWBush was the best POTUS that this country has ever had, another feels the same way about BHObama -- both go down to the common with a sign to indicate their belifs. Who is going to be positively rewarded and who negatively -- who is going to have people screaming obscenities at him and who is going to have people thanking him for standing there?

Now take a couple hundred people, a hundred for Bush and another hundred for Obama -- all with varying levels of support. A good number of the Bush people will not show up -- and the same thing is true here, a good number of those critical of the schools would likely just not reply to the survey.

It is called "opportunity cost" and the issue is that the price one pays to say something negative about the schools is so much higher than to say something positive that only the most motivated do so.

OK, it is after midnight and I am starting to fade -- maybe someone (Steve R) can explain "opportunity costs" better than I did -- but if anything Ken, the parents who don't like the school system are going to be the ones who don't respond....

Anonymous said...

Gee, it would be nice to think that an "acceptable" level of satisfaction with any part of a public school system would be some kind of super-majority of parents and taxpayers, even accounting for the "perpetual malcontent factor" in Amherst.

You know, the kind of majority we insist on for adopting zoning articles in Town Meeting?

I'm dazzled by the creative ways that individuals find to explain away various forms of dissatisfaction and bad news about our schools.

Soon we'll see what voters think.

Anonymous said...

As a parent, having a child who feels "challenged" in high school about math only raises another question:

Did my child really get what was needed before this point? And is that why she/he seems to be challenged/stressed out now?

The thumb twiddling in seventh and eighth grade serve to undermine the credibility of the rest of the educational experience going forward.

Anonymous said...

Ed...Right on again! In this town, if you identify yourself after expressing dissatisfaction with the schools, you ARE vilified. You know what parents do who are dissatisfied with the schools here? A lot leave. A lot supplement with Kumon. But most stay quiet. Thanks Ed for posting that. And you did get your point across!

Abbie said...

Sorry, I just noticed an error in my 3-5 data presented earlier:

here is the correct data
3-5 (N=60)
very satisfied: 12 (20%)
somewhat satisfied: 23 (38%)
not very satisfied: 16 (27%) (was 16%)
not happy: 9 (15%)

ken said...

Abbie, I believe I am correct in assuming that you can not make a statement about all parents when the survey only got a response from, say, 10-15% of all parents. There were 1,150+/- K-5 elementary students last year, I assume a similar number this year, which may constitute about 800 families? I don't know exactly. But say it's about 800. That means that the survey accounts for about 20% of all parents.

You completely misunderstood me if you think I'm discounting the survey. I'm actually intimating that YOU are discounting the survey, in that if most parents are satisfied with the math program, it means that dissatisfaction is the minority opinion, yet you and others seem to imply that your dissatisfaction should trump the at least 2-to-1 opposing view to yours.

If I was not clear about my point of negative vs. positive responses, I do apologize. My point was not in the quantity of responses pro or con, but the % of which group is more likely to respond.

Anon 8:55, thanks for throwing around more unsubstantiated anecdotes, assumptions and beliefs. We don't have enough of that on this blog.

ken said...

Catherine,

I understand your point, but I'd like to "undo" your confusion. If there were approximately 800 K-5 families the year the survey was taken; approximately 70%--about 550 total-- were non-low-income, the most likely group of parents to respond to such a survey. That means that if 160 responded, it was roughly 160 out of 550. I would still maintain that out of that group (and it is a conjecture which I'm identifying as such), taking the time and energy to respond to such a survey is more likely to be stimulated by negative rather than positive feelings (whether it was a survey about math, political preference or the kind of soap one uses).

I keep asking you to not just pick the data that makes your point and disregard all the rest. You note the 3rd grade scores--yet nothing else about MCAS, just about all of which points in a different direction, and which was higher even at 3rd grade in other years WITH THE SAME PROGRAM. You note an observer's informed yet still subjective opinion about challenge while not noting that other well-informed people in the field have offered a different well-informed (and also subjective) opinion.

