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, March 30, 2011

My Final Post

So, this will be my final post on my blog.  The goal of my blog was to help me communicate my thoughts/reasoning to my constituents and to hear thoughts/questions/suggestions from my constituents, and therefore it doesn't make any sense for me to continue with my blog since I am no longer a member of the School Committee.  I am going to keep my blog up - as requested by several readers who appreciated the research/facts now available on this blog - but I won't have any new posts, nor will I allow any comments to be posted (as of midnight tonight).

I want to thank all of the people who have expressed support for my efforts on the SC over the last three years.  I have been truly touched by the emails and calls and letters I've received over the last few weeks, since announcing my decision not to run, and I thank all of those who have expressed such support.  I was extremely touched by the lovely words from Marylou Theilman, former SC member, at last night's Regional SC meeting - and by the letters she had sought from Senators Kerry and Brown congratulating me on my service! 

I congratulate Katherine Appy on her election to the SC, and hope that members of both the Amherst and Regional SCs will work on making the types of changes in our schools that many people in this town still want (even though they may be even more silent now).  In particular, we need to improve elementary math, understand why our per pupil costs are so much higher than those in other districts, objectively evaluate the effectiveness of our programs/policies/curricula, and use effective (proven) strategies for raising achievement in struggling students (from all backgrounds). 

Our schools have great potential - which is why I, and many others, moved to Amherst and have chosen to put our kids in the public schools. And although many students do in fact have good experiences in some (or even all) aspects of our schools, others have less consistently positive experiences - and we need to recognize this dissatisfaction and try whenever possible to solve the problems that still do exist in our schools (instead of pretending they don't exist and derogating those who raise them -- which doesn't make our schools better -- it just silences those voices).  I hope that all SC members and the superintendent will acknowledge that some parents have real and legitimate concerns about particular aspects of our schools, and will focus on developing and implementing specific strategies for actually solving these problems.  All kids in Amherst deserve excellent public schools ... and I hope all members of the SC and the superintendent will focus on helping our schools reach their full potential, not just in words, but in reality. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Two Bulletin Pieces: My SC Service, Elementary Math

The Bulletin approached me shortly after I decided not to run to ask if I'd be willing to do an interview about my experience on the SC, and that piece is published in today's paper ( 

There is also a story on Tuesday's public hearing regarding math in the Amherst elementary schools (

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Final Meeting

So, in what seems very fitting, my last School Committee meeting occurred last night - with a public forum on elementary math.  I thank Irv Rhodes for his kind remarks about my service at the end of the meeting, and the many parents and staff members who expressed their support for my work after the meeting.  Here is a link to the Gazette article about the meeting:

More Hot Topics: Raising Achievement by Redistricting, Requiring More Math

As I start my final week on the School Committee, I've thought a lot about the changes I've pushed for during my term (some successfully, others not so much so).  And today blog readers brought two articles to my attention that I'm posting because these two really speak to two major issues I believe are essential.

First, there is a great column in today's New York Times on the benefits of having low income kids attend schools with higher income students (  The research cited in this article by the Century Foundation was precisely the research the School Committee considered in making this decision, and I'm very pleased to learn that other districts have already seen improved achievement from their own redistricting.

Second, there is an announcement (reported in that the State Board of Education has approved a plan that all MA colleges require 4 years of high school math (  I have been, and continue to be, very concerned that Amherst Regional High School requires only 2 years of math (the state minimum):  Our high school requires only two years of math and two years of science (compared to three years of social studies and four years of English), whereas many Massachusetts high schools require three years of both math and science (including Belchertown, Brookline, Cambridge, Hadley, Newton and Northampton).  In fact, only 16% of high schools in MA have such a low requirement.  This strikes me as a great time for our high school administration to recommend an increase in math graduation requirements to the Regional School Committee so that we clearly communicate the message to all kids that students from ALL backgrounds and ALL achievement levels can succeed in upper-level math classes. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Two Hot Topics: Achievement Gap, Math

Last week's Bulletin and Gazette featured two stories on the Amherst schools that I thought would be of interest to my blog readers. 

First, there was a long article in the Bulletin on the achievement gap (, which is a very important topic and one that I hope the district will focus on resolving.  I am glad that Superintendent Geryk in continuing some of the important programs established by Dr. Rodriguez to increase achievement in struggling students (including adding a preschool for low income children and creating the Achievement Academy).  I hope that the district will be willing to look to schools that have had greater success in raising achievement in low income students and students of color, and re-create programs that have worked well in other places.  I believe we also need to carefully examine the effectiveness of the programs we have put into place.  Given the considerable research on the importance of raising achievement early on, I believe it would be far more effective to devote more money to raising achievement in preschool/elementary school than to have expensive (and under-used) programs for high school students. 

Second, there was a short article on elementary math in the Gazette (, and in particular about the upcoming public forum on math set for tomorrow night (7 pm, town hall).  I know many parents have serious concerns about math in our district, and am very glad the Amherst School Committee voted unanimously to hold a public forum on math.  The current math action plan is available on the ARPS website ( 

As noted in the article, I'm disappointed that the plan ignores the recommendations from Dr. Chen.  Dr. Chen had 4 recommendations (and I've noted the status of each of these in bold below):

1.  Let better mathematics teachers in elementary schools teach more mathematics classes.

This idea will be studied in "Phase 2" (not sure when that starts or ends), but definitely not implemented this fall - although the administration received this report in October (and thus there was plenty of time to have examined this idea already, in time for implementation this fall).  

2.    Replace Investigations II with Primary Mathematics.

A textbook committee has been formed to examine different elementary curriculum, including Primary Mathematics as well as our current curriculum, Investigations.  However, Beth Graham has already eliminated even from consideration by this committee the two elementary math curricula that have demonstrated their effectiveness in a high quality, randomized study across multiple districts.  In addition, this committee has only met once (today), and although they will in theory submit a recommendation in June, no change in curriculum will be made for next year, regardless of their recommendation (again, even though the administration received this report in October, and thus could have easily had this group meeting for the last 5 months).

Note from Catherine:  Recommendations 3 and 4 are the same -- they are two alternative ways of providing content training in math for elementary and middle school teachers. 

3.    Support teachers of mathematics in elementary schools and the Middle school with intensive content training. ... A productive low-cost alternative to serve teachers’ content need is described next in Recommendation 4.  It is a highly desirable and much cheaper option for carrying out Recommendation #3. The in-house talents in the High School should be tapped into to address the mathematics content knowledge needs of lower grade teachers.  In effect, the district is investing in developing in-house capacity in providing content-based training.  In case Recommendation 4 cannot be implemented, Recommendation #3 should be followed.

Recommendation #4, to have high school teachers teach math to elementary and middle school teachers, isn't even mentioned in the math action plan, so clearly this recommendation (which Dr. Chen noted was both "highly desirable" and "much cheaper") isn't going to even be considered.  There is some mention of providing opportunities for teachers to take graduate courses in math and investigating options for taking math courses in the future, which in theory could provide some additional math training for teachers who are interested in doing so. 

