Superintendent decision: statement by Patty Nolan at special Meeting of the Cambridge School Committee on Superintendent vote, October 27, 2015
This decision is the most important any SC can make. The most significant of our term. At this point, we have narrowed the candidate list to two, and both both have tremendous strengths and would bring something to our district.
First, I want to say something about the process that led us to this point. Was it perfect? No. Was it better than the last one? Yes. There was a concerted effort at community outreach. WE had many opportunities for the community to weigh in on the superintendent profile. We held meetings across the city. We had more than 30 focus groups. And, we instructed the search firm to look for a variety of candidates with different backgrounds. The range of applicants, 42 in all, showed that we did attract some different types, and from far afield.
And yet, some in the community have been asking – after a nation search, how did it come down to three finalists, all in Massachusetts? Honestly, it could be a parochial attitude on our part – the SSIC thought Massachusetts candidates were better. Or, Massachustts could actually have been better. Remember, our state is the highest performing in the country and we are an extremely high performing district – understandable from that perspective that our finalists were all relatively local.
I approached the decision as I do other decisions – knowing that I needed to gather information, and push for answers. I started digging. I reached out to everyone I knew in Framingham, Weymouth, Boston, Worcester and Holyoke as soon as the three were announced. Once we decided to move forward with two candidates, and not continue the process with Dr. Stacy Scott, I focused my due diligence on Dr. Kenneth Salim and Dr. Sergo Paez.
I wanted to learn all I could from the people involved with the site visits – I went to Weymouth and met many people. I could not go to Holyoke, but I spoke with several people who were part of the site visit. In addition, I reached out to others – since we needed full information from people who were not chosen by the candidates. I spoke with leaders in each district, parents, teachers, and reached out to people in our larger community to see what they knew of our candidates.
For Dr. Paez: What I found were many strengths: a charismatic educator with tremendous personality, commitment and drive. His personal and professional story is compelling. His energy is evident. His work on early literacy in Holyoke is excellent. And there are signs his work in Holyoke was beginning to take root. There is a respect for his work from a number of people still in Holyoke. I also had many concerns, starting with the Holyoke situation. Obviously Dr. Paez did not create it. And he was only there for 1.5 years before the state took over. He is not responsible for Holyoke performance – not enough time to judge Paez. I understand that – but the concern was not only not enough time to show the results from his work. The Holyoke results are so far below CPS that I worried there was not enough experience with an already high performing district. And the MCAS and grad results that were presented as evidence were not compelling. I had been told that the ELA 3rd grade (a benchmark score) growth was exemplary, as well as an exemplary increase in high school graduation rates. Looking at the ELA 3rd grade – there was some positive change in scores. But the 2015 scores were about the same as 2012. That did not inspire confidence. Overall MCAS 2015 was ok – some up some down, not definite overall trend. And the SGP in Holyoke for 2015 for almost all schools was low. Combining low student growth with low proficiency – far below Cambridge – did not bode well in my view.
The high school graduation rates – when I asked how the increase compared to other district, I was told it was among the highest. So I checked (of course – trust but verify). The data was not very compelling. I downloaded all 2013 and 2014 graduation rates, for all students and Latinos (Holyoke is majority Latino) and looked at the increase. While Holyoke’s increase from 53.8% to 60.2% graduation was good – it was not the highest, even among urban districts. Springfield’s increase was higher, as was Peabody’s. And for Latinos, the increase in Holyoke from 47.5 to 53.2% was close to Cambridge’s increase. Yet Cambridge’s graduation rate went from 81.8% to 87%.
While these two bits of data are not the whole measure of a district, both of them showed progress but were not compelling. And both were cited as evidence of strong performance in Holyoke, which makes it appropriate to ask whether that holds true. Upon review, it seemed to me that Cambridge far higher performance on both and relatively same progress suggested a real question of whether Dr. Paez would know how to lead us to higher achievement.
And I reviewed the student growth charts – and Holyoke is not only extremely low performing by proficiency on MCAS across the board. The student growth, measured by SGP, was generally low also. Both lower than CPS – not something that gives me confidence.
