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20 Nov 2005 - 21:09
My town has a school board election on November 8th. So far the campaigns have been very contentious. Most taxpayers are getting fed up with the yearly tax increases—property tax rates are getting very high. Neither candidate (one is an incumbent) has really impressed me. The incumbent's platform is founded on his "no double digit tax increases pledge." If I were the challenger, this would be my primary talking point. This is a softball. The challenger's platform is founded on "finding a sugar daddy" to pay for our bills. To cover just our tax increases above the inflation rate, we'd have to find a new million dollar sugar-daddy every year while retaining all past year sugar daddies. You see now why I'm not impressed. I decided I'd stir things up a bit and submit a letter to the editor of our local paper which will run the Friday before the election. Before I submit it (deadline is noon tomorrow) I figured I'd run it by everyone to see if I can improve it. (I quickly threw it together this morning) Since I'm already about 100 words over the 500 word limit, when I say improve I mean revise and cut rather than add more. You'll also notice that I stole a few lines from recent discussions here. Anyway, here it is:
We Deserve Better I urge every taxpayer, and especially every parent who has or will have children in the WSSD, to read Mr. Kuperberg’s assessment of “Strath Haven's Academic Performance Throughout History” in the archive section of his website, Votekuperberg.com. It is a surprisingly frank and mostly accurate assessment of the WSSD by an insider. Things have changed little since it was written four years ago. Allow me to briefly summarize the assessment by starting with the bad and working up to the not so bad: Weak programs: Biology and French. Both of these programs “have deteriorated badly” and “are in crisis.” Average Programs: English Language/Literature, Physics (Electric), Spanish Language/Literature, American History and Government/Politics. Overall, these programs are “average” or “mediocre ” and “deteriorating.” English Language/Literature is in “substantial decline” and “weak overall, strong in the top third and weak at the top.” Strong Programs: Chemistry, and Physics (Mechanics) “have been strong throughout.” Math is “currently the strongest program and has been increasing in strength.” By far, Math is the WSSD’s strongest program. Yet, last year a third of SH juniors did not pass Pennsylvania’s PSSA test of basic math skills. You read that right – a third! I’m not sure “strong” is the adjective I would have selected to describe the math program and curriculum. Many prominent mathematicians agree with my assessment of the WSSD’s curriculum and recommend against its use “for future college students in science, engineering and (of course) mathematics.” Which brings me to the point of this letter. These struggling academic programs are depressing student achievement across the board and causing failures of the bottom 20% - 30% year in and year out. These failures have a large financial impact on the WSSD budget since most of these children will have to be remediated in expensive special education classes whose enrollment is skyrocketing. Wouldn’t it be better to improve the curricula so that the students don’t fail in the first place, avoiding the considerable expense of remediation? And for you parents of college-bound students, be aware that many students will require remediation in college due to these weak academic programs, requiring you to pay for extra classes and, sometimes, an extra year of college. Other schools have already succeeded in this endeavor. The City Springs School and other inner city schools in Baltimore recently reformed their curriculum and have virtually eliminated the need for remediation. Their fifth graders, who were scoring in the bottom 20th percentile a few years, are now outperforming the WSSD’s fifth graders. Their philosophy is simple:
“Just because you covered the material doesn't mean the children learned the material. That tells about what you did. It doesn't tell about what you taught. If you want to know what you taught, you have to look at what the children learned.”After 11 years in the WSSD at an expense to taxpayers of more than a $100,000, a third of SH juniors in math (the WSSD’s strongest program) couldn’t pass a basic skills test. In Korea all students, including the children of poor rice farmers, take calculus in junior year. Why are our kids so far behind the children of poor Korean rice farmers? I recommend that you cast your vote next week for the candidate who 1) can articulate the best specific plan to improve the WSSD’s academic programs before the election and 2) has the will to implement it. This improvement alone will do far more to repair the WSSD’s financial condition than anything either candidate has proposed so far. Kenneth DeRosa
