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    Great article, Dave. Thanks for posting.

    The educational system in America is long overdue for a major overhaul.

    The fact that we've slipped so far behind other industrialized countries of the world is shameful.

    In the late 1980s, I travelled extensively through Europe and more than once felt embarrassed that I couldn't speak even a tiny bit of the language of many of the countries to which I travelled. And no matter where I was, whether it was what was then called Yugoslavia or East Berlin, or in the remote Lapland region of Finland, there was never a shortage of English-speaking locals.

    Years later, to move to Wayland for its reputation for great schools and discover that, like most of the U.S., Wayland does not offer foreign languages to 2nd and 3rd graders as they do in other parts of the world, was a disappointment. Since that time, I've learned a lot about Wayland's schools and education in general, and have come to understand the reasons (mostly political) for why that is.

    I am grateful for articles like this one by Eric Hanushek that provide some perspective. I've also been reading some books on the self-serving nature of our system in general and am very happy this has all entered the public consciousness. Mr. Hanushek's take on collective bargaining and the notion that it is actually holding teachers' salaries down from what they would be without it is kind of a relief, because in the inevitable shake-up that is coming, no one wants to see the teachers get hurt. Yet clearly, major changes are necessary if we are to move forward.

    We are at a major crossroads at the moment, not only in our national educational system, but more specifically right here in Wayland. As the Abrahams report has identified many areas for improvement in how we do business and how we handle our $48,000,000 budget and as we now have a business manager who seems intent on sorting through what at best could be called a sloppy budgeting system, and as we have a new Superintendent coming in July and have a new school committee member who like, Dr. Kinney seems intent on moving us beyond the status quo, I am very optimistic that Wayland can once again rise to the top and lead the charge as America moves to regain its lead in quality public education.
    John Flaherty

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

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Great article, Dave. Thanks for posting.

    The educational system in America is long overdue for a major overhaul.
    Boiling the ocean requires a lot of energy. Determining how to institute the required changes will be as difficult as deciding what changes to make, if not more so.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    The fact that we've slipped so far behind other industrialized countries of the world is shameful.

    In the late 1980s, I travelled extensively through Europe and more than once felt embarrassed that I couldn't speak even a tiny bit of the language of many of the countries to which I travelled. And no matter where I was, whether it was what was then called Yugoslavia or East Berlin, or in the remote Lapland region of Finland, there was never a shortage of English-speaking locals.

    Years later, to move to Wayland for its reputation for great schools and discover that, like most of the U.S., Wayland does not offer foreign languages to 2nd and 3rd graders as they do in other parts of the world, was a disappointment.
    Offering foreign languages to students as soon as they are capable of mastering them would be good; using chronological age to make this assessment en masse would be bad.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Since that time, I've learned a lot about Wayland's schools and education in general, and have come to understand the reasons (mostly political) for why that is.
    While there may well be serious local issues that should be corrected, their impact on students likely pales in comparison to the inefficiencies, mismatches, and dogma that have accumulated over the past century or two. Big systems resist change.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    I am grateful for articles like this one by Eric Hanushek that provide some perspective. I've also been reading some books on the self-serving nature of our system in general and am very happy this has all entered the public consciousness. Mr. Hanushek's take on collective bargaining and the notion that it is actually holding teachers' salaries down from what they would be without it is kind of a relief, because in the inevitable shake-up that is coming, no one wants to see the teachers get hurt. Yet clearly, major changes are necessary if we are to move forward.
    If you haven't yet read Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class, I strongly recommend it. For an accessible introduction to the relevant neuroscience, I suggest John Medina's Brain Rules. A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool is also enlightening.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Boiling the ocean requires a lot of energy. Determining how to institute the required changes will be as difficult as deciding what changes to make, if not more so.
    Yes, I'd say more so.

    Offering foreign languages to students as soon as they are capable of mastering them would be good; using chronological age to make this assessment en masse would be bad.
    How do you determine when they are capable of mastering them?

    While there may well be serious local issues that should be corrected, their impact on students likely pales in comparison to the inefficiencies, mismatches, and dogma that have accumulated over the past century or two. Big systems resist change.
    Small systems resist change, too. But that can't stop us from working towards changing big and small alike, when there's a reason to.