And while the data wall controversy may have been overemphasized, it seems that it could have been handled better. The issue came up as a problem for a number of reasons. Not only were a few (maybe only a few) classrooms putting up “data walls” in classrooms with students’ names on it. [not in the teacher conference room, where data walls belong – but in classrooms.] When parents raised concerns, the administration role in promoting the data walls was denied. Again, it might be understandable why data walls found their way into classrooms. But to not own the mistake from the outset is troubling. We pursued the issue, and were sent some information – minutes from a School Committee meeting. However, when I checked for more minutes, I found additional information that supported the assertion that Dr. Paez had known about the walls and the concerns long before the press was involved. In other words, he could have avoided all the press. And he did not provide us with the full story. Not something that made me comfortable.
His experience was a real strengths, since he started as a teacher and grew through teacher training and helping ensure better instruction in the classroom. One of his strengths was experience with Boston and Weymouth. Honestly, while Cambridge is not entirely unique, we are somewhat unique, so no one has experience with Cambridge – but there are many similarities. The fact that he was a leader in both communities impressed me. Boston has much greater challenges economically than we do. Weymouth is more middle and working class, without the racial diversity of Boston or Cambridge. HE has been in both, and it is clear talking to people in both that he navigated the process very well. His range of positions, always focused on teaching at the core prepares him well for Cambridge. His personal story also important, since he knows what being an outsider is. And his description of how teaching at Brighton High and seeing the low expectations for students in other classrooms was what motivated him to move into administration. That story stayed with me as I deliberated.
At the site visit, it was clear that with far less resources, he was doing many things we would hope for here. The ILP pilot is something I hope he brings. The Un-conference is something I hope he brings. The Parent University is like some of our programs - perhaps together we could build it up. He listened to staff, and was strong and clear about his vision, but willing to take input.
Meeting with a range of people, what struck me was that in them answering us about how something worked, we learned a lot about HOW he works. And the HOW was exactly what I think we need – a thoughtful leader who listens, takes input and is willing to change. And a leader who is strong enough to push back and keep pushing to make sure the decision is the right one. A leader who can identify good people to hire. A leader who is strong enough to build consensus and a real plan. And, very important, someone with energy, drive and follow-through. Dr. Salim makes sure things are happening and makes sure things are completed.
Are there any concerns? Yes – not to be ageist, but he is young, not a lot of experience. That can be an advantage: we want fresh ideas, an active person. It can also be a disadvantage – we will look to him to seek coaching and mentoring.
His emphasis on testing and technology – I see that we need technology but also see far too much of it in our lives already – our role will be to ensure that we jointly develop policies to ensure 21st century readiness without resorting to computers teaching our kids, or having them glued to screens. Testing – our community together needs to figure out how to navigate the need for accountability and assessment while reducing standardized tests.
I know it is a risk – I take it happily and hopefully. I will vote for Dr. Salim as our next superintendent.
Statement on standardized testing, prepared in response to movement Less Testing More Learning, Spring 2015
Patty Nolan, Cambridge School Committee candidate
There has been a lot of attention to standardized testing in the country, in Massachusetts, in Cambridge. I agree that we’re doing too much. And I agree that there is a place for standardized testing.
However, we know standardized tests do not raise achievement. And yet there is more attention to various student groups too often and tragically overlooked in the past. Many people attribute this attention to subgroups of students to having standardized tests. I am not persuaded that the correlation is direct or strong. Consider that the achievement gap narrowed in the 70s and 80s, when poverty programs changed the landscape. In the last 20 years, the gap has not budged. A report From the Black-White Achievement Gap, when progress Stopped, has lots of data confirming that finding. Correlation? Or coincidence? I honestly don’t know, but I do know we should know.
That being said, I believe there is a role for standardized tests, including a summative assessment of learning to assure students that they have the skills and knowledge to succeed – whether they go on to college or apprenticeship or employment. Most of the legislative attempts to address the testing issue do not eliminate standards or even all tests. They do question the type of test and the use of the test, especially when it seems to invade every grade every month. I believe we do a disservice to students if we don’t have standards that we can verify they have met, since future employers or other adult endeavors will assume a level of competency. Which means I support some hurdle every student must clear, with a test being the measure - as long as there is an alternative way for students for whom other ways of measuring learning is more appropriate, like the current portfolio assessment alternative provided by Massachusetts.
