Chariho School Parents’ Forum

January 29, 2007

Chariho admin makes the case for K-6 – so why don’t we do it?

Filed under: Chariho,Elementary Schools,grade spans,Middle & High School — Editor @ 8:01 pm

In the previous school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Thornton presented some information regarding the benefits of a K-6 or K-8 education models. I have received a lot of email and phone calls because I did not properly identify what his reports showed.  I made the comment that they “supported my findings” but neglected to highlight them.  Most of the people who contacted me said the school’s presentation put more emphasis on a “lack of research” but as I have posted before, there are literally hundreds of studies on the subject.   

Below are the reports the administration presented and some key quotes. 

Accountability Works: Analysis of Performance by Grade Span of School.“… in all subject areas the performance of sixth-grade students at the (K-6) schools was better than the performance of sixth-grade students from (K-5) schools.”

 One of the interesting points made in this report is that the lack of teacher “incentives” could be blamed for the poor performance because teachers were not responsible for the students.  It is interesting that “incentives” would be used as an excuse for poor performance but merit pay is taboo. 

The Elemiddle School: A Model for Middle Grades Reform.“…schools containing both elementary and middle-school grades may be most appropriate for meeting the educational and social needs of young adolescents.” 

Grade Span and Eight-Grade Academic Achievement: Evidence from a Predominantly Rural State. (pdf download)“..the researchers concluded that eighth-graders learning in elementary settings (K-8, K-9, and 3-8) outperform eighth-graders in schools with other grade configurations.”   “Eighth-graders attending school in junior/senior school environments (grades 6-12, 7-12, and 8-12) perform less well than eighth-graders in other grade configurations.”

 There were a few other reports supporting the common sense knowledge that frequent transitions are bad for student performance but overall, the information presented supports the information posted previously.   

This begs the question – if previous surveys show that the vast majority of parents want their 5th and 6th graders back in the elementary level, and the research suggests that they are better served in that environment, then why are we not doing something about it?  

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Cost increases because they help students, or simply due to contract obligations.

Filed under: Budget,Chariho,National,State-wide,Student Performance — Editor @ 7:40 pm

Does this spending help students?  This was the title of a ProJo OpEd written by Marguerita Roza. 
She is also the author of a report titled “Frozen Assets” with the Education Sector.  If you don’t have time to read the report, at least read the OpEd.
 

From the report: 

Education is a labor-intensive business—an estimated 60 percent to 80 percent of the more than $500 billion per year spent operating the nation’s public schools goes directly to paying and supporting school employees, and teacher contracts play a big role in determining where such resources are deployed. Much of the money is directed to basic salary costs. But many common provisions of teacher contracts require school districts to spend substantial sums to implement policies which research has shown have a weak or inconsistent relationship with student learning. This report examines eight such provisions:  

Increases in teacher salaries based on years of experience;   

Increases in teacher salaries based on educational credentials and experiences;   

Professional development days;   

Number of paid sick and personal days;   

Class-size limitations;   

Use of teachers’ aides;   

Generous health and insurance benefits; and   

Generous retirement benefits. 

The report estimates the total spending on these provisions in public education, examines studies on the provisions’ effects on student achievement, and explores how these “frozen assets” might be put to different use. Our analysis estimates that an average of 19 percent of every school district’s budget is locked up by these eight provisions.

 As I wrote in the previous post – in our $51M budget, $47.6M is for:  Instruction, Special Services, General Support, Administration and Fixed Charges.

January 19, 2007

Omnibus meeting

Filed under: Budget,Chariho — Editor @ 4:58 pm

The Westerly Sun reports on the Omnibus meeting (“Chariho towns eye equalized costs“). As the title indicates, equalized costs were a key topic.   There are a few issues to iron out –  Will the equalized payments cover all expenses? Capital? Maintenance? Operating? Bonds? Warrants? The town councils will iron out a proposal and the voters will decide.   

An issue I am still concerned with is the building committee. 

(from the WS) The request comes as a district building committee is set to discuss and priori­tize up to $30 million in ren­ovations at the district’s main campus. Expected to begin next week, the com­mittee’s work is geared to alleviate Chariho’s reliance on portable classroom trail­ers – and could include the construction of a new Reaching Youth through Support and Education (RYSE) School for special ­needs students. 

