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.

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 ( 


Caren Rotello said...

I am happy to see that the math textbook committee will meet soon. However, I am personally disappointed that neither Math Expressions nor Saxon Math -- two curricula that yielded much higher test scores than Investigations in a WWC-approved study -- are not being considered. As it says on the ARPS website:

"The purpose of this group is to review elementary math programs: Investigations, Primary Mathematics (Singapore), enVision, Everyday Mathematics, Math Trailblazers, and ThinkMath to determine the program that best aligns with the Common Core State Standards, and will support the districts in delivering a balanced approach to mathematics instruction."

A quick peek at the WWC summaries of these programs suggests that only Everyday Math has been studied effectively, and I am curious why these particular curricula are being considered (and not others that are research supported).

Curious observer said...

The textbook committee will look at curriculum not proven to be effective because....the district is now claims to be using evidence-based approaches? Here we go again.

How long can this farce go on where the district says it will do something and then goes and does another?

Shouldn't the purpose of the textbook review committee to find the math curriculum that best teaches children math? We have a lot of kids struggling in math and a lot of kids who are bored. Why not go for an unbalanced approach to math instruction that actually gets kids doing math really well.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Caren - I have no idea how those curriculum were chosen, and that seems like a very good point. In fact, I'm surprised that the textbook committee wouldn't be involved in making these selections.

I have no idea why Trailblazers and enVision are being tried, nor why Saxon and Expressions aren't being tried.

The other make sense to me: our current should be included, Chen recommended Primary/Singapore, evidence supports Everyday Math, and two MA districts have recently moved to ThinkMath (one of these did so after a one year pilot comparing Investigations and ThinkMath and the teachers vastly preferred ThinkMath).

ken said...

I wouldn't get overly excited about Saxon math. In that study, one can see that Saxon has approximately 30 hours per year more of instruction than the other 3 programs. While the study did show that it had better results than 2 of the programs, one can not conclude it is qualitatively better, only that there was quantitatively more of it. For all anyone knows, the results of 30 more hours of the other programs would push Saxon to the bottom of the group.

Also, we shouldn't get too carried away by that math study in that it was just first grade. The study itself indicated the need for being replicated at 2nd and 3rd grade. It did not conclude that the 2 top programs were better in general, only that they yielded higher results in first grade. It's quite possible that that could flip over time. It's also just as possible as not that the test that was used was more aligned to the 2 top performing programs. So, one can only conclude that on THAT test and at FIRST grade, there were undoubted advantages to 2 programs over the other 2. Anything beyond that is pure speculation.

Elementary age math is layered year by year. In other words, success at the second grade level subsumes first grade proficiency within it. If a 2nd grade study of those 4 programs showed an equalizing of the program results, it wouldn't mean that kids had lost anything because of the first grade results. So I would be much more interested with what the results of a similar study look like in 3rd or 4th grade, by which time the 4 basic math operations and fractions have been worked on.

All this is why previously, I said the WWC is the place for most of us to become better informed about education-related issues, but NOT to become proactive advocates for this program over that. There is way too much field-specific complexity to sort out. I am glad that the committee is exploring many program options.

Anonymous said...

I was just on the ARPS website looking for the statement that Caren quoted from and I could not find any statement regarding the math textbook review committee. Can someone direct me to where I can find that statement?

Thank you for the help.

Caren Rotello said...

I agree that one must be careful about generalizing results of any one study. However, one clear benefit of well-designed studies is that they should generalize -- not to all grade levels, necessarily, but to other school districts. To discount the evidence in a well-done study on the assumption or hope that things will even out in later grades is an unfortunate choice. As you said yourself, math builds on the early foundation. On that basis, one could make the case that it's essential to worry about first grade performance, and to try to maximize it, so that the foundation is as strong as possible and later achievements can be that much higher.

I did not say that the textbook committee must choose Saxon or Math Expressions, only that I am disappointed that they are not even on the table.

Caren Rotello said...

ken said...