One more note:  the vast majority of proposals in the math action plan were not in fact recommended by Dr. Chen (e.g., hiring additional math coaches in each building, hiring a K to 8 math coordinator, adding instructional rounds, etc.), and clearly the costs of implementing the action plan are therefore tremendous.  I am unsure where the money to fund this program will come from, but clearly it will either require cuts to other programs (e.g., music, arts, Spanish) and/or an override.  Although the superintendent suggested grant funds could potentially be used for some funds, it is very unlikely that grants would in fact be a long-term solution for on-going expenses (e.g., a K to 8 math coordinator in Amherst isn't going to be a desirable object of funding agencies, who typically either fund short-term expenses such as pilot programs and/or fund districts with a higher percentage of low income and/or struggling students). 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Two News Pieces on My Decision

I just wanted to draw my blog readers' attention to two new pieces that have covered my decision to not seek re-election.

First, you can now watch my interview on Amherst Media, with Issac Ben Ezra, via streaming:

Second, an ARHS student, Aidan Chesworth, has written a piece for the Graphic on my decision, and I'm pasting (with his permission) his story below. I'd just like to add one thing to his story for clarity - my three kids are still in the public schools, and I have no specific plans right now to have my own kids leave the public schools for the upcoming year. However, I didn't, and I don't, feel like I can make a commitment to keeping all of my kids in the public schools for the next three years, which is why I didn't feel it was appropriate for me to seek re-election.

Graphic//Catherine Sanderson
February 26th 2011
322 Words

Catherine Sanderson, a professor at Amherst Collage and three-year member of the Amherst school committee, announced recently that she would not run for school committee reelection. She is known throughout the community by supporters and critics alike for her progressive and reformist attitudes, as well as her popular school committee blog. The main reason for her decision was what she deemed her “loss of faith” in public schools.

Sanderson has received flak from anonymous commenters on her blog for her decision to pull her own children out of public schools. “I didn’t feel comfortable making decisions about the school and not having them affect my kids,” Sanderson said.

Her moral issues with staying on the school committee with children in alternate schooling did not run concurrent with the thoughts of other school administrators. While she wouldn’t mention specific names, Sanderson said that several school committee members had sent their children to private schools. Even ARHS principal Mark Jackson doesn’t send his child to public school. “It’s like if I walked into Chili’s for dinner, and saw the manager in the back eating Applebee’s food. I would think ‘why isn’t he eating here? Maybe I shouldn’t either,’” Sanderson said.

Sanderson said that her time as school committee member has caused her to become “more depressed” about public schooling. She fears the development of a two-tiered education system in America, where every family that can afford it sends their children to private school and public schools are exclusively for children from low-income households. This fear’s growth was facilitated by Amherst’s strong resistance to change, which Sanderson said she “didn’t understand the depth of” when she first ran for school committee.

Despite all of this, Sanderson said she was glad she served on the school committee. “Good things happened,” she said, and she was satisfied with many of the changes she helped realize. “If I ever felt the same passion and energy I felt in 2008 [in a different community], I would consider running again,” she said.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Perhaps My Final Math Post?

There are a few important math updates to report.

First, the long awaited math plan is now available and posted on the ARPS website (  This plan was discussed at both the Regional and Amherst meetings last week (which you can watch on ACTV) and there is a brief article in this week's Bulletin about the Regional SC's discussion of the plan ( 

Second, there will be a public forum on elementary math on Tuesday, March 22nd, at 7 pm in Town Hall.  This is your chance to share your thoughts about the math action plan with the SC and superintendent, so I hope all those who care about math in Amherst will read the report and come with their thoughts and questions. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Few Updates

First, the Regional School Committee will meet tonight at 7 pm.  The items on the agenda are budget for next year (with a possible vote to approve) and the math report.  The report is not yet on the ARPS website, but I expect it will be posted soon.

Second, the Amherst School Committee will meet tomorrow night at 7 pm (ARHS library).  The big item on the agenda is budget, but I believe the math report will also be discussed (since many of the recommendations for future study relate to elementary). 

Finally, Ray Sharick, Fort River principal, has resigned, and a search is starting for a new principal ( 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Making Evidence-Based Decisions

Throughout my time on the SC, I've pushed for more use of evidence-based decision-making, meaning choosing programs/policies/curricula with proven results in other districts and evaluating the effectiveness of our own programs/policies/curricula.  And I think it is fair to say that I failed to make any real progress in moving our district towards such changes.  I'm sure we can all point to reasons for this failure - some resting on me, others resting on the district - and I don't think it is particularly worthwhile to focus on attributing blame at this point.

But I still believe strongly in the benefits of making evidence-based decisions (in education, in medicine, etc.), so I just want to share a cool link with my blog readers that summarizes (in really easy to understand ways) high quality research studies on education:  This is a government-based website that provides objective information about findings from scientific research on education topics, and I encourage interested blog readers to check it out.

Here are some cool examples of real findings from this site that I believe have direct implications for our district (I've put the key findings in bold).

1.  How to close the race-based achievement gap:  "Recursive Processes in Self-Affirmation: Intervening to Close the Minority Achievement Gap"

This study examined whether having African-American middle school students write essays affirming their personal values improved their academic performance. Seventh graders were placed at random into intervention and comparison groups near the start of the school year. Both groups were given structured writing assignments three to five times during their seventh- and eighth-grade years. The intervention group wrote about their personal values (e.g., relationships with friends and family, religious values) and why these were important to them.The comparison group wrote about neutral subjects, such as their daily routine, or why values they considered unimportant might be important to others.

The study analyzed data on about 175 African-American and 190 European-American students (the study’s term for white students who are non-Latino and non-Asian) at a suburban middle school who were randomly assigned to intervention and comparison groups at the beginning of seventh grade. The study measured effects by comparing the seventh- and eighth-grade GPAs of students in the intervention and comparison groups. These GPAs included grades from the four core academic subjects: science, social studies, math, and English. The study examined effects separately for European-American and African-American students and for low- and high-achieving students.

Among African-American students, completing writing exercises about their values increased their average seventh- and eighth-grade GPA by a quarter of a letter grade (0.24 points), a change that was statistically significant. The intervention did not have a statistically significant effect on the academic outcomes of European-American students. Among low-achieving African-American students, the effect was somewhat larger, an increase in average seventh- and eighth-grade GPA of 0.41 points. In addition, the intervention reduced the likelihood that low-achieving African-American students were assigned to a remedial program or were retained in grade.

2.  The effectiveness of different elementary math curriculum:  "Achievement Effects of Four Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools"

This study examined the relative effectiveness of four widely-used early elementary school math curricula: (1) Investigations in Number, Data and Space (Investigations), (2) Math Expressions (ME), (3) Saxon Math (Saxon), and (4) Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics (SFAW).  The study included about 1,300 first graders from 39 schools in four school districts in Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, and Nevada.  Participating schools were randomly assigned to use one of the four curricula. At least one school in each district was assigned to each of the four math programs. A random sample of approximately 10 students per classroom was included in the analysis. The study measured the relative effectiveness of the four curricula by comparing end-of-year test scores on a nationally normed math assessment developed for the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Class (ECLS–K).

First graders attending schools assigned to the ME and Saxon curricula scored significantly higher on math assessments than students attending schools assigned to the Investigations or SFAW curricula. Math achievement did not differ significantly between schools using ME and Saxon; nor were there significant differences in student math achievement between schools using Investigations and SFAW. The authors report that math achievement of ME and Saxon students was 0.30 standard deviations higher than Investigations students, equivalent to moving a student from the 50th to 62nd percentile. Math achievement of ME and Saxon students was 0.24 standard deviations higher than SFAW students, equivalent to moving a student from the 50th to the 59th percentile. 

