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Thread: Response to Dawn Davies Town Crier letter (7/24/2008)

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  1. #1
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    Default Response to Dawn Davies Town Crier letter (7/24/2008)

    From the 7/24/2008 Town Crier letters to the editor

    Quote Originally Posted by Dawn Davies

    Are our students lagging behind?
    TO THE EDITOR:
    Over the past few months new sources have provided support for the conclusion that the United States, Massachusetts and Wayland are falling behind educationally.

    Gov. Deval Patrick’s June 2008 Education Action Agenda (June 2008) documents Massachusetts’ educational decline versus the developed world. While Patrick’s agenda focuses on the educational lag of the poor in Massachusetts, many of the same educational challenges face Wayland. Patrick describes the standards in Massachusetts as high, but Massachusetts standards are significantly below those of the developed world. For instance, Massachusetts schools have a shorter year and day than our world peers. The public schools addressing that concern are mainly Massachusetts charter schools, where the day and year are often longer. Charter schools are the most successful recent educational innovation in Massachusetts and the only remedy for middle class parents who want a higher quality education than local school boards like Wayland can provide. The Patrick Administration’s proposal suggests an expansion cap on Charter schools, which is unfortunate. Such a cap would limit Wayland parents’ ability to catch their children up with the rest of the world.

    There is a new documentary coming out on the state of American schools. At www.flunkedthemovie.com one can see the trailer, and read about what prompted the documentary. As this documentary notes, most parents think their own school systems are preparing their students adequately, with the educational lag occurring elsewhere.

    Want to see if our educational lag could affect your child’s college plans? Take the "Third World Challenge." The producer of the documentary "Two Million Minutes" has teamed up with an online educational program to create an online test. This test is a simplified version of the test that rural Indians must take to go on to 11th grade. This test is for our entering 12th graders - our soon-to-be college applicants. Given the falling dollar, greater numbers of international students are expected to apply to American colleges next year. This might be useful to see what your child is up against.

    Dawn Davies
    Woodridge Road

    ----------

    [In part, Dawn replied as follows to a Town Crier discussion board post responding to her original letter.]

    Many sources are now also making clear what the problem is, and it is not primarily money. It is a lack of focus. The extracurriculars many support so strongly come at a cost that is more than financial - it is academic.

    [Regarding], class size as a determinant of academic performance, [it] is worth noting that, after pots of money being thrown at reducing class size, the idea has lost credibility with almost any authority except the educational unions. For instance, Patrick's plan to improve education contains no reference to reducing class size beyond second grade. Nowhere in any recent source I could find is class size for older grades pushed as an initiative.
    I couldn't agree more with Dawn's original overall point. The data clearly show impressive performance on the part of select students in other countries. US schools are well-advised to benchmark against best international educational practices.

    Similarly, the data show that some charter schools do quite well (see below for MA details). It does not surprise me when charter schools perform better than public schools, as the families who opt for the charter school path have self-identified as being motivated. While charter schools are required to accept all students who apply on a lottery basis, they do not necessarily have the same applicant pool as public schools. To randomly take just one local example, the name of the Advanced Math and Science Academy may discourage applications by some students. Regardless, public schools should consider the best practices of charter schools as well.

    Massachusetts schools perform among the best in the United States, and the Wayland Public Schools rank near the top of Massachusetts schools when judged on a broad base of measures. This is an excellent position from which to further our pursuit of continuous improvement.

    Where the thinking of the Wayland Public Schools begins to diverge is in the area of co-curricular activities: athletics, arts, and activities. For every $10 we spend on academics, we spend $1 on co-curricular endeavors. I'm aware of no evidence to suggest that this is overdoing it with respect to co-curriculars, which provide multiple benefits including but not limited to teamwork, creativity, problem-solving, fitness, and outlets for energies that might otherwise be less constructively applied.

    It is a curious decision to downplay the importance of funding. If funding were not important, we would not be spending time, energy, and political capital fighting for overrides. With more funding, we might have full day kindergarten, perhaps a longer school day and year in general, more foreign languages, a better wellness program, and many of the program enhancements we'd like to offer. Certainly, diverting the minimal co-curricular funds won't help us accomplish these objectives, even if these co-curricular activities weren't valuable in their own right.

    All of that being said, the WPS constantly strives to improve, in cost-effective ways, looking both inward and outward for successful paths forward.

    ----------
    Charter school performance
    This report from the Massachusetts DOE looks at the performance of charter schools compared with their "Comparison School District," or CSD (that is, the conventional public district which the charter school students would otherwise have attended).

    The data in this 2006 report only goes through 2005--if there is a more contemporary unbiased report, I would be interested in seeing it. The main conclusion is that in 2005, charter schools significantly outperformed their CSD 36% of the time, whereas the CSD outperformed the charter school 11% of the time.

    The report states, "Although that pattern existed for all subgroups, the likelihood of the significant difference favoring the charter school was most prevalent for the racial/ethnic subgroups of African American and Hispanic students and the subgroup of students who are Low Income."

    The reader is left to infer how the average and best charter schools compare to a high-performing public school district such as the WPS.