My point is, and always has been, who does the system work best for, and who least well, and that our thinking should address the latter more than the former. I want to address the achievement gap, as that's what I see this district's fundamental issue being. I use LOTS of data to back that up. Others say the whole system doesn't work well for anyone, and use NO data to back it up. Others are in the middle, and use data that they feel backs their beliefs, but ignores other data that may be equally--or more--important.

ken said...

Ed, I stopped reading your post at the point you said that you wouldn't let me "get away with" what I wrote. I have asked you to back up your claim that the system doesn't work for our most advantaged students, using real data, after I responded to your challenge and posted data about exactly why I think it does. Yet you have yet to respond. So really, who's getting away with what? You think Kumon is being used by huge numbers of Amherst parents? Fine, call and ask them what their enrollment of Amherst elementary families is. I have no idea--do you? People leaving the district could be for many reasons. What data tells you it is all (mostly? partly? a little bit?) due to dissatisfaction with the schools? Share that with us, please. Otherwise, you're just "getting away with" making claims you (and others) can't back up.

ken said...

Abby,

Oops, I meant in my post that in 2007, I believe the year of the survey, it was about the same, roughly 1,150 to 1,200 students K-5. I wrote "this year" instead of "that year" (of the survey).

Abbie said...

Ken,

I could argue with equal intuition (because that seems to be the basis of your conjecture) that those most disgusted and frustrated with the math are least likely to participate in any surveys. However, data was obtained and the data does not support the idea that families are especially satisfied with ES math (42% of 3-5 grade responders were dissatisfied).
I also believe the choices provided for responding to the question “What is your level of satisfaction with your child’s current math program?” were an odd choice: “Very satisfied”, “Somewhat satisfied”, “Not really satisfied”, “I’m not at all happy with it”. The typical series would be “Very satisfied”, “Somewhat satisfied”, “Somewhat dissatisfied”, “Very dissatisfied”. Certainly the response “Not really satisfied” could be interpreted as some level of satisfaction remains. I can’t know what the responders thought that particular choice meant but it does indicate that the survey was not very well thought-out and could be construed as biased. There are several other flaws in the survey but I am not going to list them all. Good surveys are extremely hard to write but the data from a survey is only as good as the survey itself.

Jeff Singleton said...

Some who post on this blog may have read about the Gill-Montague Regional School District budget agreement that led to the first approved school budget by member towns in four years. This, in turn, ended state fiscal control of the district, which lasted for two years.

Below are links to a more detailed explanation of the fiscal plan (an op ed I wrote), a copy of the plan itself (known as "Table B") and the "Compact" endorsed by local and state officials.

I have been been perhaps the strongest local advocate of state fiscal control of the district and was a member of the "technical committee" that produced the long term plan. (We have also done a comparative analysis of district spending that includes Amherst).

Jeff Singleton
GMRSD School Committee

(PS: While I am a strong supporter of charter schools, I see no evidence, fiscal or educational, for the claims Bill Gates is making about merit pay.)

Op ed on GMRSD Budget Agreement:

http://www.montaguema.net/corkboard.cfm?gpt=31&g=196&ID=29979&cs=13&digest=no

Table B and Compact:

http://www.montaguema.net/files.cfm?gpt=31&g=208

All on www.montaguema.net

ken said...

Abby,

Yes, its' intuition to some degree, but also somewhat informed. My wife is a principal and her district sends home parents surveys about various things. I asked her, "Who is more likely to respond, people in the negative, or the positive?" Without hesitation, she said, "Oh, the negative!" Just 20% (probably at best) of parents responded to the math survey. Why? They all care about their kids' education. for many of us, it's that unless we have a pressing need to or strong feelings about responding, we tend not to bother. So what gets us to spend the time and energy to respond with everything else in our busy lives? You may say, positive feelings are just as likely, or even more likely to provides the impetus to generate the energy to choose to respond, while logic dictates to me (based on my own response to such surveys, surveys I have conducted, and my wife's experience) that it's more likely to be negative feelings. It is "informed conjecture," most than just "intuition" or simple conjecture-- and I am careful to label it as such.

Abbie said...

Ken,

one last time, using your logic (a stretch) how can you explain the great satisfaction with HS math?

I'm waiting to hear your contortions to get around that data...

ken said...

