3/22/10 BOF/BOR public hearing on school budget
School budgets are obviously critical to excellence in education, and something we all need to rally to support. Following is information from PTC on the budget. Also, download the powerpoint on budget implications of various cuts from the BOE meeting on March 9.
Information excerpted from PTC email and BOE slide deck/ad:
BOE Budget Information and Talking Points
The joint BOF and BOR fiscal committee public hearing is rescheduled for Monday, March 22nd, at 6:30, at Turn of River. It is extremely important that there be a large showing at this hearing. Even if you don't speak, please try to attend. Below are talking points on the budget .
THE BOARD OF ED BUDGET REQUEST
The BOE is asking for a 1.81% increase over last year's budget, an increase necessary to cover fixed costs. The only enhancement is for a continuation of literacy initiative started last year. There are no staff reductions in this proposed budget. This budget request by the BOE is the smallest requested increase in years
SMALL TAX INCREASE
The city has presented its budget to the BOF, which includes the BOE portion. The total tax increase necessary to cover both the city side and the BOE, if no cuts are made, is 2.65%. This would be the lowest tax increase in years. Some members of the BOF have made clear that they do not want a tax increase higher than 0 - 1%. To accomplish that, approximately 7 million dollars would have to be cut from either the city side, the BOE side, or some combination thereof. The BOE has asked Dr. Starr to present scenarios of what cuts could be considered if, in fact, a multi million dollar cut is made to the BOE budget. Following is the response in and Advocate Ad:
[Advocate Ad] THE FUTURE OF OUR SCHOOLS AND OUR CITY ARE AT STAKE
Last year, Stamford’s school budget was cut by 7 million dollars. Over the past 5 years, our
schools have lost 70 teaching positions. This year, the Board of Education has frozen teacher sala
ries and cut funding across the district.
The Board of Education is seeking the smallest increase in years - 1.8% - the minimum to maintain our current level of education.
If the school budget is not approved, our schools are at risk of losing $5.6 million dollars - or
more. A $5.6 million dollar cut could mean any combination of the following:
Closure of one school - elementary or middle
Moving from full-day kindergarten to half-day
Cutting 91 teachers;
Maximizing class sizes - 25 children per class in elementary schools, 30 in middle and high schools
Elimination of extracurricular programs - freshman sports, debate, chorus, etc.
Reduction in AP courses
We are living in tough economic times. However, as citizens in this city we must pay to maintain
our necessary services. We cannot divest from our schools to the point from which we will not
recover. That will be much too high a price to pay.
Below are some talking points that might be helpful if you feel you want to speak at the hearing on Monday. Even if you simply state that you are in support of this increase, your voice is important.
-7 million dollar cut to the school budget
-lost 40 teaching positions
-over 70 teaching positions lost in the past 5 years.
-BOE obtained a hard freeze on teachers’ salaries
- saved the City 5 million dollars
-BOE made across the board reductions in the district
Building spending is on freeze- only emergency repairs are being made
THIS YEAR’S REQUESTED BUDGET INCREASE IS THE SMALLEST IN YEARS - 1.81%
This budget reduces, but keeps, all educational programs and all teachers.
LOST STATE FUNDING:
For example, the State is only funding special education at 75% of what was originally committed for this year. Providing a certain level of special education services are state and federal mandates, therefore, the BOE must cover those losses.
MANDATES: Despite the economy, schools still must meet increasing state and federal mandates: By 2014 all children must meet proficiency targets
NEEDS OF OUR STUDENTS:
Despite the economy, our school district still must serve all children, including our needy children- and make sure they meet those state and federal targets:
Over 40% of our children qualify for free or reduced price lunch
37% percent of our children come from homes where English is not the first language
Almost 15% of our children are not fluent in English
Almost 10% of our children require special education services
We cannot let our infrastructure erode. If we are not getting enough help from the federal and state government, the burden falls on our city. We all have to pay a little to ensure that this city thrives.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MAINTAINING PUBLIC SCHOOLS
A quality education is the responsibility of the entire city. It also benefits the entire city. A range of economic studies show a strong benefit to a local economy from strong public schools: The growth rate of cities is directly linked to those cities’ educational attainment. Not only do strong schools increase property values, but it has been shown that increased spending on public schools raises property values beyond the tax increase used to finance that spending. So, spending to keep schools strong increases property values. Public schools are not only a large employer but also have a multiplier effect in supporting other jobs through contracting, spending in the service, financial, construction and other industries.