I didn't discount anything that study showed, I merely tried to carefully define what it showed. those are 2 very different things. Plus, as a teacher for over 20 years in an elementary setting, my experience leads me to disagree with your apparent characterization of first grade as a make-or-break year for future math learning. It's not like with Investigations, NO learning happens. Maybe Saxon math emphasized algorithm calculations a lot, and that's what the test emphasized? If conceptual understanding was accented in the other programs, then as grades go on, when concept knowledge is more important, things may equal out. I'm just saying that we all don't become field experts because we read a study or look at WWC findings. Things are very complex, and it behooves a math committee to analyze programs in the light of a wide variety of input and sources.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Ken - I think Caren's point was that the two curricula that did show success (for whatever reason) in a randomized study have already been eliminated from consideration by the math curriculum council. I don't believe she is saying we should just adopt one of those - I think she is saying that we should indeed consider a range of options (which I believe you also support) and that she finds it odd that apparently those options are not going to include two curricula that have been shown in an objective and well-designed study to yield better results than our current curriculum. I share Caren's belief that this seems odd/unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

An idea when next years calendar will be decided?

Anonymous said...

Where is the math report? Is it posted somewhere?

Anonymous said...

Beth Graham is going to appoint a math coordinator and three math coaches. I think this will provide a huge boost for students no matter what curriculum is implemented.

Anonymous said...

"Graham is seeking funding for a new math coordinator and 3 math coaches to help teachers." It's too expensive and irresponsible to purchase a new curriculum - but taking on the expense of yet another administrator and 3 more non-teaching staff IS responsible? By all means, don't listen to the consultant - who said to change the curriculum and use the HS/MS faculty we already have to provide training to the ES teachers. Hire more admin and non-teaching staff.

The "huge boost for students" that Anon 1:24 is talking about is only in the pre-planning phase right now - the same place it has been for the last 4?, 5?, 6? years.

"School Committee member Kip Fonsh of Leverett praised Graham's approach. "I can't applaud you enough..."

Ahh, we're finally back to the good old days of a school committee that rubber stamps the wanton spending of the admin AND provides ample praise in the process.

I will miss you Catherine, thank you for doing so much with the time that you had.

Anonymous said...

Catherine -- what happened at last nights Amherst School Committee meeting? Anything parents need to know?

Abbie said...

To anon@1:24

To my understanding we have had math coaches in each school until the year before last. Do you think they were successful? I don't think we have any evidence that they were and I don't think we have any reason to think that they will increase achievement. We continue to pour resources into positions that don't directly teach our kids. The problem I see with these positions (math coach, math coordinator) is that there is absolutely no way to hold them accountable. Are we going to hire 'real' math experts or are we going to put current staff who aren't very good in the classroom (but can't be let go b/c of tenure) into these positions? A common course of action in the past, I believe.

I am very disappointed by the math report/recommendation produced after 4 months. More later...

I also don't agree with and don't see how Kip Fonsh view about the direction of Amherst Elementary math (in today's Gazette) should even be considered. He is neither an Amherst resident nor on the Amherst SC. What's with these other town SC member's thinking they have any say about Amherst elementary education? Do we hear Amherst SC members offering their opinions about how Leverett and Shutsbury should direct their efforts in math (or anything else)?

ken said...

I would like to point out that Dr. Chen's report named teacher training as the most essential piece of his recommendations, in particular around understanding math more deeply and then helping students do so. A new textbook or program is not teacher training--but a math coach is. I would flip Abbie's question and note that one of the issues with Investigations is that the training for it dried up over the last few years, some teachers who had been trained left or retired, and the many new teachers coming into the district neither were less well-trained trained in using it (or had none at all), nor had anyone help them with program implementation. Actually, when the previous math coach positions were axed, MCAS math scores started dropping, (2 years ago)...just a coincidence? Maybe yes, but probably no, given the complexity of Investigations and what it takes to teach it well.