Abbie,

Sorry to say, you're pretty disrespectful st times. I don't really see the necessity for it. Between your nasty asides, and other posters' snarling attacks, it sure is a sweet place to share ideas.

I don't doubt there is more satisfaction with secondary math. There's certainly less of an ideological divide at the upper levels within math approaches, and I still contend (as Dr. Chen intimated) that much of the dissatifaction with Investigations is often ideological/philosophical more than anything.

There were 156 out of close to maybe 1500+ possible respondents (1850+/- students in 2007). Let's say 30% of all negative opinion responded. That would mean that only about 100 out of 1350 or so positive opinions responded, which would be 7.5%. In other words, since I said the higher % of respondents would be in the negative group, I would be correct. Of course, who knows the actual figures. But I don't need to "go into contortions" to back up my "informed conjecture."

And again, try to be a little nicer, please.

Anonymous said...

I think a 20% response rate is pretty high. Why are people speaking for the data or the people who responded? Didn't they respond?

Anonymous said...

As a parent of a third grader, I was "satisfied" with math education until my child came home from school this year telling me she is thoroughly bored in math because they just talk about numbers and don't really get to do anything with them.

At first I told her to hang in there, assuming it was some kind of introductory phase. Then I found out that her class is following Investigations pretty strictly, which seems to mean that calculation is not part of the program.

So now I tell her to get what she can in class, and my husband and I are teaching her to multiply at the kitchen table at night.

Relying on the teachers to supplement the formal curriculum to teach math in a balanced way worries me as a parent. It is labor intensive for the teachers, and puts a large element of variability into the curriculum, leaving parents like myself (not a teacher!) trying to fill in the gaps.

Given my current experience, I find the resistance to adopting a more comprehensive curriculum puzzling.

ken said...

Anon, what you describe is obviously not the way this program is supposed to be taught, if what you are hearing is accurate. It reflects a lack of teacher training or preparedness, both in the teaching of this program as well as math knowledge, among other things. Originally, Amherst teachers got a lot of training in using Investigations when it was first adopted by the district, and there were math coaches to help. Then money started getting tighter, the on-going training dried up, and math specialists disappeared or needed to get less involved at the classroom level because of other duties. At this point, it may well be that newer teachers may not have been trained enough, if at all. That is a problem with the district's organization and priorities, however, not the math program per se--and of course, whatever new math program is eventually used will also necessitate teacher training.

No doubt, as Dr. Chen pointed out, Investigations can be a high maintenance program, and other programs are simpler to use, but well-trained teachers who know their subject as well as their students well can make ANY program successful. I just read an executive summary of an in-depth analysis by a national panel of a wide range of studies about reading instruction. Conclusion: programs don't matter nearly as much as teachers! There used to be as much shouting back and forth across the ideological divide about reading instruction (whole language versus phonics) but now everyone realizes that a balanced approach is needed. Math is not very different.

Also, REGARDLESS of program, teachers need to supplement their instruction because not all students are alike, not all classes are alike, and no program can possibly know beforehand what approach to a subject will work best for student x in school b, whether it's math or reading or science or anything.

Caren Rotello said...

Catherine,
This is off-topic, but what can you say about the issue raised on Larry Kelley's blog about ARHS not being compliant on minimum number of educational hours? This point also came up in discussion with the Superintendent search firm, at which it was asserted (by the search firm) that ARPS was NOT compliant.
thanks!

ARHS Parent said...

Caren, can you point me to the location of the discussion with the search firm in which they concluded that ARHS was not in compliance with minimum hours? I raised this issue on the parent survey for reaccreditation because I wondered. I would love to see some real facts. Thanks!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Caren/ARHS Parent - this issue of number of hours of instruction at the high school was raised by the superintendent search firm at the Regional SC meeting on November 23rd (which you could see on ACTV) -- they noted that our high school has been out of compliance with MA law. Rob Spence then asked the superintendent to follow-up on this issue, so Mark addressed it at the November 30th meeting (which you can also see on ACTV). However, Mark's interpretation of the state law on number of hours seems to conflict with the text of the law that Steve Rivkin looked up on the DOE website (he read this text aloud at the meeting on November 30th - which you can apparently see a clip of on Larry's blog, as Caren noted). I have asked the superintendent and Rick Hood for clarification on this important issue, but have not yet received a response. I will certainly provide any information I have as soon as it is available. I agree that this is an important issue to have resolved ASAP, especially since we are heading into budget season.