    Think globally, act locally.
    Act globally, too, but not at the expense of locally.

    If you haven't yet read Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class, I strongly recommend it. For an accessible introduction to the relevant neuroscience, I suggest John Medina's Brain Rules. A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool is also enlightening.
    Thanks for the summer reading tips.
    I heard Judy Willis on NPR and was quite intrigued with her ideas.
    John Flaherty

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

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Offering foreign languages to students as soon as they are capable of mastering them would be good; using chronological age to make this assessment en masse would be bad.
    How do you determine when they are capable of mastering them?
    Through continuous, individual assessment.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein
    Offering foreign languages to students as soon as they are capable of mastering them would be good; using chronological age to make this assessment en masse would be bad.
    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty
    How do you determine when they are capable of mastering them?
    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Through continuous, individual assessment.
    While I'm a big fan of continuous individual assessment, I'm not sure that it's necessary in this case. The evidence is overwhelming that children can learn not just a first language, but also at least a second, well before they enter Kindergarten.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Great article, Dave. Thanks for posting.

    The educational system in America is long overdue for a major overhaul.

    The fact that we've slipped so far behind other industrialized countries of the world is shameful.
    While I agree that there is plenty of room for improvement in American public education, it's worth noting that there *are* success stories on the international competition front. One of those stories is right here in Massachusetts. Numerous studies (here's just one example) show that MA ranks at the top of the US, and on par with top foreign countries.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    In the late 1980s, I travelled extensively through Europe and more than once felt embarrassed that I couldn't speak even a tiny bit of the language of many of the countries to which I travelled. And no matter where I was, whether it was what was then called Yugoslavia or East Berlin, or in the remote Lapland region of Finland, there was never a shortage of English-speaking locals.

    Years later, to move to Wayland for its reputation for great schools and discover that, like most of the U.S., Wayland does not offer foreign languages to 2nd and 3rd graders as they do in other parts of the world, was a disappointment. Since that time, I've learned a lot about Wayland's schools and education in general, and have come to understand the reasons (mostly political) for why that is.
    I don't remember the exact year (some time in the 2000-2005 span, I think), but the Wayland Public Schools evaluated "FLES" (foreign language in the elementary schools). Like many aspects of education, one key hurdle was cost. Now, that's an overcomeable hurdle if the will is there, but given the frequency with which Wayland was proposing and approving overrides, we did not see the opportunity. I would certainly encourage Dr. Stein to revisit the idea.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    I am grateful for articles like this one by Eric Hanushek that provide some perspective.
    Very interesting article. I completely agree with Hanushek about the importance of good teaching. I recently had the opportunity to hear Diane Ravitch speak at Clark University. Regarding Hanushek's statement that "An alternative might be to change a poor teacher into an average teacher. This approach is in fact today’s dominant strategy," she related that improving poor teaches is very much at the core of (top-scoring) Finland's philosophy.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    I've also been reading some books on the self-serving nature of our system in general and am very happy this has all entered the public consciousness. Mr. Hanushek's take on collective bargaining and the notion that it is actually holding teachers' salaries down from what they would be without it is kind of a relief, because in the inevitable shake-up that is coming, no one wants to see the teachers get hurt. Yet clearly, major changes are necessary if we are to move forward.
    "Self-servingness" would seem to be intrinsic to systems of pretty much any sort. How else does one explain, for instance, GE's $14B in profit, on which they paid zero in corporate tax. That said, systems, be they companies or schools, do have an incentive to improve, and few fail to work in that direction.

    Collective bargaining is certainly one of the elephants in the room, although people certainly aren't shy about talking about it. Interestingly enough, collective bargaining would not appear to necessarily pull down the quality of education, as top-scoring MA has one of the strongest teacher union environments in the US.

    Hanushek's apparent argument that collective bargaining inherently keeps teacher salaries low is questionable. I have no doubt that it would be possible to develop a collective bargaining agreement with more effective teacher evaluation and the opportunity for differential compensation. Whether the unions would accept such an agreement at present is a different question.