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Ken, there's one place where you allude to what is obviously a fuzzy math curriculum: "I’m not sure “strong” is the adjective I would have selected to describe the math program and curriculum. Many prominent mathematicians agree with my assessment of the WSSD’s curriculum and recommend against its use “for future college students in science, engineering and (of course) mathematics.”" Is there a reason why you don't name the curriculum? Casual readers will not realize, I suspect, that the curriculum itself is part or most of the problem. -- CarolynJohnston - 31 Oct 2005
I thought most parents wouldn't know the name of the Curriculum -- IMP BTW -- and I was trying to cut as much fat as possible. The other thing is that I don't want to dwell too much on the math curriculum because, as I say, our math program is our best department. This is faint praise of course. I single out the math program because since it is our best the rest are even worse by implication. This way all I need show is that the math program is also weak. So instead of dwelling on the specific curriculum, I used the fact that 1/3 couldn't pass our state test. I'm hoping this will resonate with more parents than the curriculum will. Plus, I can do so in far less words. -- KDeRosa - 31 Oct 2005
OK, just wanted to make sure you'd planned it that way. :) -- CarolynJohnston - 31 Oct 2005
I would very much enjoy playing the constructivist card on them. Some day I hope to get that chance. Actually, all the top students in the AP track naturally have a more traditioanl curriculum and there is a second alternate curriculum floating around too. It's referred to as CP by the school board. Core Plus maybe. Shudder. Anyway, I wanted to paint with a broad brush with this letter and tar them all. -- KDeRosa - 31 Oct 2005
I have to go do my KUMON sheets; I think you can condense quite a bit to make this hit harder. (Cutting is ALWAYS possible!) I'll try to do a quick edit in a bit. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
If it helps, I did I quick edit for length below. Best Regards Ben Mr. Kuperberg’s assessment of “Strath Haven's Academic Performance Throughout History” (available at Votekuperberg.com), is a frank analysis by a district insider. It should be required reading for everyone interested in the WSSD.
Weak programs: Biology and French. Both “have deteriorated badly” and “are in crisis.”
Average Programs: English Language/Literature, Physics (Electric), Spanish Language/Literature, American History and Government/Politics. These programs are “average” or “mediocre ” and “deteriorating.” English Language/Literature is in “substantial decline” and “weak overall”
Strong Programs: Chemistry, and Physics (Mechanics) “have been strong throughout.” Math is “currently the strongest program and has been increasing in strength.”
By far, Math is the WSSD’s strongest program. Yet, last year a third of SH juniors did not pass Pennsylvania’s PSSA test of basic math skills. By contrast, in Korea all students, including the children of poor rice farmers, take calculus in junior year. Strong is not the adjective to describe the math program and curriculum. Many prominent mathematicians recommend against using the WSSD’s curriculum “for future college students in science, engineering and (of course) mathematics.”
These struggling academic programs depress student achievement across the board and cause the failure of the bottom 20% - 30% year in and year out. These failures have a large financial impact on the WSSD budget, as most of these children will have to be remediated in expensive special education classes, where enrollment is skyrocketing.
Wouldn’t it be better to improve the curricula so that
The City Springs School and other inner city schools in Baltimore recently reformed their curriculum and have virtually eliminated the need for remediation. Their fifth graders, who were scoring in the bottom 20th percentile a few years, are now outperforming the WSSD’s fifth graders. Their philosophy is simple: “Just because you covered the material doesn't mean the children learned the material.
I recommend that you cast your vote next week for the candidate who 1) can articulate the best specific plan to improve the WSSD’s academic programs before the election and 2) has the will to implement it. This improvement alone will do far more to repair the WSSD’s financial condition than anything either candidate has proposed so far.