Anonymous said...

Here are the Student Learnint Time regs, from the DOE website. This is not complicated.

http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/603cmr27.html?section=all

lise said...

Ken,
I agree that good teachers are more important than good programs. However, I do not see why this should be a choice. A good teacher will be even more effective with a good program.

On another note, if Investigations requires significant teacher support to be taught well, then it may be a curriculum that Amherst cannot afford to support. If the curriculum that Dr. Chen suggests is easier to teach, delivers equivalent or better results, and frees teachers to spend professional development time on content, then it sounds like a good investment in the long-term. Particularly since I believe the 2007 math survey data is that many teachers were not happy with the Investigations curriculum.

What are the arguments against switching curriculum? Is it just the cost of books? It sounds like the retraining of teachers is a wash compared to the ongoing cost of making Investigations effective.

Abbie said...

For those interested in a broader view (international) of math and literacy education see the just posted results of 2009 PISA results.

The survey, based on two-hour tests of a half million students in more than 70 economies, also tested mathematics and science. The results for 65 economies were released today (http://www.oecd.org/document/12/0,3343,en_21571361_44315115_46623628_1_1_1_1,00.html).

There is also some additional interesting material on the website: http://www.oecd.org/topic/0,3373,en_2649_37455_1_1_1_1_37455,00.html

ARHS Parent said...

Thank you, Catherine and Anon 3:43PM for the information. If I read the MA law correctly, they do not count "non-directed study." At ARHS they call study hall "directed study." Apparently the idea was that if they called it "directive" it would count! But just naming it doesn't make it so.

I did a rough estimation of the hours spent in class even including the study halls based on 185 days a year (which I KNOW they don't have) and the information here: http://www.arps.org/hs/Schedule/Daily/

Eliminating lunch and passing period time I end up with 999 hours per year which is 9 hours over the state minimum. So if you throw a kid in study hall, they no longer meet that minimum.

Please, Catherine, get some resolution on this for us! So many of us parents would like to see study halls disappear entirely or made optional for all. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

In the clip on Larry Kelley's blog it is clear that the Mr. Jackson thinks calling it "directed study" and having a certified teacher in the room is the issue. Mr. Rivkin is trying to get across that it is correct in calling it a study hall. My kids have never been "directed" in any form during it. Time for change.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Here is my take on this issue:

I think the confusion is that our high school has called traditional study halls "directed study halls" which is really not accurate (since what kids are doing is STUDYING for other classes and not doing some new type of independent project).

Here is the law: “Time which a student spends at school breakfast and lunch, passing between classes, in homeroom, at recess, in non-directed study periods, receiving school services, and participating in optional school programs shall not count toward meeting the minimum structured learning time requirement for that student.”

Here is the Q and A: “14. Q: What is meant by "directed" study and "independent" study? A: Directed and independent study can take many forms. The intent of these kinds of study situations is to guarantee productive time spent in a structured format. The format may be teacher, student, or mentor directed and may take place within the "traditional" school day/year, outside of the "traditional" school day/year, in a classroom, computer lab, resource room, or off school premises. Traditional study halls are not considered "directed" or "independent" study solely because of the presence of a teacher in the room.”

So, the key issue is that our “directed studies” are describing what is in the law as “non-directed study periods” just because they have a teacher in front of the room, but that is not OK according to the law.

What matters is not who is in charge of the room, what matters is what kids are doing. After all, if the kids are eating lunch while a teacher supervises them, it is still LUNCH, not instructional time. I have already asked for this topic to be on the December 14th SC agenda, and look forward to hearing an update from Maria and/or Mark about this important topic.

Anonymous said...

If my child has a study hall each trimester -- is this below the 990 hours of required instructional time?

If so, why did it take outside consultants to point it out?

