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Thread: Partial comparison of Advanced Math/Science Academy and Wayland Public Schools

  1. #1
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    Default Partial comparison of Advanced Math/Science Academy and Wayland Public Schools

    A thread on the Town Crier discussion board about whether Advanced Math and Science Academy (AMSA) charter school students are "disadvantaged" relative to Wayland students includes a variant on this post.

    The formation of a charter school in an area that is performing poorly ON AVERAGE does not necessarily mean that the students from that area who attend the charter school perform equally poorly. A parent of a child who struggles might, for instance, be dissuaded from sending his or her child to a school called the Advanced Math and Science Academy.

    To my knowledge, it's not possible to see grade 3, 4, and 5 MCAS scores for the students in AMSA's grade 6-9 charter school. There are, however, comparisons that can be made based on data available on the "profiles" section of the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education web site.

    Student Population

    % White
    - AMSA 86.2%
    - Wayland 79.6%

    % Asian
    - AMSA 8.4%
    - Wayland 10.2%

    % Hispanic
    - AMSA 2.1%
    - Wayland 3.8%

    % African-American
    - AMSA 0.2%
    - Wayland 4.1%

    In the overall student population, white and Asian students tend to be on one side of the achievement gap and Hispanic and African-American students on the other. I have no idea if this general finding holds for AMSA and Wayland students, but based purely on these cursory demographics, AMSA might be expected to out-perform Wayland.

    We can dig deeper by looking at other student indicators.

    % of students for whom English is a second language
    - AMSA 8.4%
    - Wayland 5.2%

    % of students with Low English Proficiency
    - AMSA 0.0%
    - Wayland 0.2%

    % of students in Special Education
    - AMSA 5.2%
    - Wayland 18.3%

    % of students described as low income
    - AMSA 1.9%
    - Wayland 5.1%

    % of students receiving free lunch
    - AMSA 1.7%
    - Wayland 3.7%

    % of students receiving reduced price lunch
    - AMSA 0.2%
    - Wayland 1.4%

    On all but the first of these measures, Wayland would appear to have the more disadvantaged student population, but of course, there may be more complex underlying factors.

    Percent attendance
    - AMSA 95.9%
    - Wayland 96.5%

    Percent in-school suspension
    - AMSA 1.0%
    - Wayland 0.4%

    Percent out-of-school suspension
    - AMSA 4.4%
    - Wayland 0.3%

    Perhaps Wayland children come to school more because Wayland punishes them less?

    Student:Staff Ratio (FY07)
    - AMSA: 16.9:1
    - Wayland: 13.4:1

    Within reason, there is not strong evidence suggesting that smaller classes necessarily lead to better educational outcomes. Typically, Wayland has larger classes relative to its peer districts (but not AMSA), ranking 8th out of 11 on that metric in FY06.

    Teaching Staff

    Percent of staff with teaching certification
    - AMSA 48.3%
    - Wayland 97.8%

    Percent of core academic teachers who have certification
    - AMSA 85.5%
    - Wayland 99.4%

    I don't know what impact this has on educational outcomes.

    Average Teacher Salary (FY07)
    - AMSA: $50,312
    - Wayland: $64,037

    I don't know if this correlates with years of experience, overall pay scale, or other factors.

    Spending

    FY07 Per Pupil Expenditure
    - AMSA: $10,017
    - Wayland: $13,214

    This is not surprising, as Wayland has more educators per student, and pays those educators more. Given that athletics (a popular "target") makes up only 2% of Wayland's budget, the cost difference lies elsewhere, and as the data above show, that elsewhere is in teaching.

    In general, smaller schools tend to be at a disadvantage when it comes to per pupil expenditure, as they have fewer students over which to spread fixed costs, making AMSA's cost numbers all the more impressive. Whether you like AMSA's approach to educators relative to Wayland's or not, AMSA does do a good job of keeping cost down relative to Wayland.

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    Were the proverbial "man from Mars" to review these statistics, he would focus first on the fact that only half of AMSA's staff are certified teachers, and test the hypothesis that this mix yields more effective and less expensive education.

    The other differences are all minimal with respect to "Percent of staff with teaching certification", with "% of students in Special Education" being the next most signficant.

    Of course these statistics miss some critical factors: e.g. student motivation level, and supportiveness of home environment. Thus drawing conclusions seems risky.

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    Dave, I completely agree that this comparison only begins to scratch the surface. It's hard to evaluate an educational program based only on data. For instance, AMSA is much more one-dimensional than Wayland is, with the latter's athletics, arts, and activities.

    As the lead-in to my post indicated, I dug into the data primarily to address the question of the "disadvantage-ness" of the incoming students. The assertion had been made to me that AMSA students were more disadvantaged. With the exception of English as a second language, the data points the other way. The reality may be different--if so, I'd be interested in additional evidence.