    Let's say that he's right, though. It's not clear that a majority of voters is willing to pay more for overall teacher compensation. A recent successful School Committee candidate (who at least appears to be pro-school) has argued that if Wayland compensated its teachers like other towns with what he alleges are comparable educational outcomesm, that we could save on the order of $10M out of a $50M budget. Such a move would hardly seem to be the sort that would attract better teachers.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    We are at a major crossroads at the moment, not only in our national educational system, but more specifically right here in Wayland.
    We may be at a major crossroads, but only because we are always at a major crossroads. That's the nature of education and pretty much any other human endeavor. Certainly, educational change has been front and center since at least "A Nation at Risk" in 1983.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    As the Abrahams report has identified many areas for improvement in how we do business and how we handle our $48,000,000 budget and as we now have a business manager who seems intent on sorting through what at best could be called a sloppy budgeting system, and as we have a new Superintendent coming in July and have a new school committee member who like, Dr. Kinney seems intent on moving us beyond the status quo, I am very optimistic that Wayland can once again rise to the top and lead the charge as America moves to regain its lead in quality public education.
    John, you err when you mistake process deficiencies with educational outcomes. As much as it would seem that you want the education that Wayland's delivers to be flawed so that your white knights can come in and fix it, there simply isn't evidence that supports this assertion. Our test scores remain strong. The colleges that our students attend continue to be high quality. And our anecdotal accomplishments occur with the same frequency that they have for decades.

    Wayland ranks among the best districts in the state. Massachusetts ranks among the best state in the nation, and in so doing, among the best in the world. Is there room for improvement? Most certainly. I can't speak to the Wayland Public Schools before Bill Zimmerman took over as Superintendent in the early 1970s, but since that time, he and Gary Burton have done well for our students. I have no doubt that Dr. Stein will continue this tradition of success.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    "Self-servingness" would seem to be intrinsic to systems of pretty much any sort. How else does one explain, for instance, GE's $14B in profit, on which they paid zero in corporate tax.
    The difference is publicly-held GE is optional. People can buy shares in it if they think it's a good investment or sell shares if they don't like the direction it's going. "Publicly-held" public schools are mandatory. We pay for them whether we think they're doing a good job or not. This negates your point that they have incentives to improve.

    John, you err when you mistake process deficiencies with educational outcomes.
    What we can afford to do is driven by how much money we put into it.
    If we have inefficiencies in how we handle our money, this suggests that if we handled it better, we'd have more money to put into it, which means we could afford things that today we can't.
    There is a direct correlation between efficiencies and outcome.

    Wayland ranks among the best districts in the state. Massachusetts ranks among the best state in the nation, and in so doing, among the best in the world.
    I was with you up till the "among the best in the world" part. It's already been well established that the U.S. is no longer among the best in the world. So, even if Wayland were best in the state and MA was best in the nation, that doesn't push us up to "among the best in the world" status.

    There is a film that I highly recommend to those interested in the current state of education in America:
    The Cartel.
    Any one who has kids in school or who pays taxes should see this film.
    Watch the trailer.
    As you do, try to look beyond the references to things that don't apply to Wayland and understand that there is much that does.
    This is an incredibly eye-opening film into aspects of public education that most people never see.
    John Flaherty

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

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    The difference is publicly-held GE is optional. People can buy shares in it if they think it's a good investment or sell shares if they don't like the direction it's going. "Publicly-held" public schools are mandatory. We pay for them whether we think they're doing a good job or not. This negates your point that they have incentives to improve.
    Not true. Living in Wayland is optional. People have come here for decades because of the quality of our schools, and they continue to do so, rightly.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    I was with you up till the "among the best in the world" part. It's already been well established that the U.S. is no longer among the best in the world. So, even if Wayland were best in the state and MA was best in the nation, that doesn't push us up to "among the best in the world" status.
    Back in 2000 or so, I took an excellent course in product management from the company Pragmatic Marketing. To support the point that product managers should make decisions based on evidence from the marketplace rather than internal thinking, the instructor, Steve Johnson (also excellent) said, "Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant."

    The evidence supports MA students as being among the best in the world. You may not wish this to be true, but your wishing doesn't make it false.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Not true. Living in Wayland is optional. People have come here for decades because of the quality of our schools, and they continue to do so, rightly.
    You're missing the point. Forget Wayland. Where ever you move that has a public school system, you pay for it and "it" knows that you will pay for it whether you believe they're doing a good job or not, therefore giving it no incentive to improve. In fact, as pointed out in The Cartel (see link in my post above), the worse a system does, the more likely it is people will be willing and anxious to throw money at it, which ultimately rewards it for its bad performance.