What does the superintendent say? Does she know?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 1:39 - I believe the state law is clear that having a study hall each trimester would mean your child doesn't meet the number of instructional hours required (that would be true even if your child had ONE study hall during the whole year). I believe Mark and Maria disagree with this interpretation of the state law, and believe that having a certified teacher in the room allows study halls to count as instructional time. I hope to get a clarification on this issue very soon.

Abbie said...

I would like to take this one step further, if indeed (certified) teachers are somehow directing learning in study halls, why can't they instead direct learning in a classroom? I suspect this is the point of the guidelines of the state law. It suggests that we have the people-power to teach (as they can otherwise be occupied with a study hall) but instead these teachers are monitoring study hall (and are likely spending their time prepping for courses and grading but NOT directing any student study).

Caren Rotello said...

Even if the Interim Superintendent is right, and ARHS is in compliance with minimum instructional hours (which seems unlikely, given the wording Catherine has quoted for us), one still has to ask why we are paying so much more money per student than in other districts and still just squeaking by on minimum hours. (And, as has been noted in other threads, requiring less math than most other districts, etc.)

Anonymous said...

Why aren't we teaching the metric system? Why are we sooo behind the rest of the world?? Whose in control of this anyhow?? How do we get on board and stop using an outdated system over and over and over again...generation after generation?? Even the English, the crators of this sytem do not use it anymore!!I don't get it, really? We can debate until the cows come home, but the short end of this is how so very behind, as a nation our 'public' schools really are. Confused--what is the real issue here? Our children advancing or our adults debating??

Ed said...

The typical series would be “Very satisfied”, “Somewhat satisfied”, “Somewhat dissatisfied”, “Very dissatisfied”.

I was taught that you go with five responses consisting of two positive, two negative, and one neutral/no opinion.

Hence it should have been written as follows: "Very Satisfied", "Somewhat Satisfied", "Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied", "Somewhat Dissatisfied" and "Very Dissatisfied."

Furthermore, if you have more than one question, you switch the order on some of these questions so to balance the person who just checks a certain row without reading them.

There also is an issue with just a general "how satisfied" concept -- define "satisfied" and it can be anything from your child is making academic progress to your child isn't coming home in tears, from the classroom roof isn't leaking and the teacher is sweet to you are a math curriculum expert and think this is the best thing you have ever seen.

The survey should have been broken down into components including satisfaction with teacher, with curriculum, and I would have added "compared to the math instruction you had as a child..."

In three contexts, the general "very satisfied" will include children learning absolutely nothing -- false positives not unlike in a drug test.

In the first situation, the teacher and the students essentially agree that nothing is going to be taught and the kids love that because they didn't want to learn this boring stuff anyway, so they text and facebook and flirt and whatnot while the teacher reads the newspaper. These kids are happy, getting good grades, and parents not knowing the better are satisfied.

In the second case, and this is common with SPED, a child who has had a problematic relationship with school isn't. Kid may not be learning anything, but the school isn't calling complaining about the child, the parents aren't having to go in and apologize for why the school is upset with their child this time, and hence they are damn satisfied in that they presume the school is teaching and they know the school isn't complaining.

And the third group -- Ken, many of these are your "privleged" parents -- are so busy that as long as the school isn't bothering them, they are happy. The child already has a trust fund anyway so it really won't matter and they want to be told how smart and well educated their kids are.

Ed said...

As a CERTIFIED TEACHER (which the Interim Superintendent is not), I can answer the "directed study" question and unless ARSD has taken heterogenous grouping into an alternate dimension, I can also emphatically say that the study halls are not it!

"Directed study" or "directed instruction" is the exact opposite of "independent study" which is what is happening in the study halls (if we are lucky). Independent study is like watching the History Channel at home, or going to the library, or doing your homework (even if you do get to ask the teacher a question or two).

The law is written this way to facilitate both SPED and AltED -- so that the kids in those programs will be considered as having met the minimum hours of instruction that the school is required to give them.

However, there are still some important things to remember. First, directed study has a curricuum -- the teacher has a specific something that he/she/it is trying to teach. There are learning objectives, things that the teacher expects the students to learn (concepts, facts, etc). There is a Check for Understanding at the end to ensure that the learning objectives were met. All of this, and more, is in something called a Lesson Plan which is something that Principals ought to be looking at from time to time.