I certainly agree that repairs and upgrades are needed.  I also recognize the need to eliminate the temporary classrooms.  Furthermore, with the tax cap of 5.25%, we couldn’t afford to put much in the budget.  Don’t forget, the towns’ budget goes up too.

The proposed budget has very few capital expenditures ($942,000 of a $51M budget) and is an increase of 3.06%.  This figure includes the application of a $1.2M surplus.   So if we do anything beyond basic contractual obligations ($47.6M of the budget is Instruction, Special Services, General Support, Administration and Fixed Charges), it’s got to be with a bond.    

My questions on the project are more pragmatic, or you can even say simplistic.  What exactly are our needs? 

Look at it this way – if a manufacturing company went to it’s stock holders (that would be the voters in our case) and said they needed to build more space, the first questions would be,,,, “at what capacity are we currently operating?”  and ““what are the trends – our future needs?” 

We know enrolment is dropping  and a private school has just moved to Richmond?

Furthermore, there is a lot of chatter about bringing 5th and 6th graders back to the elementary level.  (Personally I think we should bring back K-8 to the local level but lets not get ahead of ourselves)

Is this drop in population figured into the building proposal? 

The current space efficiency is another question.  How efficiently are we using the space we have?

I have read the last two building committee reports and these questions are not addressed.  

[update] Labeling all the reports “building committee report” may not be accurate.  One is, the other is from a town.  I have finished a third (from a town).  Still no evaluation of our “space efficiency.”

We know the student:teacher ratio, or at least the student to “full time employee” ratio (which includes administration, support staff, etc).  The budget lists 342.2 FTE’s to 3827 students for an 11.2:1 ratio.  The US Dept of Education National Center for Education Statistics reports 11.3:1.   However, this does not directly address “space” usage, which can be vastly different.  But without a formal review, our space efficiency is an unknown commodity.

There is a sense of urgency to get this proposal to the State House very quickly and have a vote in November.   I would like to see these issues addressed.

[NOTE] I seem to be having some technical difficulties, so I will post a response to the comments here.

David,

“Space Efficiency” is an evaluation of one’s space needs.  So yes, with limited budgets, using space efficiently could be described as “how few classrooms to educate “x” students.”

 

On a simplistic level, we know how many students we have, how many students each teacher can have in each classroom, what the support staff space needs are (admin, nurse, etc), and how many rooms are in the building. 

 

Things such as Career Tech, RYSE, Lead Teacher FTE’s, population trends, and other factors can complicate the formula but the engineers could get input from administration.

 

I don’t know if other districts do it each time additions/expansions are proposed.  I would assume, at least at it’s genesis, every district must have done some sort of space need evaluation.

 

CR,

 

The best clue we on what the building committee will recommend comes from the Charlestown School Options Study Committee, 10/2/06.

 

$2.7M for renovations at Middle School

$5.7M to renovate High School (library, admin space, expand band room, renovate classrooms, change lockers, widen corridors)

$3.5M to “upgrade utilities”

$1.9M for new space at Middle School to replace trailers (8000 sq ft x $235/sq ft)

$7M for new space at High School (new media center and computer labs – 30,000 sq ft x same cost)

$2.1M new RYSE building to replace trailers (9,000 sq ft)

$1.25M new agricultural building

$5.4M  – $1.8M each (7.5%) for 1) architect fees, 2) furnishings and 3) contingencies

Total – $29.5M

 

You mention the fact that children are being “shipped out of their local area.”  If that practice ended (at least for 5th and 6th graders), it is possible items 4, 5 & 6 may be eliminated (also reducing the cost of item 8).

 

A thorough evaluation of our needs will impact items 1, 2, 3 & 7.

“Why school buildings cost so darn much” is a matter (hopefully) for the open market.  If we are receiving competitive bids, then the cost is what it is. 

Narragansett “New Math” follow-up

Filed under: State-wide,Student Performance — Editor @ 6:49 am

In the Providence Journal, the problems with “New Math” have come up again.

… the Investigations math program, which emphasizes theory and deemphasizes, to some extent, basic skills and memorization.

School officials adopted the program with the aim of raising student achievement, but some parents have complained that it is confusing their children to the point where they are no longer performing at grade level.