Swarthmore -- BenCalvin - 01 Nov 2005
Hi Ben! -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
I would consider moving the first reference to children of Korean rice farmers up to follow the first reference to 1/3 of kids failing test of basic skills. (Was it really 1/3?? That's awful.) That way you can cut the second reference to 1/3 failing... -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
hmmm I don't like that so much. I would play around with condensing the reference to Korea & the 1/3 kids failling basic skills (but I like the $100,000 figure; that's an important detail to keep). You don't need the second reference to the 1/3 kids, so that would be my goal....figure out a way to keep $100,000 without 2nd reference. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
One other thing to think about: you've got two things going on here, poor curriculum & poor teaching of poor curriculum. I would drop the quote from the Cold Springs teacher completely this go-round. The curriculum evaluations are so devastating that I think you weaken your point bringing in the issue of teaching & evaluation of students. Just go-go-go: terrible curriculum, huge money, huge failure rate—bang-bang-bang. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
Hey Ken! You're in an overperforming school district! Among the TOP 50 public schools, only 9 comprehensive high schools were listed as overperforming, and of these, only 2 were ranked above us. In the words of the Magazine, "perhaps the most useful item for public school shoppers is our index of under and overperforming schools...overperforming schools represent something of a bargain, achieving better results for educational and housing dollars spent (p. 81)." -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
There is ZERO griping about school funding here. Zero. There isn't even any griping on the subject of value-for-money spent. More is more. My best friend's husband used to always say their motto was, "Why pay less?" -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
campaign falsehoods -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
Of course, here in Irvington we seem to have a war between Jewish residents & Catholics. I think. No one ever tells me anything. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
October 28, 2005 Irvington Mayor Pulls 6th Term Out of a Bag By JENNIFER MEDINA IRVINGTON, N.Y., Oct. 27 - The Democratic challenger, Erin Malloy, was the eagle. The Republican incumbent, Dennis P. Flood, was the Statue of Liberty. And in the end, the winner of the mayoral race in this Hudson River village was decided by drawing a coin from a bag. Mr. Flood was sworn in for his sixth term on Thursday night, bringing to a close an election battle that dragged on for more than seven months. Residents and reporters crammed into a small village meeting room to witness the outcome of the race, to be determined during a special meeting of the Village Board of Trustees. They could choose any method to pick a winner - drawing straws, a coin toss, a game of paper, rock, scissors - so long as it was random. The audience listened with rapt attention as Trustee Richard J. Livingston explained the method that the trustees had chosen: eight quarters would be put in a bag, four with eagles imprinted on the back and four with the Statue of Liberty. Mr. Livingston would then pull one coin from the bag and the village clerk would announce the winner. "What I do now is go home and relax," Mr. Flood, 61, said after the meeting. "There has been endless buildup with this. Now I wake up tomorrow and get back to business as normal." One resident gave Mr. Flood a sign with his name on it reserving his chair as a souvenir of the evening. Mr. Flood had asked for his lucky coin, but village officials said all of the coins would be donated to the local historical society. As supporters crowded around her to offer their condolences, Ms. Malloy, 54, pledged that this would not be her last run in politics. "I am absolutely going to run again, and I hope he does too," she said. Minutes before the coin draw, several of the trustees said that whoever won, the mayor would have a challenge bringing together this divided Westchester County village of 6,600. The contested election split the village into distinct camps, with some calling for Mr. Flood to step down and others demanding that Ms. Malloy concede to the incumbent. On election night in March, Ms. Malloy and Mr. Flood were in a near dead heat, and it remained unresolved for nearly a week, until Ms. Malloy was declared the winner after a recount. The final tally was 848-847. Mr. Flood had never faced a challenger before, let alone the prospect of defeat. Within weeks, he filed suit challenging several ballots. A State Supreme Court justice ruled against Mr. Flood, but he appealed the decision. One of the challenged ballots was cast by Susan Brenner-Morton, 51, who had signed her ballot "Susan B. Morton." Village officials refused to count it because she was not registered under that name. Ms. Brenner-Morton, who said she had voted for Ms. Malloy, argued that she uses both names depending on the circumstances and had never had a problem voting in a village election before this year. In July, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr. Flood and tossed out Ms. Brenner-Morton's ballot, concluding that the village's decision to open up and count the ballot was not done within the time prescribed by state election law. Ms. Malloy and Ms. Brenner-Morton appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. Last week, the court declined to hear the appeal, leaving the race at a tie. Under state election law, villages are required to settle ties by a random method of their choosing. The Village Board plans to consider alternatives in the case of another tie, said Donald P. Marra, the village administrator, who handles day-to-day operations.