I agree with much of the educational leaders of this state when they testified – they talked about our state as a leader, about needing accountability, about the welcome attention to low income, SPED, students at risk. Honestly, unlike when I was in school, we do believe that all students can learn. The question is not that – it is whether the type and amount of standardized testing is necessary to get us to high standards for all students.
A few things to keep in mind – we all need to assess thoughtfully ways to build on our success. Our Massachusetts student results on internationally and nationally referenced tests –TIMSS, PISA & NAEP -- are laudable. And Massachusetts has had MCAS for twenty years and has a highly unionized teaching staff. And in CPS, a study found that our African American and LowIncome students appear to be performing at about the level of Finland and Israel’s students. That suggests that we should re-frame the discussion and understand how we can improve, from our very solid base.
We’re not where we should be – especially for historically under-resourced students. But if our kids are performing at the top of an international scale, at least let’s stop telling them they are failing. When a student scores Needs Improvement or Warning, they hear “I am a failure”. We need to send the message that the tests are meant to measure what they have learned, not who they are. The recent focus on growth mindset is welcome and long overdue. We still have many teachers who subconsciously don’t really believe all kids can learn. Students need to hear consistently, and believe they can improve, that our schools are set up to help them learn, that is our job, the adults, to provide them with the support and tools they need to achieve the results we expect. It cannot be overemphasized enough: we have to make it clear that we truly do believe students can achieve – we must walk the walk of high expectations.
I am concerned about the impact of standardized tests on student social-emotional well-being. We know that expectations and messages matter – what message are we sending with our test results? We, the adults, need to keep students in mind when we assess and when we use the assessment results.
Why is Massachusetts a national leader in education? It is not our testing – it is the supports and programs to even the playing field and close the opportunity gap in hunger, social services, high expectations. Likely it is other elements of the Ed Reform bill and other elements of our state – we should be examining the evidence more carefully and thoughtfully – so that the solution fits the reality.
The discussion has to include the impact of testing AND most critically how to ensure that teachers are not doing TEST PREP (which does happen), or conveying to students that the test is a measure of the STUDENT himorherself. Instead the focus has to be on providing support to teachers, so they can teach, creatively, with joy and yes love. When that happens – engaged lessons in a classroom where every student feels valued and respected – by the time the high school test comes along, they’ll pass it. It all comes down to how educators are teaching our kids in the classroom.
Statement December 2014 on a successor contract for Dr. Young,
after six years.
[remarks prepared for the public meeting on Dec. 2, 2014 to vote on a contract for a one year
extension. This written statement was amended in making the oral statement, to shorten it.]
This decision is hard. Very hard - since I will not be supporting a successor contract. It is sad too,
since I was a strong supporter of Dr. Young when he was a candidate. I had hoped and expected after
5.5 years to see success in our district from his leadership. I had hoped, as all of us hoped, to see our
district go from good to great. We have not. It is difficult for me to talk about this decision publicly,
with Dr. Young here, and I am sure it is difficult for him to hear. This decision is likely not a surprise
to anyone, since I have been clear throughout this process that I would base my decision on what is
best for the district and that I had not seen the progress I expected. I did call the superintendent earlier
to tell him that I could not support a contract extension of any length. It is with a heavy heart that I do
This vote is the most important vote we take, so I owe it to everyone to explain why I will vote no. I
believe that five years is long enough to gauge success of efforts. There are many districts and schools
that have had success in changing the trajectory of a set of schools in five years. In fact, Dr. Greer’s
work here demonstrates convincingly that in one year, good management can make real positive
change, including starting a shift in culture.
In reflecting on this decision, I started by looking at our district goals and data. Achievement has
been our # 1 goal for years. Overall achievement, and closing achievement gaps. Most of the
measurable goals relate to MCAS, which is a limited measure. However, it is one measure and since
the administration has failed, despite five years of specific requests, to develop a more holistic way to
measure achievement, it remains our main measure. And our district goals are clear and SMART in
this respect. And we all agreed would be an important component of measuring our overall progress.