“There are definitely a lot of parents that are concerned that their children are falling behind,” said Martha Mulligan, who has two children at Narragansett Elementary School. “They’re supposed to learn the skills somehow, but they don’t really focus on them.”

The article describes the after-school programs being developed to supliment the in-class instructions.  It makes one wonder how much time and money we have to spend to bring the new math to the point that it achieves the goals of the old math.

Other reports on this subject can be found here and here.

January 16, 2007

Scores and classifications, what do they all mean?

Filed under: Chariho,National,State-wide,Student Performance — Editor @ 6:44 am

Statistics recently provided to the school board show that Chariho Regional High is listed as a “High Performing” school.  It is true that many teachers and administrators should be commended for their efforts, but I’ve always found these classifications confusing.  

 Chariho Regional High received the “High Performing” classification with a 62.24 proficiency score on English Language Arts and a 59.17 proficiency score on Math.  These numbers represent the percentage of students who are “proficient” in a given discipline.   

 What is confusing is when you see that Mt. Hope High is listed as “Moderately Performing with Caution,” yet scored a 73.30 on ELA (over 14 points higher than Chariho).  Cranston High West, Lincoln Sr. High, Middletown High, and Smithfield Sr. High are all listed as “Insufficient Progress,” the lowest rating, but outscored Chariho on ELA as well.  South Kingstown High is also listed as “Insufficient Progress” but outscores Chariho on both ELA and Math. 

Furthermore, even my “old math” education gives me the ability to understand that our math proficiency score also means that 40.83 percent are not proficient.  Yet 90.97 percent of our students graduate.  These are all head-scratcher numbers but there are forces that create even more confusion and doubt. 

The Westerly Sun on Sunday (“National education standards under review while lawmakers reconsider NCLB”) reported on a movement in Washington to standardize the way states measure student performance, a measure that would require every state to use the same yardstick. 

As previously reported RI uses the NECAP test.  Comparisons to VT and NH, two other states that use the NECAP, show that RI is not doing very well on our math student performance.   RI does, however, take the NAEP test, as does every other state in the country.  Note how New England states rank on the NAEP test.  Unfortunately, RI consistently ranks poorly.  The top performer ranks #1, the worst performance ranks #51 (includes DC). 

8th grade math – RI 41, MA 1, CT 23, VT 3, NH 7, ME 24

8th grade reading  -RI 33, MA 1, CT 25, VT 8, NH 5, ME 4 

4th grade math – RI 40, MA 1, CT 9, VT 6, NH 4, ME 16

4th grade reading – RI 37, MA 1, CT 7, VT 2, NH 3, ME 10 

So it would seem, as with any business, more attention should be given to the standards and evaluation of our schools. 

In January 2004, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation released a report that compared the states’ educational standards, testing, and accountability policies. Their assessment was blunt: “No two ways about it: When it comes to standards-based accountability, Rhode Island is pretty much a mess.” More recently, Education Week published a study that ranked Rhode Island 42nd on its standards and accountability policies.

 Looking at this information, I can see why Governor Carcieri has placed education reform at the top of his agenda.

   

January 15, 2007

The Ashaway lease disagreement

Filed under: Chariho,Hopkinton — Editor @ 9:25 am

Sunday, the Westerly Sun reported that the dispute between the Chariho School District and the town of Hopkinton continues. 

Ricci said, however, that the school district has not renewed the lease on both of the Ashaway Elementary School buildings.

Council President Vincenzo Cordone said that the lease rolls over each year and that “as far as (he’s) concerned, the lease is still in effect.”  “The lease has rolled over as of right now,” Cordone

If they want to break the lease, they have to break the lease with both buildings,” said Hopkinton Town Manager William DiLibero, “and it’s my understanding that the district isn’t inclined to do so. You can’t maintain a partial lease.”

The town manager and representatives from the town council will meet with school officials Tuesday. 

January 10, 2007

Providence’s K-8 model

Filed under: State-wide,Student Performance,Unions — Editor @ 9:13 am

It appears the Mayor of Providence has been reading the same research I have. 

“…the City is about to embark on a plan to transform
Providence schools into 21st-century learning environments, with recommendations imminent for a district-wide facilities plan that features K through 8th grade neighborhood schools and smaller, more personalized high schools.”
  