Good Public Schools attract business--Quality of life decisions have been shown to be the most influential decision making factor in business location decisions – and public schools are a major factor in those quality-of-life decisions. Maintaining our public schools is an integral part of keeping our entire city viable. If the city divests from our schools, our city will not be able to attract businesses and residents, our property values will fall further, and we will find ourselves in the same position as many formerly great, currently struggling Connecticut cities.
2/23/10 BOE meeting fireworks
Nine months ago, dozens of parents spoke at a BOE meeting in favor of most aspects of MSR, including detracking, but urged the board to move cautiously on the dramatic reduction in the number of flexible ability groups - noting that teacher training was rushed and inadequate and the supports were not in place to make that successful. In response, the board voted to extend the superintendent's contract instead and move on without asking any hard questions.
Nine months later, due to some outstanding new board members who we helped to elect, things go a little bit differently at BOE meetings. Highlights from tonight:
- Dr. Bruno, head of curriculum, acknowledged that the program/curriculum for academic support and intervention in middle school is not yet figured out, and they're not sure they'll have the budget to figure it out even next year. A.S. is one of the critical elements of making the 2-group system work. Wow - seems like something Dr. Starr would have wanted in place BEFORE moving forward.
- Dr. Bruno also made a fascinating point that perhaps the most important aspect of closing the gap is driving literacy by third grade. She said that states actually project future prison capacity requirements based on third grade iliteracy levels. So why are we jumping into this in 6th grade when things are too far gone. These kids don't need to be thrown into the deep end without a float. They need handholding and support. Our model school system did not jump in in 6th grade - they started in first.
- Lorraine Olsen suggested that 7th grade changes should be piloted first. She asked what the implications of going to 3 groups would be. She said parents have asked these questions for months without answers.
- President Jackie Heftman proceded to try to hide behind process issues to avoid having these questions answered. She said the board's role is to "support the superintendent." Wow! We thought their role might include asking him some tough questions along the way. We hope Ms. Heftman is being well compensated for being his PR agent and front man.
- To his credit, Dr. Starr answered anyway. To his discredit, he said the train has left the station, and there would be no way to implement pilots. Everything is his decision and to change that the board would need to implement new policies or fire him. He also said he only has to provide answers to things that are tied to policies as part of reporting out to the board, or that get majority votes in committee to be on future agendas.
- Dr. Rauh then said policy 6152 requires placement of students based on their needs and previous experiences and that placement may take into consideration the school staff's views. This created a stunned look on the faces of Dr. Starr and Ms. Heftman as the realization began to sink in that over-reliance on policy can actually cut both ways, now that there are people on the board who actually look at the policies that are already in place.
Nothing was resolved and the board still has enough votes to hide behind process and perpetuate the fiction of what two groups means, as opposed to the reality of the execution gaps (see below) that exist in reality. However, it is significant progress that these discussions are being had. No more unchecked baloney. There was a sense of progress in the air.
It's all about execution... (or lack thereof!)
Rational people might differ over interpreting the research and theories surrounding grouping. At the end of the day, however, what happens in the classroom is going to be more about execution than about theory, and unfortunatley (but expectedly given the rush) there have been serious gaps in execution of the transition to a two-group system in middle school in Stamford.
If one were serious about having a long term impact and making the reform work, it would seem logical to want to move carefully and deliberately, with pilots and open and honest feedback, to ensure success. The SPS administration has not done so. They have moved swiftly and recklessly, jumping to two-groups city wide in September 2009, without putting in place the conditions that are critical to the success of the systems that they claim to be modeling.
This is leading to numerous problems (some listed below), many of which are being covered up by an administration known for its autocratic control and complete lack of transparency. This is an administration that appears more concerned with what the slide deck looks like and how the press clippings look, than what's actually happening in the classroom.