The battle here was sparked by an assembly on gay rights at the high school. The priest at the Catholic Church apparently encouraged his parishioners to be vocal about it, which (apparently) led to a town trustee disinviting Planned Parenthood from some event or other (career day??), which led to a Total Town Meltdown, which seems to feature Jews on one side, Catholics on the other. As I say, this is all from afar, SINCE NO ONE TELLS ME ANYTHING. I'm the only Methodist in the joint. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
Good grief. Here's an entire blog entry on the race. OK, yes, I realize that I myself have now written a blog entry.... BUT There's one big difference, that being that I personally do not see either Mayor Flood or Ms. Malloy as a personification of evil. sigh Meanwhile, Christopher may or may not have been called a 'dirty Jew' by a kid at school this week. He's not sure. Christopher thought the kid called him a D-J, so he fired back and called the kid a 'stupid Catholic.' Which puts me in the position of having to hope the kid did call him a D-J, because otherwise I'm gonna be getting phone calls from the school about how my kid is going around calling other kids Stupid Catholics. Which, obviously, is a practice we discourage in this house. Ed says we should go to a School Board meeting & seriously propose changing the name of the 'No Put-Downs' program to 'No Anti-Semitic and Ethnic Slurs.' -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
Just some small-town Americana, that. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
Big Election Theft in a Little Town At this point, I'm assuming this guy lives in my town. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
Hey, my comments are disappearing. -- KDeRosa - 01 Nov 2005
Hey Carolyn! He's a UNIX guy! Bob Geiger is a leader in the Information Security and UNIX fields and frequently quoted on information security topics in the national media. Time to go do some math. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
Thanks for the comments all. I wanted to condense the 1/3 failure rate stat, but I needed some distance to figure out how. I'm also going to revise the $100,000 to $150,000 since we now spend $14k oer student per year. Before this year, hardly anyone ever complained about the tax rate -- but times are a changing. It's the main campaign issue this year. I find the overperforming school district stat funny. We are actually in the top ten out of 500 school districts. So this is what everyone fixates on. No one likes when I bring up the high failure rate on the state exams. Which is exactly why I always bring it up. If you think the NAEP is easy, the PA exam is very easy. Twice the number of students pass the PA exam than do the NAEP exam. IF you can believe it. I'm going to revise this tonight and submit it tomorrow. -- KDeRosa - 01 Nov 2005
Before this year, hardly anyone ever complained about the tax rate -- but times are a changing. It's the main campaign issue this year. Do you see a difference, broadly speaking, between moms & dads? The moms here are avidly pro-tax increases. The dads seem to be pretty solidly unenthusiastic. (Based on tiny samples, for the dads.) -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
Which is exactly why I always bring it up. If you think the NAEP is easy, the PA exam is very easy. Wow. That's incredible. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
I think it's a family by family thing. People are starting to realize that there is no correlation between money spent and performance. The other big factor is we just had a major construction project that went seriously over budget. I think this was the tipping point. Actually, the easy state exams are an artifact of NCLB. The best way to get more kids to perform better is to make the exam easy. The added benefit is that it decreases the racial achievement gap. -- KDeRosa - 01 Nov 2005
I think it's a family by family thing. People are starting to realize that there is no correlation between money spent and performance. The other big factor is we just had a major construction project that went seriously over budget. I think this was the tipping point. We just had a huge construction project (brand new middle school) that did not go radically over budget, in contrast to the horror stories all around, in other towns. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
That's why I wouldn't have everything pegged to NAEP. Let people see the gap between their state scores & the NAEP scores. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005
I just remembered one more thing that indicates the pulse of the people and their attittudes toward education and their property taxes are starting to change. last year one of the school districts Philly suburbs (one of the better ones) couldn't coem to terms with the teacher's union. The teachers threatened to strike, and may in fact struck for a day or so. Big mistake. The people were up in arms big time. Had the teachers stayed on strike there is no doubt in my mind that violence would have erupted that's how hostile the taxpayers were getting. It was the first time that I had read in the Philly Inquirer (aka Pravda)how people were complaining about how high teacher salaries had become and how they should be shouldering more of their benefits like the rest of us. Needless to say, the teachers quickly ran back to work. There hasn't been a education related strike in our area since. (besides the transit workers' strike going on right now) -- KDeRosa - 01 Nov 2005
Update I revised my letter to the editor and replaced the original with the revised version at the original link. Thanks for all the helpful comments. -- KDeRosa - 01 Nov 2005
I think maybe the natives are getting restless on Long Island. But not here. -- CatherineJohnson - 01 Nov 2005