Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Planning meeting next week!

The Citywide Parent Council will be meeting on Monday, April 24, 7 pm at the Pollard Memorial Library (in the ground-floor meeting room). This will be an untelevised planning meeting and all interested Lowell parents and guardians are invited to attend.

I've been on the Executive Board since 2000 and in that time we've made many changes, most notably using technology to make it easier for people to participate. Some ideas for next year include decreasing the number of meetings, having more informal meetings where people can freely discuss issues, strengthening ties to individual schools and expanding the role of the CPC Representatives from the schools. By not televising the meeting, we hope people will be encouraged to speak up about what changes they would like to see and what role the CPC should play in the district. We believe that a group of people working together can effect positive change; so - let your voice be heard!


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More issues from Transition Team Forum

There were a lot of speakers last night, but some of the best were from local school committees, Chelmsford, Lowell and Tewksbury, among others. A woman from the Chelmsford SC said that there needs to be a united and resounding message that education is valuable and that it is costly. She urged that there be a lengthy dialogue on what it costs to educate children and the cost of NOT doing so. Jackie Doherty, from the Lowell SC (the other members and the superintendent were at a joint sub-committee meeting on the school building plan) spoke about the importance of restoring pre-school transportation in Lowell (cut in 2003), added support to suggestions by other school committee members that the Board of the DOE be reorganized to allow School Committee members, teachers and principals to be members, and the need for help in the collective bargaining process. This was an issue in Lowell, when we lost the chance to pilot an extended day program in Lowell because the union wouldn't agree to it. Tewksbury SC members also spoke of the difficulty in winning vital concessions around healthcare costs and extending instruction time from their teacher unions (apparently they tried to add 15 minutes of instruction time to the day, without extending the school day, and had an 11 day teacher strike).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Transition Team on Education

I went to the Patrick/Murray Transition Team Forum on education at the Butler School tonight. There were over 100 people there and the audience did the talking, while the Transition Team listened, took notes and asked questions. As might be expected, much of the conversation was about funding. Parents and school committee members from Chelmsford and other towns that are being short-changed by Chapter 70 explained the budget cuts, increased fees and reduced programs that their systems have undergone since 2003. Paul Schlichtman who is the Coordinator of Research, Testing and Assessment in Lowell, while also serving on the Arlington School Committee made an excellent point about Chapter 70 funding: that densely populated, low-growth towns are being penalized under the formula in favor of high-growth areas. That certainly explains why Westford did so much better under Chapter 70 than Chelmsford. I asked that questions of many people last June and could never get a straight answer. Thanks, Paul!Many people urged the team to recommend a change from funding education out of property taxes, something I think Deval Patrick campaigned on, and that certainly makes sense.

Anyone can submit ideas and suggestions to the transition teams by visiting http://www.patrickmurraytransition.org/

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Patrick/Murray Transition Team on Education

The Transition Team on Pre-K-12 Education is coming to Lowell! The Lowell school department and those of surrounding towns will help sponsor this community forum, held Monday, December 11, 7-9 p.m. at the Butler School in Lowell. They are looking for input from all interested parties on the most important issues in education today in order to craft recommendations for Governor-Elect Patrick. Everyone is welcome!

Monday, November 27, 2006

November meeting, continued

I kept waiting for someone to bring up the math curriculum at last Monday's meeting, and finally a brave parent from the studio audience asked the superintendent what she thought of the recent letters to the editor about the new math. While Dr. Baehr had not seen the letters, she is aware of the debate and said that it was somewhat like the old argument about whether reading should be taught with an all-phonics or all-whole language approach. The answer, of course, is that we need both, and she claims that the same is true of math. You do need to teach the basic facts to give kids the foundation to build on, but you also can gain a lot of benefit from the approach that lets students work in groups, discover new ways of getting at the answers, learn from each other, etc. At least that's the theory; somehow I don't think a lot of parents are convinced. I'm going to try to pull together some of the arguments for the new math to see how they stand up to the criticisms, hopefully by tomorrow.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

November meeting and more about math

The November meeting, held Monday night in the Channel 22 studio, was informative, but too short. It was nice to have more of an informal discussion rather than a powerpoint presentation, but almost half of the time was spent discussing safety issues, much of which has been covered at the ongoing Safety Summits. Well, hopefully this information will now get out to more people. We did get quite a few phone calls and emails; in fact, one person emailed about election day safety in the schools, a topic that was not covered at the safety summits. Having been at different schools on election day, I can attest to the fact that in many instances a stranger could stroll into the school, take a wrong turn and roam the hallways at will. Apparently, Tewksbury has taken the step of moving the voting locations out of the schools. Dr. Baehr did say that there is a new rule that the police officers present are there to keep an eye on the schools as well as the ballot box and that the school department will work with the election office to develop a safety plan for election days.