Some of the gaps that students, parents, teachers and administrators have disclosed to this writer:
- One of Stamford's key role-model systems, Rockville Centre, does academic support (AS) in groups of 6 to 10 kids, and they have been working since 1st grade with these kids to help them keep up in a diverse classroom to allow a 2-group system in middle school to be feasible. Stamford didn't do that. We jumped in with 6th graders with massive spans in math and reading levels, and throw them together; and we have 20+ kids in AS classes. Jumping in in 6th grade with kids who got 1s on the CMT's is sort of like just throwing them into the deep end. And the 20+ kid AS classes is like not giving them a life preserver.
- AS is described as being integral to making the largely heterogeneous classrooms work. Yet the curriculum is not set and it is often not coordinated with the core subjects!
- The ability of the teacher to provide differentiated instruction within a heterogeneous classroom is considered essential -- the secret sauce of heterogeneous grouping. It is considered an expert skill set. We have thrown all our teachers into this with relatively little training, into one of the most challenging differentiation situtations of any case study available. Very large classes and an excessively large range of ability.
- One example - math teacher goes over one problem with the class until all of them get it. It often takes the full period. The kids who got it in the first 30 seconds get to pull their hair out. Guess that differentiation instruction didn't click.
- Advisory period sounds great in the paper. But where's the curriculum? Why are they playing connect four and doing origami?
- A senior administrator explained to a group that AS is great because if you're falling behind in one area like reading you get extra support in that every day. Unfortunately, she was confusing their PR position with the reality that everyone goes back and forth to the large math and LA class every other day. They don't actually customize the program.
- Why is the math teacher slowing down honors math because they are 2 weeks ahead of CP? Acceleration was part of the concept.
- If no kids are ever moved out of honors for not keeping up, isn't that tracking?
- Why were there no plans for dealing with kids moving up, such that there can be 36 kids in honors social studies?
- The list goes on, but the point is, the theory may be right, but the execution is certainly not.
The question becomes, if all the ideas about heterogeneous grouping are so good (which I'm not sure they are, but let's say so for the sake of argument), then why not move methodically and get them right instead of implementing them in a rush with all these serious flaws in ways that are likely to blow up and cause real damage and quite likely undermine the school system and community long term. I can come up with two possible answers:
- Maybe they are caught up in theory land and are merely operationally incompetent and out of touch so therefore oblivious to the obvious implementation issues, OR worse
- Maybe they are fully aware that there are serious issues but in a rush to push everything through for personal resume building reasons, with little care about the wreckage that may be left behind, because they will be elsewhere when the sh*t hits the fan.
I'm having trouble coming up with a third theory.
1/21/10 Forum on Middle School Reform at Rogers - the good, the bad and the ugly
Thanks to the many SREE members who attended the meeting at Rogers. For those who missed it, there was some good and some bad, mainly surrounding the definition of and support for rigid tracking in all subjects vs. flexible ability grouping in some subjects.
Dr. Starr first presented his standard slide deck (which it turns out may be part of his interview portfolio too based on recent news of his job hunting
). He presented the problems with tracking -- the practice of assigning students to ability tracks based on 4th grade test scores and keeping them rigidly in those tracks in all subjects all the way through middle school. He focused heavily on the negative effect of tracking on minorities, which is well documented and undisputed.
Of course, SREE has always favored the elimination of tracking. As an aside, tracking was never a formal policy of the school system. It was the byproduct of administrative laziness: first, not figuring out how one could manage the logistics of a schedule with kids in different groups for different subjects, and second, not doing the evaluation and paperwork needed to move kids up and down more dynamically. Tracking never had a constituency. But nevertheless, tracking has been a reality whether intended or not, and there seems to be universal support (including in SREE's position statement) for its elimination.
THE GOOD - STARR ACKNOWLEDGES THAT FLEXIBLE GROUPING IS NOT TRACKING: During the Q&A came some good news. In response to an SREE member's question, Dr. Starr FINALLY went on record in front of a crowd saying that tracking and grouping are different, and that, for instance, Westover's model of flexible ability grouping in math and reading is not tracking and gets good results. Pretty big breakthrough.