So in a way, a discussion about reinstituting math coaches is EXACTLY responding to what appears to be Dr. Chen's most important recommendation.

Anonymous said...

We received a letter in today's mail confirming that our 5th grade child has been offered admittance to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.

Each year PVCICS admits Kindergarten and 6th grade students.

Math? In its first year of MCAS completion (2010), PVCICS students performed first in the Commonwealth in third grade Mathematics and English.

We pursued because our Fort River student is not being challenged in math. There are a couple of remaining spots open for sixth grade students entering fall, 2011. Contact PVCICS before March 15; attend March 12 information session 1:00pm at 317 Russell Street, Hadley (next to Whole Foods).

Curious observer said...

Dr. Chen recommended that the high school teachers teach math to the lower school teachers. Was there anything in his report about hiring new staff? His recommendation certainly seems cheaper and more financially sustainable than funding 3.5 math coaches in each elementary school. Also, why hire math coaches to help teachers teach a curriculum Dr. Chen recommended replacing? Is there any evidence that math coaches improve children's performance in math? Does the math action plan offer any research to support it's recommendations?

Anonymous said...

A couple of comments to Curious Observer:

Dr. Chen's suggestion that MS and HS teachers train ES teachers was a poor recommendation made by someone who does not know how the schools operate. When is this training supposed to happen? At night? The MS and HS teachers have their own responsibilities at their own schools to teach their own students, do their own PD and collaborate among themselves.

As far as the necessity of math coachs based on textbooks, no matter what text is chosen for use in the ES, math coaches will be required. And, if a new text is chosen, it will be even more crtical to have the coaches in place to train the ES teachers to use the new text.

The idea that we should blindly follow all the suggestions in Dr. Chen's report is just plain silly. He comes here for a few days and he is an expert in all things math in Amherst? Yes, he had many very good suggestions and I am happy to see in Ms. Graham's report that many of them will be implemented in our schools. And, I am equally pleased that recommendations that don't make sense will not be implemented.

Curious observer said...

The point wasn't to blindly follow Dr. Chen, it was what Dr. Chen actually said. Did your own dislike of Dr. Chen's suggestions distort your reading of what the posting said?

The high school teachers could be paid for their extra teaching -- cheaper than adding new teachers. Lots of teachers work in the summer. It seems obvious that having high school teachers teach other teachers would create ties between all the teachers of math in the elementary, middle and high schools. The teachers would get to know each other, talk about math education, problems, ask questions, exchange ideas about curriculum and teaching methods. The educational community Dr. Chen was saying was central to improving math instruction for the children.

Anonymous said...

Dear Curious Observer:

Perhaps your dislike of the Math Action Plan distorted your reading of MY post. Here is what I said "Yes, he had many very good suggestions and I am happy to see in Ms. Graham's report that many of them will be implemented in our schools."

MS and HS teachers providing coaching during the school year, which is when it is need, not just in the summer, is not a feasible option - unless of course you want to sacrifice math education in the MS and HS.

You are the one who wants to blindly follow every single one of Dr. Chen's recommendations. I for one am glad we have in Amherst a Curriculum Director who can think for herself and can sift out recommendations that are good for Amherst from those that are not good for Amherst.

Curious observer said...

My friend at 2:02. Haven't read the action plan, just heard about the math coaches which was not a Dr. Chen recommendation and seems expensive in a time of budget cuts. What parts of Dr. Chen's plan will be implemented?

Anonymous said...

Teachers need to do one very important thing that I am not sure research or data will prove to be true or not, or that anyone has ever done the research...that is connect with each other...know what curriculum is being taught...what ever is chosen, and teach it the with the same even handed approach to every child every some schools 1st grade and 6th grade teachers do not even know each other, never mind know what the other is teaching. Until there is a general connection amongst all schools within a system we will continue to see our children floundering about. The achievement gap, as some graciously call it, is a harsh, sad, reality of a lot of Amhert's students and talking about it, raising awareness, is one thing, but doing something to change it is another and I've yet to see this happen. :-(