Another positive development from the focus on safety is that schools will take steps to clarify their discipline policies so that if your child is the victim of a bullying incident, for example, then you will know what the typical response is at that school. This reassures parents that a situation will be handled without violating the privacy of the perpetrator. If parents feel that their school has an inadequate response system or that the principal is not responding to their concerns, they should absolutely call Dr. Baehr or Ann Murphy, who is the Interim Assistant Superintendent for Student Services.

While discussing MCAS scores, Dr. Baehr made several points. In Massachusetts, a passing score on MCAS is 220, but a proficient score is 240. The State has ratcheted up the MCAS passing requirement, so that a 220 is now only a 'provisional' passing grade. Any student who receives between 220 and 238 must take and pass certain required courses, depending on their weaknesses. Then there are the added complications from the Feds through No Child Left Behind. Under this law, all (ALL) students must be proficient by 2014; this is measured yearly by checking a school's adequate yearly progress (AYP). Since the school's MCAS performance must increase by a set amount each year, the target keeps getting harder to hit. (MCAS by the way is in the top three hardest standardized state tests in the country). The new rules around English Language Learners (ELLs) dictate that any child in the system for 10 months has to take the MCAS in English; given that Lowell has the largest population of ELL students in the State (1 in 4 Lowell students is an ELL), one can see why our MCAS scores in English Language Arts are fairly flat. The fact is that they have been flat across the state for the last few years. In Math, our results also roughly parallel the state in Gr. 4 and 8. The good news is of course the 10th grade overall MCAS results have made Lowell one of only 3 Urban school districts to have more than 50% of their Sophomores pass MCAS.

Well, I've gone on and on about MCAS, but I think it's important information that doesn't get out there enough, especially when the scores are used as a weapon against the schools more often than not. I'll take up the math question and other stuff tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

More on the new math

Another letter to the editor from someone in Needham protesting the new math. This writer claims that since the so-called Investigations program was implemented in Needham five years ago, fourth-grade MCAS scores have gone from 80% proficient/advanced to 56%.

Here is a quote from a New York parent and high school math teacher who spoke at a math forum in May 2005:

When these types of curricula were introduced in District 2 in the 90's, they were already highly controversial. They had been in use in both California and Texas where parents and educators protested their use in great numbers and with varying effect. In numerous cases, the curricula were replaced by more traditional ones. Never had there been such a controversial attempt at math reform. I recall the "new math" of the 70's and how disastrous a reform attempt that was. Even that failed effort generated significantly less negative publicity than this.

I, too, remember the new math of the 70's and while I escaped it, my younger siblings were not so fortunate and were forced to overcome math phobias and undergo remedial math in college.

More from the New York math teacher, parent and spokesperson:

We send our kids to math tutors in record numbers. Intelligent, hard working kids have trouble doing simple math. We who have grown up with an understanding of elementary mathematics find that we can't help our kids; that many of the games they play and homework they do are so convoluted we either can't figure them out or don't see their significance......When we speak to school officials about our frustration we're condescendingly told that we just need to understand what they're doing.

We have heard these same complaints from Lowell parents. Do parents understand the theory behind constructivist math programs? Again, here is how our "guest" describes and cirtiques the theory:

Constructivist mathematics curricula attempt to teach mathematics by having the students "discover" their own methods for solving problems. A great deal of time and energy is spent having students "discover" things such as if you're multiplying 98 x 28 , you could multiply the "friendly number 100" x 28 and from that subtract that extra 2x28. 2x28 can be found by multiplying 2x30 and subtracting 2x2. This is fine for this problem and in fact is how many good mathematicians would perform this computation in their heads. However, it takes too long and it won't work for calculations such as 34 x 67, 286 x 327, or most others one would need to perform. The purpose of a standard algorithm is to easily and quickly solve a whole class of problems. It generalizes. We can do all problems of this type with the standard multiplication algorithm. In the constructivist curricula, a similarly haphazard way of working with fractions is taught, with similarly disastrous results.

Tomorrow, I will search for an opposing position. To read the full transcripts of the above remarks, visit http://www.nychold.com. Click on the 'letters and testimony' link and scroll down to Bruce Winokur's position paper link.