3.  How to close the income-based achievement gap: "Addressing Summer Reading Setback Among Economically Disadvantaged Elementary Students"

The study examined whether providing summer reading books to economically disadvantaged first- and second-grade students for three consecutive summers improved reading achievement.  In the spring of the first year, 1st- and 2nd-graders in each school were randomly assigned to receive 12 self-selected summer reading books every year for three consecutive summers. Each spring, students in the summer reading group attended a book fair and were asked to select 15 books from the 400 to 600 offered. From these 15 books, 12 were distributed to students in the summer reading group for free on the final day of school.

The authors examined effects for students overall as well as for the subgroup consisting of the most economically disadvantaged students—those who were eligible to receive free lunch.

The study found that students who received three consecutive years of free, self-selected summer reading books had statistically significantly higher reading test scores than students who did not receive summer reading books. The reported effect size of 0.14 is interpreted by the WWC as roughly equivalent to moving a student from the 50th percentile to the 56th percentile of reading achievement.  In addition, the study found a statistically significant effect of summer reading among students who were the most economically disadvantaged, with an effect size of 0.21.

4.  The potential limits of professional development:  "Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study: Findings After the First Year of Implementation"

The study examined whether 7th-graders’ knowledge of rational numbers improved when the students’ math teachers participated in related professional development activities.  A total of eight 6-hour sessions of instruction on pedagogy, content knowledge, and resource materials were provided, three during a summer institute and five during school-year seminars.  In the weeks following each of the five seminars, a total of 20 hours of classroom coaching were provided by a facilitator to assist teachers in applying new strategies.
Professional development was administered by either America’s Choice or Pearson Achievement Solutions.
The study analyzed data on about 4,500 students and 200 teachers from approximately 80 schools in 12 districts during the 2007–08 academic year.  Half the schools within each district were randomly assigned to offer 7th-grade math teachers professional development on the teaching of rational numbers. Teachers in all schools were allowed to continue participating in existing professional development programs.  Student-level math achievement was measured by a computer-adaptive rational number test developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association. Teacher-level topical knowledge was measured by a rational number test created by the study’s authors. Teachers’ instructional practices were measured by classroom observations. The study measured the effects of professional development by comparing outcomes at the end of the academic year in schools that were offered professional development provided by the study with outcomes in schools that did not.

The study found that students in schools where teachers were offered extensive professional development by the study performed no better on a test of math achievement in rational numbers than students in comparison schools at the end of the 2007–08 academic year. Further, the study found the professional development had no impact on teacher knowledge of rational number topics and on how to teach them. However, the study found a significant positive impact of the professional development on one of the three measures of teacher instructional practices examined. Teachers who were offered the study’s extensive professional development engaged in 1.03 more activities per hour that elicited student thinking than teachers not offered the study’s professional development.

5.  More on the potential limits of professional development:  "The Impact of Two Professional Development Interventions on Early Reading Instruction and Achievement"
This study examined the effect of a professional development program based on Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) on the knowledge and practice of second-grade teachers and the reading achievement of their students.In two of the research groups, teachers received eight days of reading instruction training based on selected modules from the LETRS curriculum, modified for purposes of the study. Training was offered in the summer and continued through the school year. One of the two groups that received the training also received weekly one-on-one support from a specially trained instructional coach. In the third research group, teachers received the district’s standard professional development program.
The authors examined data on 270 teachers and more than 5,000 second graders from 90 elementary schools in four states during the 2005–06 school year. Study schools were randomly assigned to one of three groups: one in which second-grade teachers received training based on the LETRS curriculum, another where they received the training as well as ongoing instructional coaching, and a third where the teachers received the standard professional development available in their district. Thirty schools were assigned to each research group. The study measured effects by comparing the outcomes of teachers and students from each of the three groups of schools.

Providing second-grade teachers training based on the LETRS curriculum (with or without the instructional coaches) increased their knowledge of reading instruction techniques and their use of explicit instruction. However, it did not increase the reading test scores of their students.  The authors estimated effect sizes on reading scores that ranged from 0.03 to 0.08. These estimates were not statistically significant.

6.  Improving elementary science knowledge:  “Teaching Science as a Language:  A ‘Content-First’ Approach to Science Teaching”

This study examined whether teaching scientific concepts using everyday language before introducing scientific terminology improves the understanding of these concepts. Both groups were taught through web-based lessons with no science instructor. The content-first lesson began by explaining scientific concepts in everyday language, and then linked these concepts to scientific language using interactive quizzes and activities. The control lesson began by defining scientific terms, and then provided activities similar to the content-first lesson but based only on scientific language.

The study included 49 students—30 who spoke Spanish at home and 19 who spoke English at home—from one fifth-grade classroom in Oakland, California. All students took a four-hour web-based lesson on photosynthesis developed by the study authors. Twenty-five students were randomly selected to take a version that explained scientific concepts using everyday language before introducing scientific terminology. The other 24 took a version that used scientific terminology from the outset. At the end of the lesson, the study authors used a test they developed to assess students’ conceptual understanding of photosynthesis.

When tested immediately after the lesson on their understanding of photosynthesis using scientific language, students who received the content-first lesson had higher scores than students who received the lesson that introduced scientific terminology from the outset.  The difference in test scores was about three-fifths of a standard deviation, equivalent to moving a student from the 50th percentile to the 74th percentile.
These six studies all provide data (based on high quality research studies) that I believe have potentially great importance for the Amherst district.  Two point to the limitations of professional development in terms of improving student achievement (one in elementary reading, one in middle school math).  Two point to the effectiveness of particular interventions for decreasing the achievement gap (one in African American middle school students, one in low income elementary students).  One points to the hazards of using particular elementary math curriculum (including Investigations, our current curriculum).  And one points to the benefits of explaining scientific terms in an everyday way at improving science knowledge in elementary school students.

So, here are six studies identified by the government as meeting appropriate standards for conducting research, and each provides evidence about what works (or doesn't) in terms of student achievement.  And for me, that is a better way of making decisions about education than relying on gut instinct about what works, or our feeling of what should work, or what we hope, based on ideology, would work.  I have no stake in any of this research - I don't know the authors, this isn't my work, and I get no pay out if Amherst adopts (or avoids) any of these approaches.  But I believe we all - parents, teachers, students, community members - have a stake in making sure our public schools are doing the best they can for all children, and to me that means making evidence-based decisions about how to best allocate our limited school dollars.  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Closing the Achievement Gap: Strategies That Work

It will be a slow news week in Amherst (with schools on vacation), so I thought I'd post two interesting articles on strategies for closing the achievement gap.

The first, from Newsweek, focuses on the effectiveness of reducing the achievement gap as a function of income of having low income students attend schools with higher income students, instead of clustering low income students at a single school (  This is precisely the research that led to the decision 2 years ago to redistrict our elementary schools, and I hope we see similar gains in terms of achievement in low income kids.

The second, from The New York Times, describes the work of Harvard professor Dr. Ronald Ferguson, who has been a leading expert in examining ways of decreasing the achievement gap as a function of race (  I had the opportunity to have dinner (at an event sponsored by Amherst College) a couple years ago with Dr. Ferguson, and I was extremely impressed by his rational, research-based perspective on how to address this very challenging (and seemingly pervasive) problem.