 

Also in this press release:

Further, the Mayor also stressed the need for a new student-centered union contract and practices that support student achievement.”

I don’t always agree with the Mayor, but he has my support on these changes.

January 4, 2007

The compelling case for a K-8 model

Filed under: National,Student Performance — Editor @ 7:14 am

“Why did this take the “experts” so long? Many parents can tell you: If an otherwise decent school district has a problem school, it’s going to be the junior high. And even high-functioning middle schools can be a problem for the students in them.”

Lately, a lot of discussion has been on the subject of the 5th and 6th graders going to school at the main campus.  As I live my life I continually discuss school issues with the people I meet.  In this informal poll, I have never met a parent who likes the idea of 10 and 11 year-olds on that campus.  I am sure there are some parents who do like it, but I have yet to meet one. Some of the complaints are:

  • Students are on the bus for upwards of an hour
  • 10 and 11 year-olds are on the bus with the older students (I have heard some real horror stories as to what they have seen, including sexually inappropriate behavior)
  • Due to the number of students at the main campus, the lunches start at 10:00
  • The school is too far away from the parents if something happens

Proponents of the middle school model say that the students are available to more resources and that they kids like it. 

An interesting post on Anchor Rising highlights a couple of articles that say many school districts are not only eliminating 5th and 6th graders from the larger schools, but eliminating the middle school model all together, going back to a K – 8 model. The main points I took out of the articles are:

  • Children going through puberty should not be subject to dramatic transitions
  • Students in the K-8 system have a sense of community
  • There are many benefits when students stay with the same class, principal, environment and teachers (listed below)
  • Students who stay in their grade school,  stay “younger, longer” (they do not have the tendency to try older kid things such as dating, smoking, etc…)

The post also links to an article in the ProJo where a student quote hits the nail on the head, “You’re always sad when you’re not around your friends.” 

And finally, the most obvious but apparently overlooked issues are that smaller schools are better for student performance, achievement, discipline, attendance and enrollment, graduation rates, career earnings, student participation, parent and student satisfactions, teacher satisfaction, parent involvement, increasing extracurricular activities and participation in advanced classes, cost savings, and a sense of ownership, community and belonging, as well as reducing the racial education gap and reducing the need for special needs programs, to name just a few.  See this list of other related reports.

But that is just what is good about small schools.  What is bad about large schools? 

“According to the Department of Education, schools of 1,000 or more students experience 825 percent more violent crime, 270 percent more vandalism and 1,000 percent more weapons incidents, compared to those with fewer than 300 students. “

Mary Anne Raywid, Hofstra University Professor Emerita and Past president of the Society of Professors of Education, whose name is used for an award that recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the study of education, has said-

“The value of small schools has been confirmed with clarity and a level of confidence rare in the annals of education research.” 

January 3, 2007

Shedding light from the rain

Filed under: Hopkinton — Editor @ 9:09 pm

One more school issue discussed last night, reported both by the EOC and Thomas Buck (Hopkinton Town Council member) is the maintenance (or lack of) done at the 1904 building.  According to Mr. Buck, there are 13 down gutter spouts.  Four are working.  Three have “a little water” coming out.  One is clogged and five do not work at all. 

Reported in the Westerly Sun, Georgia Ure reports that 7 of the 13 downspouts are not working. 

Mr. Buck reported that water is flooding in two of the four stairwells.  A third stairwell has water sheeting over the doorway.   I have been told by Mr. Ricci that this problem was addressed after Thanksgiving and will be addressed again tomorrow.

“Program Supports” on the rise

Filed under: Budget,Chariho,Hopkinton — Editor @ 9:02 pm

Another statistic reported by the EOC in last night’s HTC meeting, is the amount of money spent on “program supports.”  “Program supports” are for therapists, psychologist, evaluation, personal attendants, social workers and program management.  This information comes from the In$ight Report, a report the Chariho administration does believe is accurate. 

The point highlighted at the HTC meeting is the dramatic increase at Ashaway, an increase of nearly 400% from the previous year. 

I have been told that all pre-K special needs students throughout the district were sent to Ashaway in 2005 (they have since been moved to another school).  I do not know how many pre-K students are classified as special needs, but there are a total of 51 pre-K students reported in the 2006 enrollment figures (with 1 located at a charter school).

program-supports-charts.jpg

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