In order for these study halls to be "directed study" they have to be directed toward a specific subject of learning (ie Math, History, Sex Ed) and everyone in the room *ONLY* working with that topic. And the teacher "teaching" the study hall would have to be certified in that subject, and be teaching it, with a lesson plan, etc....

This is happening in study halls?!?!?!?

Teachers have three kinds of duties assigned during the day: "Teaching", "Supervisory" and "Preparatory" (often called the "free period" where they are supposed to be preparing for their teaching assignments).

Supervisory duties are not educational ones, and the reason why we hired all the aides over the past 2-3 decades is to shift these duties to less-expensive non-teachers which raises one very big question why are we paying teachers $50K-$90K to do something that we can pay aides $15K a year to do?

Throw in the fact that educational research shows that teachers neither like supervisory duties nor are particularly good at them -- that this is one of the main contributions to young teachers leaving the profession, and why are we doing this?

My gut feeling: teaching is work while supervision isn't -- and like reducing class size, the fewer classes a teacher teaches, the more teachers the district has to hire...

Ed said...

I believe Mark and Maria disagree with this interpretation of the state law, and believe that having a certified teacher in the room allows study halls to count as instructional time.

Catherine, take this to its logical conclusion: putting all the kids into one really big room and just having ONE certified teacher supervising them all day -- would that count as "instruction?"

It wouldn't. Nor do study halls...

And I would like to see a breakdown of teacher assignments into teaching duties, supervisory duties, and prep periods. Is the rumor that some teachers don't actually TEACH at all during some trimesters true? (This is public info!)

Kathy said...

No one REALLY wants to know what goes on in our schools. Parents are threatened and itimidated until they either back down on compliance issues or take their kids out of the District or the District gets DCF to do the job. Another child left behind.

Ed said...

Parents are threatened and intimidated until they either back down on compliance issues or take their kids out of the District or the District gets DCF to do the job.

Kathy: http://www2.ed.gov/print/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/disabharassltr.html READ IT!

And then: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html

Anonymous said...

Oh Kathy, you have got it so right!!!

Anonymous said...

Kathy, Please give some details to avoid stirring up the paranoics. Parents have disagreed with school practices without being forced out. If you have, explain it, instead of just claiming it. It looks ridiculous otherwise.

Anonymous said...

This blog shows its true colors when there is so much reference to Kelly's blog and not a single mention of the hateful tone throughout the whole piece in his blog.

Yes, I believe in free speech, but on this particular post in Kelly's blog there is a full blown smear campaign going on against HS Principal Mark Jackson.

By keeping your mouth shut about the hate on Kelly's blog, you are aligning yourself with it.

The directed study halls at ARHS pre-date Mr. Jackson by 10 years. ARHS has had these directed SH since ed reform came into the spotlight and the state sat up and said, ok now we're really going to count the hours. That happened in the ed reform act of 1993!

So, for decades schools had all kinds of time in school that they counted toward 990 hours: passing periods, home room, lunch. Now none of that counts. You and I went to those schools, by the way, if you went to a public school.

Please don't tell me you didn't know about the hateful tone. Referencing Kelly's blog on anything is like referencing fox news. Know your sources. That's somehting every good school wants to teach its kids, I hope.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 6:00 - a poster on this name, using her name, referenced Larry Kelley's blog in a question to me. I answered it, as I believe is appropriate. I don't control what people post on my blog, nor do I control what people post on Larry's blog. I allow people to ask questions, even anonymously (as you chose to do), and to share information.

The issue of the number of hours required for instruction was raised at a School Committee meeting - NOT on Larry's blog (he simply posted a clip of that meeting). Larry didn't create the high school schedule.

Regardless of whether and when required study halls first existed, I think parents have a right to ask questions about why these exist and whether they count towards the required hours. Mark believes they do; the law seems somewhat less clear. My recollection is that there were NO required study halls in the high school for years, and that this is a new thing. Certainly the move to two required study halls in the 2009-2010 year was described as unprecedented, and Mark recommended moving to three required study halls in 2010-2011. I believe that is something very reasonable for parents to have concerns about, particularly since other districts in our area have no required study hours.