UPDATE:  Here is an example of a recent paper presented at a conference on reducing the achievement gap which examines data on the effectiveness of particular strategies for reducing the gap (I've pasted the abstract below - and have bolded the points I found most profound).  The gist is that this research showed smaller class sizes K to 3 (below 18) were very effective in leading to long-term improvements in achievement, and these effects were particularly beneficially for African-American students (I've pasted the paper's abstract below).  So, we could use the results of this research to make decisions about how to allocate resources in our district, and presumably that would help reduce our own achievement gap.  Last year, kindergarten classes at FR and CF were 20 and 21, and 2nd grade classes were 23 at WW.  In contrast, 6th grade classes in all three schools were 16 to 18.  The research reported here suggests that for the same money, we could have increased class sizes in 6th grade at all three schools and reduced class sizes in kindergarten (FR and CF) and 2nd grade (WW) and led to higher level of achievement for all students, and especially for African-American students.  This is research that Steve Rivkin (and others) has conducted, and in fact, Steve was asked by the Brookline SC to present his research on the benefits of small class sizes in particular grades earlier this spring.  Brookline seems to be a district that is interested in making research-based decisions;  Amherst is a district that has not shown this same interest (Steve's points during SC meetings on the benefits of particular educational approaches are typically ignored, although he is considered an expert on economics and education). 

"Would Smaller Classes Help Close the Black-White Achievement Gap?"Alan Krueger and Diane Whitmore, Princeton University

This paper examines the effect of reducing class-size on student achievement, with particular attention to differential effects by race. A review of the literature suggests that low-income and black students tend to benefit more from attending a smaller class than white students. We extend the literature by providing new results from a long-term follow-up of students who participated in Tennessee's Project STAR. Project STAR was an experiment that randomly assigned 11,600 elementary school students and their teachers to a small class (target of 13-17 students), regular-size class (22-25 students) or regular-size class with a teacher-aide. The experiment began with the wave of students who entered kindergarten in 1985, and lasted for four years. After third grade, all students returned to regular-size classes. We analyze the effect of past attendance in a small class on standardized test scores through the eighth grade, on whether students took the ACT or SAT college entrance exam, on performance on the ACT or SAT exam, on criminal conviction rates, and on teen birth rates. The results indicate that, while students are in small classes, average test scores increase by 7-10 percentile points for black students and by 3-4 percentile points for white students. After all students are returned to regular-size classes in 4th grade, the gains from having attended a small class fall to about 5 points for black students and 1.5 points for white students, and persist at around that level. If all students were in a small class in grades K-3, we estimate that the black-white test-score gap would fall by 38 percent in grades K-3, and by 15 percent thereafter. Combining estimates of the effect of small classes on 3rd grade test scores from the STAR experiment with national trends in the pupil-teacher ratio for black and white students since 1971, we find that historical movements in the pupil-teacher ratio can account for almost all of the narrowing of the black-white test score gap as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam. We also find that having attended a small class compared to regular-size class raises the likelihood that black students take the ACT or SAT college entrance exam from 31.8 to 41.3 percent, and raises the likelihood that white students take one of the exams from 44.7 to 46.4 percent. As a consequence, if all students were assigned to a small class, the black-white gap in taking a college entrance exam would fall by an estimated 60 percent. In addition, we find that past attendance in a small class raises the average score on the ACT or SAT exam by 0.15-0.20 standard deviation for black students, and by 0.04 standard deviation for white students.

Lastly, we find evidence that criminal conviction rates are 20 percent lower for black males who were assigned to a small class than for black males assigned to a regular-size class, and maximum sentence rates were 25 percent lower, although both of these effects are not statistically significant. The teen birth rate was one third less for white females who were assigned to a small class compared to those assigned to a regular-size class, and the fatherhood rate was 40 percent lower for black teenage males assigned to a small class than for those assigned to a regular-size class. The effect of class size on teenage births for other groups was not statistically significant.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Amherst Bulletin: February 18, 2010

There are four pieces related to the SC/superintendent in this week's Bulletin which I thought would be of interest to my blog readers.

First, there is a piece describing Maria Geryk's new superintendent contract (  This is similar but not identical to the Gazette piece I posted earlier.

Second, there is a brief story about the Amherst elementary budget cuts proposed at this week's meeting (  I haven't done a blog posting summarizing that meeting, so I want to make three quick points:
  • there is still no written agreement governing how costs are divided between Amherst and Pelham:  so, Pelham with 10% of the enrollment and 25% of the elementary schools is still paying only 6% of central office costs and Amherst is paying 94% - which I still don't understand.  Apparently the new goal of the budget subcommittee (Irv, Rick, Debbie Gould) is to have an agreement in place a year from now.  
  • the Spanish program will be expanded to go from 1st and 2nd to 3rd grade next year, but with no increase in staffing, meaning that world language will only be offered 40 minutes a week (contrary to the recommendations of Sean Smith, head of world languages, to provide 1 1/2 hours a week).  Some members of the SC expressed concern about this lack of exposure to world language, given the goal of the policy to increase fluency by 7th grade so that students could move into 8th grade Spanish if desired.]
  • the enrollment numbers continue to decline, with 99 students fewer this year than last year and another drop of 75 students expected next year (and this could even be lower, since we were 44 students lower than projected last year).  We also discussed the marked climb in the percentage of kids on free/reduced lunch:  29% of this year's 6th graders are considered low income, compared to 52% of this year's kindergartners.  Rick noted that the number of kids on free/reduced lunch actually hasn't really changed;  what has happened is that the number of kids not on free/reduced lunch is decreasing. 
Third, the editor's column is entitled "Catherine Sanderson's Quest for Change" (  I appreciate the editor's kind remarks about my service, and just want to make a few corrections for the record. 
  • Anonymous comments on my blog had nothing to do with my decision to not run;  the week prior to my decision not to run, I learned that my older son's guidance counselor and teacher had send a nasty and name-calling email (identifying me by name) to many in our community, and had to spend a fair amount of time redoing his schedule.  This incident led me to really consider the toll of my service on my family.  
  • I do believe the SC members should send their own kids to the public schools (although there are currently SC members who don't choose to do this, and that has been the case throughout the time I've served on the SC), and although it is of course silly to imagine that anyone would opt for private schools out of lack of support for a given superintendent (and I didn't consider pulling my kids after I lost the vote for the last superintendent), I believe families certainly see the superintendent as having a major impact on the nature and direction of our schools.  Thus, to run for re-election, I needed to feel confident I could tell the voters that I would have my three kids in our schools in three years ... and I didn't feel I could make that promise, and thus I didn't think it was appropriate for me to run.  
  • I certainly agree that building consensus is essential in making progress on any committee, and that is why I'm so pleased that I was able to work with my colleagues to create such consensus on many important decisions:  closing Marks Meadow, redistricting, implementing Spanish language in the elementary schools, creating an evaluation policy, and requesting outside evaluations of math/special education/the middle school.  I'm surprised the editors didn't note that all of these accomplishments, which I consider some of the most important ones of my term, were unanimous votes, thus clearly indicating great consensus on the committee.  
Fourth, I also have a final oped explaining my decision to resign (  I believe this column speaks for itself, so I won't elaborate. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Two Updates

First, the contract with Maria Geryk has now been signed and is official.  You can read the Gazette story at:

Second, I was interviewed by as part of the "Conversations" series on ACTV, and my interview will be shown tonight at 7 pm (you can read the Gazette story on this interview at:  I don't know if the interview will be re-broadcast or available on demand.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Maria Geryk Appointed to Permanent Superintendent

You can read the press release at:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Next Week's Meetings

There will be (at least) three SC meetings next week - and all will be important.