    With respect to outcomes, MCAS is a single measure, albeit an important one. An MCAS analysis addresses a second assertion that was made to me: that Wayland is in the top quartile of districts (the strong implication being that Wayland just barely qualifies at that level).

    The attached spreadsheet shows that Wayland, despite its apparently (relatively) disadvantaged student population, does better than AMSA, and also that Wayland is a top tenth percentile district (top fifth percentile for MS and HS).

    On another measure, SAT scores (2006-2007), Wayland ranks 11th out of 317 districts (top 4th percentile) according to DESE data reported by the Boston Globe.

    Mind you, none of this puts Wayland in "rest on our laurels" territory--we need to continually strive for improved performance.
    Attached Files Attached Files

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    Default teaching certificates

    Some of the all-time crappiest teachers are state certified. Some of the all-time crappiest teachers are not too. In a private school the teachers can actually be "let go". I have a feeling the public school teachers almost never get fired for performance. I hate that an insipid teacher who has gained tenure can practically never get fired unless they break the law. It defies reason that a principal wants every teacher in every school back every year. If Wayland could break that trend, it might be number 1 every year. The teachers' union does make it difficult - and this is not for our children's best interests, it's for the teacher's jobs. I know that in New Jersey last year something like 3 public school teachers state-wide were fired out of tens of thousands of teachers. That's insane.

    I heard that at AMSA many teachers did get fired (or quit) for lacking performance. Sounds like an unstable charter school to me.

    I find the comparison between the schools flawed because one is huge and the other is small. AMSA has a totally self-selected population. Wayland has more diversity - probably in every way; that experience you cannot quantify.

    Did you see the Boston Globe article on how Massachusetts fared in the math and science testing in the world. Massachusetts was third in math after Singapore and one other asian country. Not too bad. Note that New Jersey wasn't high on that list

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    Default Testing 123

    Testing and grades aren't necessarily a great indicator of potential.

    Here is Albert Einstein's HS Diploma from 1896.
    I don't think it was stellar.

    What do you think?
    Attached Images Attached Images

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    I take it that in Einstein's day, a "1" was best?

    I completely agree that test scores only tell part of the picture. As it happens, they tend to be the easiest data to collect and compare.

    Ideally, though, there would be some collection of measures truly predictive of future outcomes, including but not limited to grades, test scores, project performance, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, professionalism, work ethic, communication, teamwork, health and wellness, ...

    I'm not holding my breath waiting for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to report these measures. Nor am I faulting them for not doing so, what with the tools at their disposal.

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    It seems to me that some of the things you've listed here, Jeff - project performance, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, professionalism, work ethic, communication, teamwork, health and wellness - would be far more valuable as part of the curriculum than golf or Ultimate Frisbee.

    I know I sound like a broken record on this, but while I have nothing against either one of these or any other sport, and encourage kids and adults to play them, the fun factor associated with them assures a much higher degree of likelihood that these will be taken up by kids in their spare time anyway, without school funding, than any of the things you've listed or foreign languages, more math and science or anything else that may actually help them compete in the global job market.

    The schools' responsibility is to provide a good, well-rounded education that will prepare our children for what lies ahead. To pass up some important programs that they won't get anywhere else in favor of other programs that they could and would get on their own, is short-sighted and is short-changing our kids.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Default Thinking out of the box

    I have no idea of to take quotations out what others write - so I'll try to remember as best I can.

    This is in response to Jeff 's most recent response remarking that he sees the limitations of stats the Dept. of Education collects but doesn't fault them for using what they have.

    Just because something has always been used a certain way (collection of stats and figures) doesn't mean that it is good and should not be tweaked or removed entirely.

    I have always been suspicious and irritated by MCAS. It's not helping the kids who don't score well and it is waste of time for many kids. The correlation between the testing and the classwork is poorly defined. My son scored above-proficient (or whatever the lingo is) in an elementary year and his report card did not reflect that. I think it's an open secret that MCAS is meant to supervise teachers and give school "rankings" and isn't really about the children.

    Is there a better idea?
    Last edited by Elizabeth Price; 12-16-2008 at 10:43 AM. Reason: spelling error

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    The schools' responsibility is to provide a good, well-rounded education that will prepare our children for what lies ahead. To pass up some important programs that they won't get anywhere else in favor of other programs that they could and would get on their own, is short-sighted and is short-changing our kids.
    I've responded to your post in the "co-curriculars" thread.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elizabeth Price View Post
    This is in response to Jeff 's most recent response remarking that he sees the limitations of stats the Dept. of Education collects but doesn't fault them for using what they have.

    Just because something has always been used a certain way (collection of stats and figures) doesn't mean that it is good and should not be tweaked or removed entirely.