Two years ago we failed by a large margin to reach our goals, especially for closing proficiency gaps.
So we lowered our goals – dramatically. This year, despite this lowering, we again failed to meet
almost every numeric goal for proficiency and student growth.
- For overall proficiency %: goal not met, in ELA or MATH.
- Proficiency by subgroup: for both MATH & ELA- goal met for just 3 of 18 subgroups
- CPI by subgroup: goal met for only 2 of 18 subgroups
- The number of Level 3 schools went from 0 to 2 to 3 from 2012 to 2014.
And, the achievement gap for blacks, low income, sped: flat for the last 5 years. Comparing groups
using the conventional definition of achievement gap is problematic. Yet however you measure it, the
gap in CPS between AfAmer and white students is 30 points and between low income and non low
income is 25 points. Most importantly, that gap hasn’t changed over the last five years.
Thus, we failed to meet most of our goals for achievement. We have worked hard and done a lot, but
we haven’t fundamentally achieved our goals. Most of our success is the type of success we had in
place five years ago.
Then I reflected on management practice and leadership. This year we had the advantage of an
outside review of the management of our district, with the DESE district review. That report
documented major lapses in management and administration. We briefly reviewed some of them, and
they are relevant to this decision. In that report, the most salient finding was that only 25% of
administrators had been evaluated the prior five years. And the evaluations that were done were “not
instructive” and not of high quality. Which means nearly all of our top leaders – our principals,
curriculum heads, and cabinet members – had not been evaluated. For five years running. In my
view, evaluation is one of the most important tasks of a leader. It is a way to praise what is going well
and offer help and advice on how to improve practice. Done well, and thoughtfully, it is a key lever for
positive improvement, especially in educational institutions.
Other findings also paint a picture of missed opportunities. After five years of management under Dr.
Young, the review identified many strengths of the district, and provided what I view as a significant
critique of leadership and management. A few examples are:
- Despite spending three times the state average on professional development for years, PD was
found to be “ too fragmented, isolated and inefficient to adequately advance district goals and
priorities”. (p 40-42)
- Principals, who are our front line leaders, don’t have clear expectations (p.49)
- Structure of central admin – although not dramatically different from the past, except in titles – the
roles and responsibilities of top administrators are unclear, which leads to ineffective management
- Instruction: lack of evidence of ability to differentiate – yet that has been the focus of PD and
central admin. and a district goal for several years
- Student support, inc. RTI – despite being a district priority for 4 years, system not cohesive. “The
lack of a robust system of tiered instruction with timely provision of incremental supports to help
students overcome academic, behavioral, social, and emotional impediments to learning interferes
with improving student outcomes.” (p.43)
- Some school buildings “aged and poorly maintained, with missing ceiling panels, inadequate
lighting and noise… not conducive to learning” (p.44) These issues exist despite spending more
than twice the state average per student on operations and maintenance and our spending the
highest in the state on our school building projects, on a per student basis.
Then I turned to the Innovation Agenda, which is held up as the signature accomplishment of the last
five years, if not decades. More than three years after the vote, it is not clear that our district or our
middle grades students are better off. While we all hope the restructuring will become successful, it is
not yet. For some students, instruction is better. Extracurriculars are better on the whole, yet the
promise of far greater opportunities has not been realized yet. And for many students, the educational
experience is worse. No matter how daunting a reorganization, with our resources by now we should
have unequivocal proof that the disruption was worth it. We do not. We spent far too much time on
the logistics of the restructuring and only now have we focused on teaching. That should not have
been the case – there are districts and schools that have moved faster in similar turnaround situations –
with better leadership and management.
In keeping with good governance practice, goals and outcomes were established to measure the
success of the IA. Most of those goals have not been met, or, tellingly, the measures not reviewed.
- MCAS SGP: the goal set was for 55 SGP overall and for subgroups. We did not meet that goal
for our high needs, Af Amer, SPED or low income students in either ELA or Math.
- Percent of 8th graders successful in Algebra 1: we set a goal of increasing by 5% a year. I, along
with many of my colleagues thought that goal was far too low – since it meant it would take until
2030 to have 90% of our 8th graders complete Algebra 1, a standard that most high performing
surrounding districts are meeting now.