First, on Monday (2-14), we will meet to discuss the contract for the superintendent (this meeting might be mostly in executive session to hammer out details).  You can read a brief story on this meeting from Masslive at:

Then, on Tuesday (2-15) the Amherst SC will see the first FY12 list of budget cuts/adds, and on Wednesday (12-16), the Regional SC will see the first FY12 list of budget cuts/adds.  I believe the Amherst SC meeting will be carried live on ACTV (and thus held at Town Hall);  the other two meetings will be in the HS library and will be filmed by ACTV by not shown live.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Decision: Part 2

Two quick things to post.

First, I want to thank all of those who have sent kind words via email/text/phone throughout the day.  I appreciate hearing from many friends ... and also from those who I didn't even know were supporting me who understood my decision and expressed appreciation for my efforts.  I really, really appreciate it.  And don't worry:  I'm doing OK!

Second, there is a bit of an expanded article from the Gazette on my decision:  

My Decision: I'm Not Running

The papers to file to run again for my seat on the Amherst and Regional School Committees are completed and stacked neatly on the corner of my desk.  The deadline to turn them in is 5 PM today.

I have been outspoken and activist on what I feel needs to be improved in the Amherst schools: educational accountability, transparency and community involvement and fiscal responsibility. 

During the last three years we have been successful at bringing real change to a stagnated system.  Some of these changes, such as eliminating mandatory study halls and closing Marks Meadow to maintain small class sizes, intervention support, and music and art in elementary school, had the potential to improve my children’s education.  Most would make no difference for them.  My children went to preschool, they were not in the school that required redistricting for economic equity, they have not struggled on MCAS tests, and I am quite capable of ensuring that they take 8th grade algebra and exceed the minimum high school graduation requirements for math and science. 

There is a tremendous amount of hostility toward me in the community, which makes it unlikely that I could have any real impact as a member of the School Committee in the future.  If I said I thought we should have healthier food in the cafeteria, then there would be public accusations that my brother is an organic farmer, that this change in food was just for my kids, and that this change was all about me.  It has never been about me.  My career is as a college professor, not a school committee member (and certainly not a politician).  For me it has always been about what is best for all the children:  Not what feels good, but what yields good educational results.

Some events of the last week have made it clear to me, and to my husband, that whether I would win or lose, running for School Committee would make it untenable for my children to stay in the Amherst public schools.  It is not about the superintendent selection;  it is about mean personal public attacks, including attacks from school personnel.  Since my motivation for serving was to better education for my children, along with all the children of Amherst, this sets up a difficult conundrum. 

So in the end, the papers will remain on the corner of my desk, not to be filed at Town Hall.  I wish the best for the Amherst and Regional Public Schools;  it has been an honor, if not a pleasure, to serve.

Here's the Gazette story on my announcement:

And here is the Masslive story on my announcement (which includes a link to my press release announcing this decision):

Monday, February 7, 2011

Geryk Mulls Offer

Here is the latest Gazette story on the superintendent decision:  And here is the latest Masslive story:

I'd like to remind all blog readers that personal attacks on SC members (me or others) aren't helpful in moving us forward, and that I won't post negative comments about district staff.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

One Year Appointment for Maria Geryk

Here's the gazette link of the article:  And here is the Masslive article:  And here is a more updated Gazette article:

It was nearly a 5 hour meeting, so I am not going to appoint to summarize it.  The gist is that all non-Amherst members and Rick Hood supported Maria Geryk and the other 4 non-Amherst supported someone else (initially two for Kohn - Steve, Rob, and two for Bayless - me, Irv, although Steve and Rob both changed their votes to Bayless after the first ballot).  The final vote occurred because Irv (who is on region and Union 26) agreed to a one-year term with Maria.  That vote passed 6 to 3 on Region (me, Rob, Steve opposed) and 4 to 2 on Union 26 (me and Steve opposed).  Maria will be evaluated by January 1, 2010 and at that time either will be released from her contract or her contract will be extended for a longer term. 

Here is my statement that I read, just FYI:

I’ve given this vote a tremendous amount of thought over the last few weeks, as I know all of my colleagues on this board have done.  There is no greater responsibility for the SC than choosing a superintendent, and I know we all take this role very seriously. 

For me, there are two real challenges in making this decision:  first, anyone we choose is a bit of a “leap of faith” in that you never know exactly how someone will be in the job until someone is doing that job (and we have one candidate who in fact has been doing this job and two who have not been doing this job – at least in Amherst), and the second is trying to focus on the totality of the information about the candidates (public opinion, references, prior work and educational history).  As we saw with the closing of Marks Meadow, there are often a small number of very loud voices with one view, and it is easy to assume that view represents the entire community.  So, I’ve tried very hard to consider the totality of information I’ve received from many sources (both in the Amherst area and from outside our immediate area). 

In thinking about my decision, the most important thing for me is where I see the schools right now and who do I see as the person/people who can help us build on our strengths and address the challenges we face.  I see real problems in the Amherst schools – and I know the problems in the Amherst elementary schools are frankly not the same ones seen in the elementary schools in Pelham, Shutesbury, and Leverett but many of the broader problems (achievement gap, finances) are seen in our elementary and regional schools. 

  • In the Amherst elementary schools, we’ve seen a drop of 99 students this year compared to last, and this is 44 students fewer than we projected, with 30 students fewer than expected in kindergarten.  In addition, we are seeing a massive change in the demographics in our elementary schools:  over 50% of kindergartners currently in our schools are on free and reduced lunch (compared to 37% of overall elementary students, marking a dramatic shift).  I find this really concerning, as it indicates to me that a growing number of families are opting out of our public schools. 
  • I see a big achievement gap in our elementary schools.  In our elementary schools, only 30% of African American students, 38% of Latino students, and 30% of low income students reach proficiency on MCAS math tests. 
  • One of our three elementary schools (Fort River) showed declines in both ELA and Math MCAS scores for all students – the aggregate and most subgroups – from last year to this year. 
  • I see problems in special education, with about 40% of parents not satisfied with their participation in their child's IEP, communication with staff, and the staff's responsiveness to their needs and concerns.
  • I see huge budget problems now and in the foreseeable future, as indicated by Representative Ellen Story at the Four Towns Meeting last Saturday.
So, when I think about choosing the next superintendent, my primary concern is who the best person is in terms of moving our district forward as we face these pretty immense challenges in terms of achievement, demographics, and finances. 

I know that many community members and teachers have very positive feelings about Maria Geryk, and I hear this passion.  And I really wish I could feel good about supporting her candidacy, because in many ways, that would be the easiest choice since she is already here and known by our community.  But voting for superintendent isn’t supposed to be the easiest choice – it is supposed to be the choice that is best for our community moving forward, and as much as I appreciate the work she has done on creating instructional rounds and being visible in the community, I also have real concerns about her ability to handle the very real problems we face.