    ...the instructor, Steve Johnson (also excellent) said, "Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant."
    The evidence supports MA students as being among the best in the world. You may not wish this to be true, but your wishing doesn't make it false.
    Unless I'm missing something here wouldn't this make your opinion equally irrelevant?
    John Flaherty

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

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    While I agree that there is plenty of room for improvement in American public education, it's worth noting that there *are* success stories on the international competition front. One of those stories is right here in Massachusetts. Numerous studies (here's just one example) show that MA ranks at the top of the US, and on par with top foreign countries.
    Every broadly-deployed process involving humans produces a Gaussian-like distribution of outcomes. The existence of better outcomes on the right side of a distribution says nothing about the absolute quality of the process that produced it.

    Consider a well-nourished 3-year old from a stable, supportive family who receives 15 years of personalized education from a large, dedicated set of instructors chosen for their mastery of domain knowledge/skill (art, biochemistry, Chinese, ...) understanding of developmental neuroscience, patience, and love of teaching -- all coordinated and optimized by a team leader who continuously assesses the student's progress and budding interests. Now consider twenty such students, each with their dedicated array of instructors and team leader, but with the addition of collaboration, social skills, physical skills and game play to the curriculum. The outcome achieved by this kind of educational process would be a reasonable standard against which to assess our current education system and drive its improvement.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Very interesting article. I completely agree with Hanushek about the importance of good teaching. I recently had the opportunity to hear Diane Ravitch speak at Clark University. Regarding Hanushek's statement that "An alternative might be to change a poor teacher into an average teacher. This approach is in fact today’s dominant strategy," she related that improving poor teaches is very much at the core of (top-scoring) Finland's philosophy.
    In my experience (with engineers, not teachers), there are practical limits to this. An intelligent, motivated adult can easily be encouraged to learn new skills, but it is extraordinarily difficult and distracting from the "main mission" to help a lazy adult become industrious, or a dishonest adult become trustworthy. Improving the hiring process to minimize mistakes is a far better investment of time and energy than attempting to correct those mistakes. Keeping those mistakes around while trying to rehabilitate them can demotivate the rest of the team; even worse is the damage they do to your "product" before you either cure them or terminate them.

    Today's K-12 educational system already has two conflicting objectives: education and day care. Adding "reform poor teachers" as a third objective would be heading in the wrong direction.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    John, you err when you mistake process deficiencies with educational outcomes. As much as it would seem that you want the education that Wayland's delivers to be flawed so that your white knights can come in and fix it, there simply isn't evidence that supports this assertion. Our test scores remain strong. The colleges that our students attend continue to be high quality. And our anecdotal accomplishments occur with the same frequency that they have for decades.

    Wayland ranks among the best districts in the state. Massachusetts ranks among the best state in the nation, and in so doing, among the best in the world. Is there room for improvement? Most certainly. I can't speak to the Wayland Public Schools before Bill Zimmerman took over as Superintendent in the early 1970s, but since that time, he and Gary Burton have done well for our students. I have no doubt that Dr. Stein will continue this tradition of success.
    Getting from "where we are" to "where we need to be" is an incredible challenge. The last thing we need are defenses of the status quo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    The last thing we need are defenses of the status quo.
    Dave has touched on what, IMHO, is THE biggest problem in Wayland.

    We need to acknowledge our mistakes - not just the cursory, "Oh, sure, we're not perfect, but just look at our reputation". But to actually own up to the fact that we've made some major blunders - the reconfiguration and the laissez faire attitude about the school budget come to mind. In the case of the former, the committee should come out and acknowledge and apologize for what is considered by most to have been a colossal mistake that was done for political reasons and which led to gross (and completely unnecessary) overcrowding, that we continue to live with because the committee is more concerned with saving face than it is with doing the right thing.