THE BAD: But then, as if catching himself for giving away too much, he continued down an unfortunate path, switching gears mid-answer to address tracking again. He said that many people in the community would like to keep the practice of tracking in place for the benefit of their own kids in the top tracks, with the side effect of denying kids in the low tracks (many of who are minorities) the opportunity to grow. This is a disturbing tactic -- to make up a non-existent "other side" that is pro-tracking and then position their beliefs, agenda and goals in order to try to manipulate support. Unfortunately, given control of the microphone, Dr. Starr was left mostly unchallenged on this. And left unchallenged, it seemed plausible to some who have not been closely following the conversation..
: When many SREE members in the audience raised hands to comment that no one supports tracking, and remind him that he even just said 5 minutes earlier that tracking and grouping are not the same and that grouping works, Dr. Starr abruptly cut off Q&A. Some of this dialog was covered in the Advocate's article
. One SREE member commented, "if this is how he treats the public, no wonder the teachers and administrators won't come forward to voice dissent."
THE RIDICULOUS: Even though Dr. Starr was honest enough to acknowledge (briefly) that grouping is not tracking and even that grouping works, the administration has allowed the mischaracterization to fester to the point that:
- Asked afterwards by an SREE why not move to 3 groups, the president of the school board said "that would be a return to tracking." She is so confused by all that has been presented to her in the last year that she doesn't even know the difference.
- Asked the same question in a breakout group, a co-president of the PTC gave the same answer. Interesting pattern.
1/14/10 Response to Lecker Letter in today's Advocate
We will have a more complete response posted shortly. However, one quick (but illustrative) item to clarify an obscure reference Ms. Lecker makes about some of the research we cite. Ms. Lecker states:
In fact, one of their prime sources received a Bunkum Award for shoddy research last year from the University of Colorado.
This sounds pretty bad. Are we being like the global warming deniers? Did we cite a bunch of obscure studies by fringe organizations to make a case that no "real scholars" believe? We had to do a little digging to find out what Ms. Lecker was talking about...
It turns out that this group out of University of Colorado attacks people who disagree with them on heterogeneous grouping, and they have gone after a recent study by Tom Loveless. So to set the record straight:
- Tom Loveless is a renowned scholar at the Brookings Institution and a former professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School. Here's his bio.
- University of Colorado, by contrast, is a perennial entrant in the listing of top 20 party schools in the country, not that there's anything wrong with that.
- We actually did not cite Dr. Loveless's research in the findings that we presented in May, but here's some of his research, which is indeed concerning for education in America.
- What Dr. Loveless was kind enough to do for SREE was review the list of research Dr. Starr was using to make his case, and here's what he concluded. It is in keeping with our view that the research cited by the administration has been intentionally one-sided.
Research we did cite came from professors at: Northwestern, UC Davis, University of Michigan, Cal State, Stanford and USC. Have a look.
1/8/2010 Response to Who Are These People? (Letter in the Advocate by Helene Napolitano)
See response from Nicole Zussman.
Ms. Napolitano's letter implies we are operating secretly and questions what we're up to. We appreciate the attention! We have been trying to get links to our website into the paper for months, so hopefully this will help call greater attention to it.
In terms of who we are, we are a non-partisan political action committee organized to advocate for excellence in education in Stamford. Our primary initial focus has been the middle school reform efforts, some of which we view as positive and some we view as negative. See Position.
Specifically who is involved: parents, teachers and former school administrators (current ones who agree are too scared about saying so publicly for obvious reasons). See: Petition text | signatures and comments | supporters of endorsement
We were actively involved in the last campaign cycle, in which we helped deliver a clean sweep, with all three of our endorsed candidates winning seats on the school board. We began organizing informally in response to misleading representations about the "research" on ability grouping that were put forth by Dr. Starr. See research
We have several hundred members who are part of our email lists and a smaller group that is part of the facebook page, and we welcome new members to join. If you support flexible ability grouping and our position, please help us increase our numbers by registering in the left column of our home page. Better yet, donate here.
12/2/09 Georgiana White, former department head in the Stamford schools, spoke to current staff and 28 former colleagues, and she published their unanimous viewpoint here. This is a must read.