  • We have a big achievement gap, and students who were failing MCAS were identified in September, yet the Achievement Academy didn’t start until January (half-way through the school year), which seems less than ideal.
  • We have one school (Fort River) that is showing declines in both math and ELA MCAS and she hasn’t developed a plan to address this.
  • We have real concerns from some parents in special education, and she hasn’t attended SEPAC
  • We have major budget challenges, and it is February and we’ve not seen a budget at Amherst or Regional (and she has already cancelled the budget presentation set for Tuesday).  This is two months later than what we had with Alberto.
  • We have had a report on math in our district from an outside expert in October, and it is February and we have had no action plan on dealing with this recommendation, despite the fact that we have a major achievement gap and lower MCAS math scores in 3rd grade than the state average.  I haven’t seen any sense of urgency from her in addressing these long-standing concerns.
  • We had, at the time of her appointment, a very divided SC, and I have seen no interest or willingness on her part of trying to bring the SC together, which is really sad to me.  I didn’t vote for Alberto Rodriguez, yet when he arrived, he reached out to me and met with each SC member individually each month, and really worked to understand all of our concerns.  I haven’t seen this type of interest in getting to understand those who disagree with her from Maria.  Relatedly, I know that Maria has reached out to some community members, but I feel that reaching out has been to those who support her – and there hasn’t been a willingness to do the same for those who have real concerns – about math, about special education, etc. - and I find that really unfortunate. 
So, when I look at Ms. Geryk’s performance over the last year, a year in which she was clearly trying to put her “best foot forward” in terms of getting the superintendent’s job, I have serious concerns.  And those concerns unfortunately make it impossible for me to take a leap of faith and vote to make her the permanent superintendent.  I feel really bad about this, as I know this vote in many ways would be the easiest one for our community, since she is of course by far the most familiar choice, and change is scary. 

I had hoped I could vote for Dr. Kohn and feel comfortable taking a leap of faith about his candidacy.  I liked his commitment to social justice and achievement for low income kids and kids of color, and I liked his ability to make major changes in struggling districts, and I liked his experience as a regional superintendent in MA.  But I understand that for many people in the community, and some of my colleagues on the SC, voting for Dr. Kohn would require too much of a leap of faith, and I can understand and respect these feelings, and therefore don’t feel comfortable supporting his candidacy either. 

However, after reading all of the comments from parents and teachers and community members and outside references (who have known Dr. Bayless for years), I feel quite comfortable taking the “leap of faith” necessary to offer him the permanent position. 

  • He has considerable experience as a superintendent (11 years), meaning he’s dealt with precisely the types of things we are going to deal with (budgets, instruction, evaluation, etc.). 
  • He has huge amounts of experience in business – he has a certificate in business and has served as an associate superintendent for business in three different districts, and has worked in California (a state with huge budget problems).  The Amherst and Regional schools have a budget of 50 million – and we really need someone with experience making difficult budget choices and gaining community support for such choices. 
  • He is new to Amherst, and MA, but the challenges we face are precisely the types of things ALL districts face, and he has support from people (e.g., Rob Detweiler) in understanding MA laws and finances.  I believe the long-term knowledge and experience he brings is really valuable, and more than makes up for what he doesn’t current know in terms of specific MA laws/regulations.
  • He has a strong focus on evaluation, and the importance of evaluating what we are doing to make sure that it is working.  This is NOT a strength of our current district, and I really think his focus on doing this would be invaluable.
  • He is clearly dedicated to low income students and ELL (many Latino students in CA) students, and discussed a number of specific ways he had worked to improve achievement in these groups.
  • He has intensive experience in developing strategic district plans, which is also not a current strength of our district and I believe could be really advantageous. 
  • He has a very nice manner in terms of bringing people together – his idea of bringing together small groups of SC members (with different views) to discuss things is excellent, and is precisely the type of thing that I believe would have been really, really helpful over the last year. 
Will there be a learning curve if we offer the job to Dr. Bayless?  Yes.  But I believe that giving a couple of months to Dr. Bayless to learn our schools and towns and administrators and MA laws is a very small price to pay for gaining his extensive knowledge and background with finances and evaluation and bringing people together.  I feel 100% comfortable that Dr. Bayless has the ability to help all of our schools build on their strengths and work on their challenges and bring our communities together.  

UPDATE:   It has been a very long day, and I don't think anonymous potshots at me or Steve or anyone on the SC is helpful or constructive or brings the community or the SC together in any way.  If anyone wants to share private thoughts with me, please send them to my private email:  But I'm not going to continue to provide this forum for mean-spirited attacks. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Still More Superintendent Search Updates

I'm posting two pieces on the superintendent search - one a review of Maria Geryk's interview with the community yesterday from the Gazette ( and a more general review of the superintendent search process and various community views from the Bulletin (  As noted in the second piece, the community has varied feelings about the three finalists - SC members are certainly getting feedback pushing each of the three finalists!  I think it is also important to remember that the SC also has much more information than the community will ever see - lengthy work histories, references (both in writing and via phone) from numerous sources, and all of the feedback sheets completed by various people (teachers, administrators, parents, community members) at each of the forums.  I believe we will all take all of this information very seriously in making our decision about which of the three finalists is the best fit for our community at this time when we meet on Sunday ... and my hope is that the community will rally around and support the superintendent, whoever he or she might be.  When we last searched, my first choice candidate wasn't chosen, and that was certainly disappointing ... but I supported Dr. Rodriguez from the time he was chosen, and I was sorry to see him go as he did in March.  I hope that all members of the community will welcome and support the chosen superintendent, and that we as a SC are able to select someone that we can all feel good about working with and supporting in the years ahead.  This is a crucial time in the Amherst and Regional schools and choosing a superintendent is the most important work the SC does. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Superintendent Search Update

I'm just attaching a brief article on the search update - with a decision still expected this (Super Bowl) Sunday (  I agree completely with Kristen's quote in this article that we need to select a finalist who has the support of the entire SC, and I am very hopeful that we will be able to reach such an agreement this Sunday, and then all move together to support this person in the important work ahead for our districts.  This is a very exciting time for the Amherst and Regional schools, and I hope we see our districts moving to reach their full potential in the year ahead. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Final Interview: Thursday, February 3, 2011

So, let's hope the third time's the charm:  the third finalist, Maria Geryk, will interview tomorrow (8 to 9 am MS cafeteria and 2:30 to 3:30 WW library are open meetings with the public;  6 to 8 pm ARHS library is an open interview with the SC).  Here's the Gazette story on the delay:

Few Students Show Proficiency in Science, Tests Show

This article (from The New York Times) is very interesting, though depressing - showing that American students are much less proficient in science than in other disciplines (  As many of my blog readers likely know, K to 12 science education is one of our district goals for this year, and I am hopeful that we will see some improvements to science education (especially in our elementary schools) in the upcoming year. 

UPDATE:  Here's another article summarizing the same study (

Friday, January 28, 2011

Superintendent Search Stuff

I'm out of town now at a conference, but wanted to post the latest Amherst Bulletin article on the search for the new superintendent (  As I note in this article, the comments I've received (some to my personal email, others to the entire SC) have really been all over the map, with strong advocates for each of the three finalists.  To me, that is actually very encouraging, because it means that each of the three finalists is seen as having real strengths by at least some members of our community.  I am hopeful that the SC can have a thoughtful discussion about the strengths and fit of each of the three finalists when we meet on Sunday, February 6th, and that we will emerge with a finalist that all members of the SC feel comfortable supporting.  This is the most important decision the SC makes, and I believe all 10 of us are really focused on gathering information (from many sources) and making the best decision we can for the districts. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Education Week Study on School Districts' "Educational Productivity"

One of my blog readers sent me this fascinating study from Education Week, which I've posted below.  I've also found the summary of the research this article was based on, and have pasted all the highlights of those recommendations at the end of this piece.  I found this study very thought-provoking and believe some of my blog readers will as well.  I look forward to hearing thoughts!