- School climate survey outcomes – though the surveys were done in the Spring of 2014, the data
has not been released. I asked for it, but we don’t have it yet so we don’t know how we did for the
family and staff goals. A lack of attention to mutually developed goals suggests that the outcomes
and measures are not taken seriously.
- Mass TELL survey data by teachers: there were three items selected to be SMART goals: only 1
of the three goals were met; 2 were not met.
We have serious ongoing leadership and morale issues in several of our elementary schools and two of
our upper schools. We have not sent a strong signal for parents and teachers that we understand and
are working to resolve those concerns.
I also worry that there has not been evidence of excellent collaborative management in other areas:
math coordinator search: we failed to hire someone, so math and science were combined – at a
time when we are replacing our entire K-8 math curriculum. How is it possible that a district
paying over $100K attracted so few candidates? How is it possible that national math
organization, the Young People’s Project (was The Algebra Project) was not consulted for names?
Generally when few candidates apply, it is a leadership issue.
Responding to the results of the MassTell survey of teachers which show problems in some
While we talk family engagement, far too many parents do not feel respected and included and
Despite having amazing staff who know how to teach all students, and who do project based
learning that is exciting and engaging, we have relied on expensive outside consultants. Instead of
tapping into our best practices, too often we don’t even document our best practices, then pay
outsiders extremely high fees.
The community, including the School Committee, is often left out of planning and developing of
initiatives, instead of being treated as full partners. A key example is how the extended school day
discussion was not inclusive or transparent.
Finally, our enrollment has grown, and that growth is pointed to as a success. However, our
enrollment of 6700 is still below what it was when my oldest entered school in 2001. Our decline was
steeper than most surrounding communities, and we are now gaining back enrollment, which is
excellent. However, our increases are in line with most districts around us - in the last five years, CPS
enrollment has grown at about the same rate as most neighbors – Arlington, Belmont, Brookline,
Lexington, Newton, Waltham. That fact suggests that we are keeping our own, not excelling, on this
dimension. And most of our growth in K-12 enrollment the last few years is at the high school level,
which has not been an administrative focus for the last five years.
I have focused on a review of more quantifiable reasons for an extension or not. However, the
decision incorporates other factors as well. These measures mesh with my overall sense that what
would be best for the district would be to start seeking new leadership soon. The data confirms my
sense that a new leader would be best for our students, and that guides my every decision.
I wish we had released the contract earlier. It is good practice, and in this instance we were not
transparent and open about the proposed contract, which includes a large raise.
I am not comfortable voting a new contract of any length in light of the factors I summarized. Plus,
we haven’t finished our evaluation of the superintendent. His own midyear self-evaluation showed
that he understands that performance could be improved.
I am especially not comfortable voting a raise of any level when we already pay far more than any
other district – currently $275,000 total combined salary and annuity -- higher than Boston pays. I
cannot support a raise of $14K. While the raise is spread over two years – a retroactive raise for this
year and the same salary for next year, any raise when the district failed to meet our goals, failed to
close the achievement gaps, and our leader failed to do the primary job of a manager, evaluate staff,
seems like the wrong message. Plus, it is a greater raise than all the contractual raises for all our
unionized staff. As I said, it is with a heavy heart that I will be voting no.
Sample Summer Newsletter.
Dear Follower of Cambridge Public Schools:
First, Happy Summer! School just ended for CPS students and the whirlwind of year-end activity is about to shift into summer mode. Personally, the past few months have also been even busier than usual. We recently celebrated our daughter's bat mitzvah and my husband had an insanely busy schedule leading up to the reopening of the Planetarium at the Museum of Science, (he's the Director), with a spectacular new show. Our son finished his first year at CRLS and will participate in the Mayor's Youth Summer Employment Program -- one of the many incredible opportunities our city offers young people. Our daughter finished up 7th grade at the Peabody School where a highlight of the year was a performance of an original musical play on bullying in schools. (Both our children find times when their years at Amigos speaking Spanish come in handy, and we are grateful that opportunity was available to them.)