    I have always been suspicious and irritated by MCAS. It's not helping the kids who don't score well and it is waste of time for many kids. The correlation between the testing and the classwork is poorly defined. My son scored above-proficient (or whatever the lingo is) in an elememtary year and his report card did not reflect that. I think it's an open secret that MCAS is meant to supervise teachers and give school "rankings" and isn't really about the children.
    MCAS is a generally well-regarded (but not perfect) test that measures progress against the also well-regarded (and also not perfect) Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. Personally, I'm not a fan of teaching to the test at the expense of better education, but if the test is measuring what we arguably would and should be teaching anyway, and isn't consuming a disproportionate amount of time, my objections lessen.

    MCAS scores aren't a complete measure, but neither are they an inappropriate one.

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    Default MCAS - backdoor to teachers' performance

    The MCAS may well be a good thing for the children, but it could be used as a way to measure teachers' performance without involving unions. Perhaps we should test teachers' knowledge periodically also. I have a feeling that the teachers' unions would say: "no."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elizabeth Price View Post
    The MCAS may well be a good thing for the children, but it could be used as a way to measure teachers' performance without involving unions. Perhaps we should test teachers' knowledge periodically also. I have a feeling that the teachers' unions would say: "no."
    I have always been very supportive of our teachers and teachers in general. There is no job in the world more important than theirs.

    That said, it has always stuck me as slightly absurd that it is nearly impossible to fire a tenured teacher. Other than breaking the law or something terribly egregious, they are protected to a degree that is not healthy for those entrusted to them.

    We've all had the experience of having had a truly great teacher or two, a few that were absolutely abysmal, where everyone around them - colleagues, students and parents - wonder how they could possibly still be employed, or why they even want to be because they seem so wretchedly unhappy, and then all the others that were somewhere in the average range.

    It seems to me if teachers needed to be accountable they way that people in other industries and careers need to be, that those few bad apples would be out the door in a heartbeat, and the overall average would rise up a bit.

    But you're right. The union would never allow it.
    Pity.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Default Yes the Math/Science Charter School kids are disadvantaged

    I worked in a building next door to the Math/Science Charter School for three years. The charter school building has no grounds for the kids to enjoy. On numerous lunchtime walks, I never heard laughter or shouts because the kids were never outside except to line up for something. I can't speak for the learning that happens inside the building, but I think six years (grades 6 to 12) is a long time to spend with no grass, no picnic tables, no fields. Many of the better science programs use the outdoors as a field laboratory, so this is a disadvantage with academic impact as well. There is an indoor soccer club opening up next door that is going to provide some sports facilities, but other than that, they have lots of asphalt to look at.

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    I just read an interesting article in "The New Yorker", http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2..._fact_gladwell

    Here are a couple of partial quotes to whet your appetite and add to the debate:

    "...the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in one school year. The students in a class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half's worth of material. ...Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a "bad" school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher."

    "A group of researchers...have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master's degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom."

    It's a very interesting article, and goes on to mention that Bob Pianta, the dean of the School of Education at the University of Virginia has developed a system for evaluating teacher competency. I'm sure there's no "be all, end all" answer, but the bottom line is, my family has had our kids in public school all their lives (in Wayland and other school districts). We've experienced the bell curve. Some of the teachers have been absolutely stellar, some have been absolutely terrible, most are somewhere in between.

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    Hendrik Hertzberg in his New Yorker blog -- it may have been the same week as the issue with the Gladwell article -- had an interesting take that, to me, is difficult to disagree with:

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blog...e-matters.html

    Short of abolishing the whole crazy system of local school boards financed by local property taxes and replacing it with an all-powerful national Ministry of Education financed by the federal income tax, I’ve always believed that the best feasible “educational reform” is, precisely, smaller class sizes.

    This is not hard to understand. Every teacher and every student knows that the smaller the class, the better the learning environment. Each kid gets more attention. Discipline and control are far easier to achieve. Disruptive kids have less scope for mischief. Teachers are happier and more likely to stay in the profession.
    From a national perspective there are issues with "instituting" smaller class sizes -- lack of available classroom space, availability of teachers, urban budget constraints, etc. In Wayland, though, these constraints are minimal. Indeed, smaller class sizes have been and should continue to be an unshakable core policy. It's probably impossible to quantify the reasons for Wayland's educational success but it would be hard to argue that smaller class sizes aren't a driver for most of them. Decisions to reduce the number of sections and thereby increase class sizes should be challenged, especially with a growing number of special needs students.

    A great teacher could probably teach a class of 40 as well as 20, and smaller class sizes in and of themselves do not simply guarantee better results (there is no substitute for parental involvement). But absent a district full of "great" teachers, smaller class size is the best way to make good teachers better.

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