Sweeping Study Weighs School Districts' 'Educational Productivity' (Education Week, January 20, 2011)

By Christina A. Samuels

A report from a progressive think tank measuring the “educational productivity” of more than 9,000 school districts around the country shows that districts getting the most for their money tend to spend more on teachers and less on administration, partner with their communities to save money, and have school boards willing to make potentially unpopular decisions, like closing underenrolled schools.

The study, from the Washington-based Center for American Progress, attempts to measure district productivity nationwide, according to its authors. Almost every K-12 school district in the country with more than 250 students was included, and the information has been included in a website that allows users to compare districts within states.

The attempt to drill down on productivity—what districts are getting in terms of student achievement in math and reading for their education dollar—is particularly appropriate now, as relief to districts from federal economic-stimulus dollars is petering out, and an economic upswing is not on the horizon, said John Podesta, the center’s president and chief executive officer.

“The results we found were striking. There was an enormous productivity gap among districts,” said Mr. Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. “Even controlling for demographic factors, there was no clear relationship between spending and results.”

This report is part of a series of reports from the center examining government accountability and efficiency. The analysis is intended to encourage a more sophisticated discussion rather than just suggesting district funding should be cut in the name of encouraging efficiency, said Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the center and the report’s author.

“Do we pretend that this problem [of inefficiency] doesn’t exist, so we don’t enter into this conversation? I think the answer is no,” Mr. Boser said. “In education, we think about achievement on one side, and spending on the other, and we need to marry that.”

Three Perspectives

The center’s analysis offers three ways of looking at district productivity, each of which offers slightly different results.

The report uses 2007-08 spending data, and state reading and math test results for the 2007-08 school year. Because state assessments vary across state lines, district efficiency can only be compared within any one state. Also, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Alaska, Montana and Vermont were not included in the analysis. The District of Columbia and Hawaii are single-district jurisdictions; Montana and Vermont did not have enough comparable districts, and Alaska was excluded because the authors could not sufficiently adjust for cost-of-living differences within the state.

The basic return on investment measure rates school districts on how much academic achievement they get for each dollar spent, relative to other districts in the state. Adjustments are made for students who are deemed more expensive to educate than their peers in general education: special education students, students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and English-language learners.

The “adjusted return on investment” is similar to the basic measure, but it uses a different form of analysis to be more sensitive to spending differences within states.

Finally, a “predicted” efficiency rating attempts to gauge how much more or less achievement a district produced, compared to what would be expected of a district with the same amount of spending and student demographics. By this measure, a district that is doing better-than-expected could get a high ranking.

The interactive website that accompanies the report allows some interesting comparisons. For example, the Eau Claire and Oshkosh districts in Wisconsin are about the same size—Eau Claire has around 10,800 students, and Oshkosh around 10,200 students. They serve similar student populations, and get largely similar results on state exams. However, Eau Claire’s total expenditures are about $8 million more per year than Oshkosh, which spends about $110 million a year to run its district.

The measures also show that high-spending districts are often inefficient. The report notes that only 17 percent of the Florida districts in the top third in spending were also in the top third in achievement.

Also, students from disadvantaged backgrounds nationally were more likely to be enrolled in highly inefficient districts, even taking into account that such students tend to cost more to educate.

Donna Cooper, a senior fellow at the center, who assisted with the report, said she hopes that state and district officials move past defensiveness to seek out real change. “If you address these challenges, you can boost achievement,” she said.


Note from Catherine:  You can read the full report by going to:   And here are the summary points:
  • Many school districts could boost student achievement without increasing spending if they used their money more productively. An Arizona school district, for example, could see as much as a 36 percent boost in achievement if it increased its efficiency from the lowest level to the highest, all else being equal.
  • Low productivity costs the nation’s school system as much as $175 billion a year. This figure is an estimate; our study does not capture everything that goes into creating an efficient district. But the approximate loss in capacity equals about 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
  • Without controls on how additional school dollars are spent, more education spending will not automatically improve student outcomes.
  • Efficiency varies widely within states. Some districts spent thousands more per student to obtain the same broad level of academic achievement. After adjusting for factors outside of a district’s control, the range of spending among the districts scoring in the top third of achievement in California was nearly $8,000 per student.
  • More than a million students are enrolled in highly inefficient districts. Over 400 school districts around the country were rated highly inefficient on all three of our productivity metrics. These districts serve about 3 percent of the almost 43 million students covered by our study.
  • High-spending school systems are often inefficient. Our analysis showed that after accounting for factors outside of a district’s control, many high spending districts posted middling productivity results. For example, only 17 percent of Florida’s districts in the top third in spending were also in the top third in achievement.
  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be enrolled in highly inefficient districts. Students who participated in subsidized lunch programs were 12 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in the nation’s least-productive districts, even after making allowances for the higher cost of educating lower-income students.
  • Highly productive districts are focused on improving student outcomes. We surveyed a sample of highly productive districts to learn more about their principles and practices. The districts that performed well on our metrics shared a number of values and practices, including strong community support and a willingness to make tough choices.
  • States and districts fail to evaluate the productivity of schools and districts. While the nation spends billions of dollars on education, only two states, Florida and Texas, currently provide annual school-level productivity evaluations, which report to the public how well funds are being spent at the local level.
  • The quality of state and local education data is often poor. In many instances, key information on school spending and outcomes is not available or insufficiently rigorous, and this severely impedes the study of educational productivity. For instance, we did not have good enough data to control for certain cost factors, such as transportation. So a rural district with high busing costs might suffer in some of our metrics compared with a more densely populated district.
  • The nation’s least-productive districts spend more on administration. The most inefficient districts in the country devote an extra 3 percentage points of their budgets on average to administration, operations, and other noninstructional expenditures.
  • Some urban districts are far more productive than others. While our main results are limited to within-state comparisons, we were able to conduct a special cross-state analysis of urban districts that recently participated in a national achievement test. After adjusting for certain factors outside a district’s control, we found that some big-city school systems spend millions of dollars more than others—but get far lower results on math and reading tests.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I'm Running

I had originally intended to complete the superintendent search, and then make a decision about whether I felt I had the energy/drive/motivation to continue serving on the School Committee for the next three years.  The weather-related delay in the search has given me time over the last few days to really think through what I'd like to accomplish if re-elected, and to talk with family and friends about this important decision. 

And I've decided to run for re-election. 

I'm very proud of the many things the School Committees have accomplished during my first term (e.g., saving a million dollars a year by closing Marks Meadow so we could save art/music/intervention/small class sizes, eliminating the massive inequity in low income schools between our elementary schools, adding elementary Spanish, and conducting reviews of math, special education, and the middle school).  I still feel there is important work that needs to be done to make our good schools the best they can be.  I believe I have the experience, energy, and drive to help create change, and I look forward to working with my Amherst and Regional School Committee colleagues (and whoever the superintendent will be!) to accomplish more great things for kids over the next three years. 

During the campaign, this blog will continue to serve the same purpose it has served over the last few years -- to provide parents, teachers, and community members with a safe place in which to share ideas, concerns, and suggestions with me and others in our community about education in Amherst.  It will not focus on the campaign or particular candidates (although I will of course post information about School Committee candidate forums and newspaper articles).  For those who want to learn more about my campaign, including my goals for a next term and ways to help with my re-election, please refer to my campaign website:

And one more thing:  it is very difficult in terms of time/energy/emotion to run for elected office in Amherst, and I believe all candidates for SC deserve respect from all members of our community.  I will therefore not engage in negative campaigning against my opponent(s), and ask that others not to do so on my behalf.  I know first-hand how difficult these types of attacks are, not only on those who choose to run, but also on their families (especially their kids).  