In my last update three months ago I wrote at length after the vote on approving a major initiative in our school district, to restructure our schools, called the Innovation Agenda [IA]. That initiative, which was quite wrenching for the community and for me, has been the main focus of our work of the last few months. The issue of how to address the challenges of living our dream of excellent education for all in a district as diverse as Cambridge is hugely important and hugely difficult. As those who follow our district know, there are still many decisions to be made about how to implement the Innovation Agenda.
As always, I am absorbed in a range of issues, both related to my work as a School Committee member, and my volunteer work in the community on mostly educational and environmental sustainability issues. With the world facing monumental challenges and many people I know experiencing very difficult and challenging times, including several members of my family, I try to remain focused on positive work on all fronts to meet the challenges.
I welcome your feedback, comments, suggestions. And, of course, this being an election year, I plan to run for re-election and respectfully ask for your support. As usual, I've been very busy working hard on issues. I look forward to continuing that work with your help.
Included in this update:
Cambridge School Committee
184 Huron Avenue Cambridge MA 02138
- Superintendent evaluation & contract renewal
- Innovation Agenda [IA] follow ups
- Summer learning loss
- Differentiated learning
- Future of the Intensive Studies Program [ISP]
- Shorter updates (not an exhaustive list, since this email will be long enough.)
- Initiative around teacher evaluation
- Parent groups
- Bilingual schools in Cambridge
- Sports injury report
- CRLS renovations
1. Superintendent evaluation & contract renewal
Part of our June 21 School Committee meeting was devoted to an evaluation of Superintendent Jeff Young. And subsequent to us summarizing our feedback, we unanimously voted to enter into negotiations for a successor contract. I fully hope and expect that those negotiations will be successful and that Dr. Young will be in Cambridge for several more years. His contract runs through June of 2012, and we needed to give a one year notice of intent to renew.
As Dr. Young's earliest and strongest supporter in the superintendent search of two years ago, I am gratified that he has garnered so much community support. This year's unanimous decision to enter into contract negotiations for a successor contract was a relief compared to the extreme tension and divisiveness generated by past superintendents.
As I said during our evaluation of his performance this week, he has many strengths and we are lucky to have him as our superintendent. Like all of us, Dr. Young also has areas of weakness, and opportunities for improvement. I look forward to continuing to work with him on behalf of our shared vision of excellence in the Cambridge Public Schools. In my evaluation, I spoke appreciatively of his personal commitment to addressing issues of achievement, his approachability, his public speaking prowess, his courage in restructuring central administration, his exceptional ability to market the Innovation Agenda and his warmth and dedication to our students. I also spoke of the need I saw to be more respectful of other people's input especially teachers (many of whom feel uncertain and demoralized by the IA process), to be more inclusive of parents in decision-making, to be more supportive of all schools, and more open about schools not meeting our students need or educational goals.
2. Innovation Agenda [IA] follow ups
The IA will shape the district for years to come. And, it will absorb most of our collective energy over the next couple of years. Next year is a planning year, and in September of 2012 Cambridge will have one high school, the newly renovated Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, one JK-8 school (Amigos dual way bilingual immersion school), 11 elementary schools of JK-5 (possibly JK-6), with two of those schools hosting dual way bilingual programs (the King Chinese Bilingual Immersion Strand and King Open's Ola Portugese Bilingual Program).
Much information related to the IA, including documents and updates can be found on the CPS website:
As we move forward implementing this ambitious plan, there are many unanswered questions especially about the new upper school campuses. Unresolved questions include leadership structure, curriculum, grade structure, and the future of the ISP, (the district's long standing middle school magnet program for academically motivated students).
A question has been raised on how the decisions on each of these issues will be made. School Committee sets policy and the Superintendent carries out the will of the Committee and is charged with implementing the policies and deciding administrative and managerial issues within the parameters we set. Recently we reviewed the IA status and agree to outline the areas of responsibility as we see them. Below is my email to the superintendent and my colleagues. I welcome any feedback from you.
You asked us all to confirm which decisions related to the Innovation Agenda we believe need to be voted upon by the School Committee.
The question really is which decisions are policy and which are administrative implementation of policy. I told you verbally, and I indicated in an email a sense of which decisions I believe fit into the policy realm. However, I have not written it down in a more formal way, hence this email.