Caren Rotello said...

Anon 6:00pm,

I suppose you are referring to my post, which I believe to have been both respectful and reasonable.

I cited Larry Kelley's blog because he made the issue public. I had actually learned about the potential non-compliance issue at a meeting with the search firm, as I mentioned in my post, but that discussion included only 10 people or so. Had CNN reported the issue, I would have also ask Catherine to comment on it.

I don't think that asking a simple question about anything related to ARPS should off-limits, regardless of the original source of the information.

And I'm willing to sign my name.

Anonymous said...

the high school does not have required studies this year. kids were moved into electives as space allowed. if someone has a study, it's because he or she wants it to get work done.

Anonymous said...

When I was in high school in the mid-80's, there was no requirement for a study hall. It was well known that the more ambitious students filled that time with an elective, while the kids who were just passing time in high school took at least one and oftentimes, two study hall periods in one day.

Kathy said...

To Anonymous: I have sent the details to each member of the SC and have provided documentation and have NEVER received and response. I do have documentation and my question about how this district can pass a child on to the next grade after missing 63 days of school w/no tutoring has never been responded to. This is how kids get "pushed"throught a system that cares only about high achievers and staristics. Get rid of over paid useless/redundent administrators ans start teaching all students.

LarryK4 said...

Geeze, there Anon 12/8 6:00 PM:

Could you cite a particular sentence or even word that normal folks would consider "hateful" in my post regarding study halls at ARHS?

First of all, you spell my name wrong.

Second, you cite "so much reference" to my blog here on this one, but out of the current 56 Comments only a half-dozen or so reference my blog by name.

And third, you chastise Ms. Sanderson to "know her sources" yet YOU are an Anon. Priceless!

Anonymous said...

One other thing -- had a UMass student done what PRINCIPAL Jackson did at a public meeting last year -- essentially physically assault an elected municipal leader -- UMass would have expelled him.

So we hold UMass students to a higher standard of behavior than we do our school administrators? And mentioning this constitutes "a full blown smear campaign"??????

Only in Amherst, 43.47 square miles surrounded by reality....

Anonymous said...

Larry, people like the poster who attacked you are sooo typical of Amherst. They show their true colors. They are for free speech as long as you keep to the party line in Amherst. Otherwise, they want you to stay silent. Everyone smile, be agreeable, be as far to the left as possible on all topics, and you'll fit in just fine here.

Anonymous said...

6:19 What planet are you on? Essentially physcially assault?

Ed said...

Anon December 10 12:12 PM -- go read the General Laws.

Massachusetts is funky, putting someone in reasonable fear (a big guy lunging at a small woman constitutes "reasonable fear" in my book) constitutes an "assault" in Massachusetts where the law is still written in 17th Century terms.

Like I said, go read the statutes...

Anonymous said...

What the principal did was beyond rude at that meeting. And was meant to scare Catherine. Period. End of discussion. And what he insinuated about the former Superintendent was probably actionable. It's amazing he still has his job. Only a place like Amherst public schools would allow a bully like that to keep his job. The guy is a bully.

Anonymous said...

Uh, excuse me, Ed. Big guy lunging? There was no lunging anywhere. Mark Jackson made a comment. He called Catherine on her inaccurate statement. Period. No lunging. No threat of bodily harm. He spoke in a strong and clear voice. Just as others have done in SC meetings, on both sides of the table. This is such a non-issue that YOU have blown way out of proportion to what actually happened.

Anonymous said...

"He spoke in a strong and clear voice."

As do most guys who beat up on girls. It is, after all, the woman's "fault" for saying/doing something that got the guy upset...

Look at creative fiction to your heart's content but if Jackson had been a UM student, he would have been expelled if not committed to the psych ward for what he did. Look at the much lower standard we have for school employees....

And why then would folks disrespect teachers????

Anonymous said...

Catherine Sanderson has no problem speaking in a strong and clear voice. I hate to tell you this but males have not cornered the market in speaking in a strong and clear voice.