11/15/09 This just in from Prof. Figlio at Northwestern
Prof. David Figlio was kind enough to send us a copy of his 2002 piece which concludes that proper review of the data reveals no evidence that [grouping] hurts low-ability children, and that it may help low-ability children. Article
11/12/09 Multiple responses to Advocate Editorial: Don't backtrack on school reform.
See two responses to this editorial:
From Geoff Alswanger: The Advocate mischaracterized the arguments of concerned parents who support most of the middle school reforms but who disagree with the extreme move toward heterogeneous grouping that the administration is imposing on our schools without public support, training, or proof that this move will help all students. Full reply
From Alan Stockman: Those of us with children in the school system who want to stay do not want to “backtrack” or stop reform of middle school. The “us vs. them” approach pursued by the editorial and by many supporters of heterogeneous grouping does not unite us; it divides our community on this very important issue. Full reply
This editorial has finally confirmed what many of our members have felt for some time: First, the Advocate is in fact highly biased in this discussion. Second, it has reached its conclusion based on a misunderstanding and/or over-simplification of the facts.
The editorial confuses terms (like grouping and tracking) and presents an argument that no one is actually making as a straw man to argue against. They claim we want to put the "genie back in the bottle." See our position. We support 6 of 7 key points of the reform, including the elimination of tracking. We feel one point is misguided - and that it's an important one, the need for flexible ability grouping in some subjects.
The editorial follows the most common fallacy in these discussions. It essentially says that because outcomes have been unsatisfactory, everything about past practice is wrong and any change should be supported; that we are "destructive" for even questioning the merit of one of the seven points of the reform; and that we should simply wait and see if it works.
Following the Advocate's logic, what if the administration proposed we no longer teach reading, since we've done that in the past, and scores are too low, it must be part of the problem? That's obviously silly, but that's exactly the point.
Then the Advocate becomes almost humorous for chastising us for our views and then imploring that we must be involved. Then it says we should sit on our hands as all the changes happen and just hold Dr. Starr accountable for outcomes.
Meanwhile, in the prior day's cover story, the paper quoted Angela Lorrenti, one of Dr. Starr's staunchest supporters, saying that gains in test scores could take 10 years to materialize. How long should we wait to hold Dr. Starr accountable? Do they read their own articles?
11/5/09 Multiple responses to Martin Levine's op ed
From Alan Stockman
Martin Levine’s Op-Ed piece in the November 5th ADVOCATE (“We must stop setting our kids up to fail”) is well-intentioned but very much off-base. Read full response.
From Claudia Kraut Rimerman
I find myself, a parent of three children in Stamford public schools, agreeing with nearly every premise of Martin Levine’s November 5 letter “We must stop setting our kids up to fail” but reaching a very different conclusion. Eliminating ability grouping from schools will not improve education for our students, as Mr. Levine proposes, but will result in a decline for all but those students at the mean. Read full response
11/4/09 Prof. Elise Lev, Ed.D., responds to Cooper
Prof. Lev refutes Eric Cooper's 10/29/09 piece in the Advocate titled "Children belong in intellectually diverse classrooms," explaining that "Mr. Cooper distorts the research findings and undermines the serious discussion that needs to take place." Full response
Her response, submitted 11/1/09 was unfortunately not published by the Advocate before the election, but she has shared it with us so it could be on the record here!
11/3/09 Clean Sweep!
Congratulations to Jerry Pia, Polly Rauh and Lorraine Olson! And thanks to every member of Stamford Residents for Excellence in Education for your efforts, great emails, articles, letters, etc. Our three endorsed candidates have all won! And your work on their behalf was absolutely essential to the victory. In fact, the article in the Advocate about the election specifically highlights our endorsement and this issue! We have made our presence felt and now our voices WILL be heard! We have placed three fantastic members onto the BOE, and made a MAJOR STATEMENT in the process.
Congratulations to Jerry Pia, Polly Rauh and Lorraine Olson!
And thanks to every member of Stamford Residents for Excellence in Education for your efforts, great emails, articles, letters, etc. Our three endorsed candidates have all won! And your work on their behalf was absolutely essential to the victory. In fact, the article in the Advocate about the election specifically highlights our endorsement and this issue!
We have made our presence felt and now our voices WILL be heard!
