School Committee candidates were invited to submit a 50-word biographical summary and answers to the following questions (75 words maximum each):
1. School start times are a big issue from the elementary schools to the high schools. What are the key elements of a successful solution?
2. What is your vision of the relationship among the School Committee, the community and the School Superintendent?
3. What policies would you suggest to reduce the impact of schools on traffic?
I have been quite open to full day kindergarten (FDK) as research indicates it supports children academically, socially, and emotionally. My approach to an issue like this is to confirm the objective, and then work to figure out how to fund it.
Groundbreaking work that began in Minnesota in the 1990s routinely shows positive results for high school students who start school later in the morning. This relates directly to adolescent biology around Circadian rhythms and the timing of Melatonin production. Here are categories where differences have been studied following later start times:
1. Grades – (hard data and surveys) Analysis does not show statistically significant grade improvements, but students consistently report that they are getting better grades.
2. Tiredness – (surveys) Both students and teachers report a decrease in student tiredness during first and second period classes. This is reported by both parties as lower incidences of students falling asleep at their desks! Students also report that they have greater clarity of thought and get through their class- and home-work more quickly. Continue reading Sleeping in is good for high schoolers. Who knew?→
Early release in Newton has been here for a long time and is firmly embedded in our teacher contracts. Rodney Barker, a former School Committee member and former Alderman, has fought about this in the past and he wrote an article to the TAB in January 2011 about them. Although his math is off his sentiments are true; still he made little headway in reversing this trend to add early release days. See his piece here:
Q: Have you read the Citizen Advisory Group’s School Cost Structure Report? If so, how would you see School Leaders and the School Committee creating “a blue print that clearly outlines what is essential to maintaining a high quality educational system”? According to the CAG this blue print would require leaders to “make difficult decisions about the desirable and the essential.” Would you support student user fees to maintain access to “desirable” school services?
I believe that the process to creating a blueprint must start with a long range budgeting study using multiple scenarios. We should start by projecting out our present trajectory as a baseline. The time frame for this projection should be between 5-10 years.
We should create multiple alternate scenarios that consider variations of compensation levels of teachers, the biggest cost driver; variation of the number of teachers; contributions of technology; energy savings alternates; the contribution of overrides of different levels; and possibilities of corporate funding, possibly through naming rights.
The imperative to”make difficult decisions about the desirable and the essential” will only be clear to our citizen/taxpayers when the outcomes of these scenario projections are presented. Otherwise the thinking process is too abstract.
We should not forget the impact that our long range facilities planning will have on our educational choices. Although the budget for capital projects come from the municipal and not the school side, capital costs will affect the funding available to support our direct educational mission. We must spend wisely on buildings to insure there is enough to fund what will take place inside of them.
As a practice, user fees should be assessed in pursuit of specific policy goals, and not as a revenue source. Their contribution as a revenue source is small relative to their impact on behaviors, and is miniscule relative to the cost drivers in our school system. Therefore they should be assessed judiciously. Currently assessed and proposed fees should be eliminated where they will result in lower access to instruction, such as the 4th grade music program, and maintained where they may proactively influence behavior, such as assessing parking fees at a level that will discourage students from driving to school. School bus fees should be high enough to so a student will take the bus (“We paid for that bus pass, so don’t t ask your mom or me to drive you to school!”), but not so high that parents will choose to avoid the fee by driving their children in.
Our teachers argue that early release days are critical to their ability to provide quality teaching to our students, as they afford our teachers time to collaborate with their peers, meet with parents, and obtain professional development.
However, the periodic early release days reduce classroom instruction time, wreak havoc with parent schedules, and arguably compromise learning for the entire day, especially at the middle school level. Is early release time bad for our students?
President Obama is the most visible of our leaders calling for an increase in classroom time for our students. He argues that American children must have more quality time in the classroom to be able to learn 21st century skills, in order to compete with other nations on the worldwide stage.
Absent budget considerations I would scrap early release time. The school day would be left intact, and teachers would extend their workday to fit what they do now during early release.
But we do have budget considerations. Is there a meaningful compromise here? I would try to find balance by reducing but not eliminating the number of existing early release days, especially at the middle school level, and lengthen the teacher’s work day.
Q: Do you support academic ability grouping, even if it means groups of students may move through the curriculum at different speeds?
I support within-class academic ability grouping in grade schools for reading and math only. Measurably positive results in ability grouping are shown in these subject areas, in multiple studies. Both higher and lower achieving students show improvement.
In secondary schools, ability grouping by class has been the most common practice. This proves to lead to significant improvement at higher ability levels, especially because these groups tend to advance at a rapid pace and are given more materials to study. Low ability groups also show improvement but only if they are lead with high quality instructors. This is an important issue: I don’t know if studies have been done in NPS, but national studies indicate that lower ability groups are commonly lead by lower quality instructors and this results in lower achievement for these students than if they sit in unsorted classrooms.
Concerns about reduced esteem that students in lower ability groups may experience have not been borne out in studies.
In summary, I support within-class academic ability grouping in grade schools for reading and math only and between-class ability academic grouping in secondary schools if high quality instructors are available for all segregated classes.