So, blog readers, please learn more about my background/experience/goals, do the same for my opponent(s), and then vote for the person who best shares your own goals and who you believe will best help our schools become the schools you'd like to see.  That process should not involve negative attacks (on blogs, in the paper, or via email) on any of the candidates for SC (and I won't post negative comments on my blog about any other candidates).

Thank you for helping to create a positive election season in which we avoid engaging in personal attacks on adults, and instead focus on creating the best schools we can for all kids.

An update:  Here is the gazette story on my announcement:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Still Disappointed: Our Children Deserve Better

I'm attaching the most recent article describing the attempt to sabotage the process of selecting a superintendent, with real hopes that those who are driving this push will have the respect for all members of the community (especially the students) to allow this process to continue (  Again, I know this campaign is being carried out by a small number of people, and it does not reflect the broader views of the Amherst (and small town) communities -- but I am hoping we can all as a community encourage these efforts to stop immediately. 

I'd like to outline a few key points that many who are pushing this rush to judgment seem to be missing. 

First, Ms. Geryk was appointed in March of 2010 at a meeting in which selecting a new superintendent (interim or otherwise) did not appear on the agenda.  The public (parents, teachers, community members) had no notice that this appointment could potentially occur;  School Committee members were not given any notice that this appointment would occur.  The appointment proceeded only by a very divided vote:  although all members from Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury voted for this 16-month appointment, only 1 Amherst member did so (Andy Churchill, who had already decided to not seek re-election).  The other 4 Amherst members (including the only two members of color on the SC) opposed this appointment. 

Second, Ms. Geryk has never been through any formal or informal review process in her role as an interim superintendent.  So, reports that she is doing a great job, or a not so great job, are just individual people's opinions based largely on their own personal experiences.  The SC has never examined how well Ms. Geryk has led the district towards accomplishing the district goals that have been set out, and/or how effectively she has performed as superintendent. 

Third, community feelings about Ms. Geryk's performance are certainly mixed (and I'm not speaking to the percentage of views that are pro versus con, or whether these views are accurate or biased on either side).  Those who have concerns about Ms. Geryk's performance need to recognize that some members in our community feel very positively about her efforts (including some special education parents).  Those who feel very positively about Ms. Geryk's performance need to recognize that some members in our community feel quite concerned about her efforts (including some special education parents).  As a member of the SC, I need to pay attention to both of these views, and to try to understand both of these views (and I would hope that members of our community on both sides would try to do the same). 

But I'm concerned that some of those who feel Ms. Geryk is doing a great job therefore seem to feel that the process should end immediately, without giving any consideration to the two external finalists (although the SC voted to conduct a full and open search last September).  I believe these efforts are entirely inappropriate, just as I would believe that efforts to end the process prior to her interview and immediately appoint either Dr. Kohn or Dr. Bayless would be entirely inappropriate. 

Finally, and as I've noted before, we have three finalists who have varied strengths in terms of years of experience as a superintendent, education, familiarity with our community, etc.  To me, that means the superintendent search committee (of which I was a member) has done a good job in presenting the community, and the SC, with three distinct choices.  And it is clear that there is not a single "right choice" since each member of our community, and indeed each member on our School Committee, may evaluate the finalists' pros/cons in different ways, based on what he/she sees are the most important characteristics our community needs moving forward. 

But here's the key thing:  all members of our community owe it to themselves, and the students in our schools now and in the future, to learn as much as possible about each of the three finalists (and this should include the external finalists - who are obviously much less familiar to our community - and the internal finalist - who different people in our community see in quite different ways).  This is a very important choice for the future of our schools, and I continue to hope that all members of our community will allow this very important process to continue in a way that is fair, open-minded, and welcoming to all three finalists.  Our children certainly deserve no less.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Two School Updates: Dr. Kohn's Interview and an Update on Elementary Language

The second of the three finalists visited Amherst this week, and I'm attaching the story from the Gazette on Dr. Kohn's interview (  As noted in the article, the third and final candidate (Ms. Geryk) will interview on Tuesday, February 1st, and the vote will take place on Sunday, February 6th. 

I'm also attaching an oped from Steve Rivkin from this week's Bulletin on the elementary Spanish language program (  I know some parents and community members have had questions about this program, and hopefully this piece will be helpful in clarifying how and why this program was established. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Disappointed By Some in Our Community: PLEASE Give the Process a Chance

I believe some of the best things about living in Amherst should be having a community in which there is an openness to all views, an acceptance of and respect for people from diverse backgrounds, and a real willingness to listen to all sides.

Thus, I've been dismayed to see a campaign to disparage our two external candidates with long and distinguished careers in multiple districts and to promote our  internal candidate.  Surely we can only make the determination of who is best for our district if we approach all our  finalists with an open mind, ready to learn more about their backgrounds and experiences and ask any questions we might have.  I hope that citizens who have received email blasts and read statements in the newspaper and/or on blogs on behalf of  a specific candidate will reserve judgment until they have heard and thoroughly researched each candidate’s record.  Surely our kids deserve better than this type of rush judgment.

Throughout my time as a member of the School Committee, and before that as co-head (with Steve Rivkin) of ACE, I have pushed for more community voices to be heard.  But I have never told people what those voices should say.  ACE has never supported a single School Committee candidate or superintendent finalist;  emails sent out to that listserv have always said simply "here are opportunities to learn more about these people and to share your view;  please let your view be known".  Similarly, I have never pushed a single School Committee candidate, or superintendent finalist;  I have simply informed people about opportunities to learn more about candidates/finalists and encouraged people to share their views (whatever those views might be).

Choosing a superintendent is an extremely important decision -- this choice will impact our schools and our community and our kids for a VERY long time.  I therefore continue to hope that all parents, teachers, and community members will take the time and energy needed to get to know more about the background, experience, and vision of all three finalists (through newspaper articles available on my blog, resumes and essay responses available on line at, and the interviews available on ACTV) ... and then, after reviewing this essential information, I hope to hear from as many people as possible about the pros/cons of each of the three finalists (emails can be sent to  Each School Committee member can then individually balance the relative pros/cons of each finalist noted by the community, our own individual impressions, and the considerable additional information we have (e.g., more extensive information about prior experiences, reports from numerous references) to make the best vote possible when we select a superintendent on Sunday, February 6th. 

Note:  I posted a quick version of this post yesterday and then felt I needed to give the post more thought and reflection -- then I posted a revised version of this post that was quite brief (as I was rushing out to the superintendent interview and then driving last night to New Jersey for a conference AFTER the interview).  I've now posted basically the original version -- but with slight revisions.  Will post all comments -- but please be respectful and do NOT comment on any of the finalists!

Superintendent Search Updates

I'm posting two pieces from the Gazette related to the superintendent search. 

First, there is an article on the first finalist's visit to Amherst yesterday (  I know not all people had an opportunity to meet or see Dr. Bayless, so hopefully this will be helpful in conveying some of his experiences and ideas.  His interview will also be shown on ACTV (and I assume available on "by demand" as well). 

Second, there is a letter from the three School Committee members on the superintendent search committee (me, Rick, Nora) on the search process which responds to the critiques raised by the Leverett Select Board (  I hope this will clarify the process for the community.