  2. #2
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    Default School performance - why or why not is Wayland doing a good job

    I believe that the Wayland schools do a very good job educating our children. This is in large part because the majority of these children's parents are well-educated and motivated to help the children and the schools. I have always maintained that it is not telling how the brightest do in school. It is: how many "average" and "disinterested" students surge ahead in middle school and high school because of the curriculum and the teaching? I couldn't care less what MCAS says about Wayland Schools because many excellent private schools do not use standardized testing to evaluate children's progress. I object to any time my children spend being "taught" to the test. What a waste of intellectual time.

    The teacher's union does little to help our students. They help the teachers. I was shocked to learn that to be a public school teacher in Massachusetts you have to belong to the union. Brings me back to my days in the USSR. In Texas I know, it is optional. If a teacher has health insurance through a spouse's job, he/she could negotiate a higher salary instead. I think it is fine to acknowledge that some teacher are (gasp!) better or more effective than others.

    I also read recently a doctor's book on recommending sports for children. He had an interesting perspective. He believes that sports like golfing, skiiing, tennis and swimming are ideal because people often practice them for life. It's unusual to see groups of 50 year old out playing football, lacrosse or soccer. So, perhaps we should change our minds about catagorizing golfing and skiiing as "luxury sports" and thinking of them as "life-long sports" and encourage children to play them. (Personally I'd rather go pheasant hunting than golf. I took a 6 week course and learned that I'm a terrible golfer and that it hurt my back!)

    Yes, charters schools do better because they are a self-selecting populating. The Metco program works because it is a self-selecting group seeking the same thing: A better education.

    I've rambled, sorry.
    Last edited by Elizabeth Price; 07-25-2008 at 08:28 PM. Reason: correcting errors

  3. #3
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Elizabeth Price View Post
    It's unusual to see groups of 50 year old out playing football, lacrosse or soccer.
    Elizabeth, thanks much for your general thoughts. It's great to see some fresh voices in the Discussion Forum!

    I must take good-natured exception to your comment about adult sports, however. While I cannot speak for football or lacrosse, adult soccer is alive and well in Wayland. At present, on the men's side, there are 2 teams in the 40-49 age group (I play on one) and 3 teams in the 50-59 age group. I'm less clear on the women's side, but there are numerous teams there as well.

    Interested readers (and more importantly, interested players!) can find contact information for the various teams on the Wayland Youth Soccer web site here.

  4. #4
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    Default Adult Soccer and other stuff

    Jeff, I second your note about fresh voices. There are many "lurkers" here, and I certainly have no objection to people just reading, but would love to see more of them posting, too!

    I inquired at one point about joining the women's team for my age group (no details required here, I hope!) and found there were no slots available.

    But your point about athletics (and I would expand it to include co-curriculars) is well-taken. I think teamwork and creativity are essential to creating the effective population we need for the future, and sometimes these suffer when we focus too much on tests and the three-Rs taken strictly.

    I agree, too, that there simply must be more effective ways of working with, and incentivizing and motivating, teachers. I don't know the full consequences of what Gov. Patrick is proposing, and would love any thoughts from those who have studied his proposal.

  5. #5
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    Default Response to Dawn Davies Town Crier letter (7/24/2008)

    If you want to ignite young minds in large numbers, you need inspirational teachers of the highest caliber. I'd much rather have had my kids spend 8 hours a week in a packed unheated barn with the likes of Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Feynman, Randy Pauscher, Orson Scott Card, and Victor Borge than full-time in a secondary school with a class size of 10, beautiful facilities, and great athletics.

    Dave

  6. #6
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    Default Ditto

    Same here.

  7. #7
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    Default Totally agree!

    I totally agree!

    For me, when I was at Wayland High School, some of those teachers were Joe McCoy and Helene Mensh (and if I may include an elementary school teacher, my very favorite teacher of all-time, my sixth grade teacher at Loker). (I took six years of Latin, but somehow never managed to end up in class with Frank Smith). Mr. McCoy and Ms. Mensh were as good and exciting as any of the teachers I had in college (who included Lester Thoreau, Rudi Dornbusch and Al Drake)

    I can't speak to the current crop of teachers at the High School, but I hope that there are some that follow in the footsteps of these past great Wayland teachers.
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 07-28-2008 at 03:06 PM. Reason: to remove name for privacy

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    I totally agree!

    For me, when I was at Wayland High School, some of those teachers were Joe McCoy and Helene Mensh (and if I may include an elementary school teacher, my very favorite teacher of all-time, my sixth grade teacher at Loker). (I took six years of Latin, but somehow never managed to end up in class with Frank Smith). Mr. McCoy and Ms. Mensh were as good and exciting as any of the teachers I had in college (who included Lester Thoreau, Rudi Dornbusch and Al Drake)
    During your 12 years of elementary and secondary education, Kim, roughly how many teachers did you have in total?

    Dave
    Last edited by Kim Reichelt; 07-28-2008 at 03:07 PM. Reason: to remove name from quote to match edit to original post

  9. #9
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    Default

    Dave, during elementary school, I had five teachers (I had the same teacher for first and second grades). During Jr and Sr. High, I guess it would have had about 6 teachers per year, with some duplication (e.g., I had Ms. Mensh for several years). Dunno - about 35 teachers in total. Most of them were very good, several were truly outstanding. There were a few I wasn't crazy about, and one who I thought was awful.

    Why do you ask?

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