We have helped place three fantastic members onto the BOE, and made a MAJOR STATEMENT in the process.
Message to Parents: Don't give up! But do continue to speak up...
If we have learned anything from the misguided implementation of the two-group system, it is that if concerned parents sit by quietly for too long, CRAZY things can happen. We will now have members on the BOE who are ready to listen to us. But our voice and our vigilance in support of excellence in the school system will be essential on an ongoing basis. This was just the "end of the beginning." Stay tuned...
Message to Dr. Starr: The community has spoken loudly and clearly. We are with you and support you for many changes you are making. But we are NOT with you for heterogeneous grouping. Every child should be challenged.
See position. There is tremendous support for the majority of the changes you've made. However, the community has weighed in unambiguously on your decisions and direction regarding grouping. We hope to have a system where all children are challenged and grow to their full potential.
10/29/09 Our endorsement is making noise!
Nearly 200 people have signed the endorsement! See their signatures and comments. And keep 'em coming!
10/29/09 On Advocate Endorsement of board candidates
Two out of three ain't bad... but it is still a "D"...
The good news is that the Advocate has endorsed 2 of the 3 candidates we endorse - Polly Rauh and Jerry Pia. The paper acknowledges their superior level of experience.
However, they also endorsed Fred Pierre-Louis, who has an extreme view supporting the complete elimination of all ability grouping in Stamford (see candidate positions). Meanwhile, his own kids have spent most of their time in private schools.
Olson is a better choice for your third vote next Tuesday (see our endorsement).
The Advocate also talks of its fears of Rauh and Pia "reversing this year's middle school reform." We're not sure where they got "reversing" from... virtually everyone is in favor of the majority of the reforms - see position. The question is whether the reform should include the move toward heterogeneous grouping - a concept that is based on a controversial foundation, studied in districts with little resemblance to Stamford.
10/29/09 On Cooper's op ed in Advocate
Golly! Now that we know that we can just say "you must have worked really hard on this" and kids' test scores will go up 30% we can save all sorts of money as a system!!
There has been enough distorted and one-sided research cited in support of moving to heterogeneous grouping. Let's be honest - there are an ample number of studies on all sides of this issue. See here.
But the bottom line is, how are you going to realistically teach math or reading for instance to kids who are several grade levels apart in their current understanding of the subject, sitting next to each other. Today. The answer is, not effectively. The kids who are ahead become the tutors to the kids who are behind. That's not some theoretical study of another district. That's what's happening. Today. In our schools. That's the secret sauce. It may temporarily boost scores for the lower performers, but at the cost of the education of their free tutors.
Is that the equality that Cooper is looking for?
Equality is giving every child the education they need. Not dumbing down some kids, making them tutors, to lift up others in an effort to get them all to wind up at the same equal end point. That should be against the child labor laws.
10/28/09 On Nabel's op ed in the Advocate - two responses
By Nicole Zussman, to the Stamford BOE (excerpts below, see full response)
As an advocate of ability grouping and a parent of a Cloonan 6th grader who happens to be in the honors group, I was completely offended by Susan Nabel’s editorial and what it insinuated about the high achieving students in our district....
Nabel stated that students perhaps felt entitled to be in the top group and that placement in this group was not based on academic achievement but some of other type of elitist placement. This is insulting to those of us who spend endless hours working on homework with our children and providing extra-curricular academic enrichment...
By Christine Papadakis, to the Stamford BOE (excerpts below, see full response)
In an editorial published in yesterday's Stamford Advocate Ms. Nabel wrote: "As stewards of the district's children, members of the Board of Education must be mindful of their responsibility". I completely agree with this statement and that is why I find the remainder of her editorial to be so disturbing. Is Ms. Nabel implying that the BOE has not been mindful of their stewardship in the past? I would like to know what else other than "work and performance" earned students a place in the coveted 0 group? What does Ms. Nabel know and why has she as president of the Board of Education not taken appropriate measures?
How does eliminating ability grouping in math open the doors for more students to work harder? Let's not forget that entry into Julliard or MIT is not based on hard work alone; ability is a pre-requisite.
Earlier pieces and letters
Paid for by Stamford Residents for Excellence in Education, Nicole Zussman, Treasurer.