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.