    And with the budget, they should be equally humble and acknowledge that the problems that the Abrahams Report uncovers (as well as those that it doesn't) are due to the fact that they were asleep at the wheel. They should be anxious to do anything they can to follow all of the recommendations of the report and to dig even deeper to uncover any and all problems and to immediately bring in additional help for Geoff MacDonald who is doing the best he can under nearly impossible circumstances.

    Will they do theses things?
    Past history would suggest that they will not and will instead go on defending the status quo.
    John Flaherty

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

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    Ah, John, I knew you could be counted on to once again prove Wayland's version of Godwin's Law to be true.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Every broadly-deployed process involving humans produces a Gaussian-like distribution of outcomes. The existence of better outcomes on the right side of a distribution says nothing about the absolute quality of the process that produced it.

    Consider a well-nourished 3-year old from a stable, supportive family who receives 15 years of personalized education from a large, dedicated set of instructors chosen for their mastery of domain knowledge/skill (art, biochemistry, Chinese, ...) understanding of developmental neuroscience, patience, and love of teaching -- all coordinated and optimized by a team leader who continuously assesses the student's progress and budding interests. Now consider twenty such students, each with their dedicated array of instructors and team leader, but with the addition of collaboration, social skills, physical skills and game play to the curriculum. The outcome achieved by this kind of educational process would be a reasonable standard against which to assess our current education system and drive its improvement.
    Dave, thanks for clarifying the standard you were intending to raise. To be sure, the picture that you paint is an attractive one, and one to which all educators, students, families, and community members should aspire. I don't know how often this standard is reached in the best schools internationally (less often than more, I suspect). Regardless, I don't agree that failing to meet this standard makes one "terrible."

    To your point about the "Gaussian-like distribution of outcomes," aren't educators subject to the same effect? No different from any professional, educators are outputs of a pre-service and in-service training system. Are you suggesting that the median educator can meet this standard? What about the least effective educator?

    And let's not forget the students. Even in advantaged towns such as Wayland, every student doesn't have the benefit of the family environment you describe.

    Alan, thank you for being able to disagree without being disagreeable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Dave, thanks for clarifying the standard you were intending to raise. To be sure, the picture that you paint is an attractive one, and one to which all educators, students, families, and community members should aspire. I don't know how often this standard is reached in the best schools internationally (less often than more, I suspect).
    I'd be shocked if you could cite any school with at least 20 students that reaches 10% of the suggested standard.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Regardless, I don't agree that failing to meet this standard makes one "terrible."
    This is a critical point of disagreement. Particularly when seeking to effect change in a large system, it is essential to set highly aggressive goals, and broadly syndicate those goals among all stakeholders (teachers, parents, administrators, agencies, government bodies, students, etc.). Openly acknowledging just how far short of these goals the current system now stands is an essential part of the motivation. In such an endeavor, pulling punches and sugar-coating -- "we're not terrible", "our test scores are in the top 10% in our state ", etc. -- is highly counterproductive. Against the standard suggested above, I suspect that most schools -- including Wayland's -- would rank in the low single digits.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    To your point about the "Gaussian-like distribution of outcomes," aren't educators subject to the same effect? No different from any professional, educators are outputs of a pre-service and in-service training system. Are you suggesting that the median educator can meet this standard? What about the least effective educator?
    You missed the point. Defending Wayland's schools by citing the fact that its test scores are a few percentage points higher than other schools in the area is like defending a silicon transistor that can switch 1.1 billion times per second whose brethren are limited to switching 1 billion times per second -- ignoring the fact that the standard is set by devices that can switch trillions of times per second. When your goal is to improve by a factor of 100, citing a 10% superiority over the local competition is not only irrelevant, it provides a convenient excuse for deferring aggressive action and thereby helps preserve the status quo.

    Said another way, one can incrementally improve some instances of a system by 10%, but this is generally irrelevant when the goal is a 100x improvement. Borrowing from Sagan, "It's like trying to reach the stars by climbing a tree; you'll make progress for awhile, but you'll never get there".

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    And let's not forget the students. Even in advantaged towns such as Wayland, every student doesn't have the benefit of the family environment you describe.
    Correct. What I suggested is a standard against which all schools should be measured, independent of "initial conditions" like nutrition, supportive parental interaction, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Alan, thank you for being able to disagree without being disagreeable.
    Alan doesn't live here any more, but I'll convey the compliment.

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