Using my understanding of School Committee role, from standard school board roles, our own practice, contacting the MASC and reviewing the state's advisory on governance it seems that the following decisions definitely are policy and therefore should be decided by the School Committee. As always, the Committee should seek input from you as administrator of the district and implementor of the policies we set. There may be other items which arise as we dig into the details, but the major ones I see are below.
- whether to have a Humanities curriculum at all the schools, and whether to have different curriculum at all schools. This question is one of both general curricula, which is policy, and is a commater of community wide interest and importance. To respond to the question of what IS Humanities -- the hallmarks of Humanities to me are having one course cover both ELA and Social Studies combined and where the bulk of the work is in interdisciplinary projects.
The question of where Humanities fits into the schedule and how often is one which is an administrative decision.
- whether to end the ISP program. As a separate program for a specific group of students, choosing to operate the ISP is a policy question. Whether to have integrated or separate programs for students is a policy question.
- Grade structure at schools -- which includes both the question of grade span and the question of mixed grades in classes -- both are policy decisions. As such, they are the province of the School Committee.
NOT AS CLEAR:
The question of leadership structure is a little less clear. WE may need guidance from legal counsel on this one. If the upper school campuses are separate schools or a program within an existing school might influence one's thinking. If the upper school campuses are separate schools, then since starting new schools is a policy question, we would have to vote on that. Which I believe we did by voting the IA. If they are schools, then does it follow that the leadership structure should mirror the structure in all schools? The question of how to manage a school might well be a question of administrative judgement. This decision seems to be a gray area.
An overarching question is whether we have already voted on the above questions. I believe not. Each of the above was an open question at the time of the vote on the IA. Even though the grades 6-8 were listed in the IA, the question of having campuses be 7-8 instead was on the table, and a specific motion was voted to be referred to you for study as part of the IA.
Hope that helps clarify my understanding of the law.
3. Summer learning loss
An issue near and dear to me is the question of addressing summer learning loss. My colleague Richard Harding and I put forth two motions on this issue. First, that the district communicate the importance of summer assignments. Many kids do assigned work over the summer, come back to school and see it get tossed sometimes literally into the recycle bin. Definitely not a message we want to impart to students. We believe strongly that we need consistency, and need to respect our students and teachers.
We also believe strongly that we miss an opportunity if we ignore summer learning loss. Our second motion was to explore, as part of the IA, some mandatory summer learning experience for all middle school students. For a little more of my thinking on this issue, below is the op-ed by Richard Harding and me in the Chronicle from a few weeks ago: (copied below)
Guest commentary: Summer learning for all in Cambridge
By Richard Harding and Patricia Nolan
Wicked Local Cambridge
We have a dream. Most of us in Cambridge have a dream -- of a stellar school district with high achievement across the board. Yet achievement gaps with academically struggling students persist. Many academically strong students feel unchallenged or unsupported. With major change upon our district and explicit attention to our need to do better, we hope the dialogue includes a look at one promising strategy.
When's the last time a student had to help out with the family harvest? Right. Yet our school year has a ten-week gap. During that time, convincing educational research shows that some students continue to grow - through camps or family vacations or museum visits or other engaging activities with meaningful content, even if outside the classroom. Ask any teacher how much time they spend each fall getting students back to where they were in June. Too much.
Time magazine's story last July on this issue summary of research should compel all of us to rethink our aversion to mandating summer learning: "By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind, and summer was the biggest culprit. By ninth grade, summer learning loss could be blamed for roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap separating income groups."
Similarly, a Nellie Mae study found very compelling evidence that most schools do a wonderful job of teaching students, and learning grows over the school year. Then students without summer opportunities either slide back or hold steady while other students, mostly middle class, continue to learn. Extended learning time during the day hasn't shown convincing improvements in achievement.
That knowledge spurred us to jointly offer a motion to explore extending the school year by requiring all middle school students to be intentionally engaged in learning for several weeks during the summer. For some students, attending nature camp would qualify while for others work as a junior counselor.
Our own children aren't crazy about this idea. And many in Cambridge resist mandatory anything -- especially a "loss" of summer. But it doesn't have to be a loss if every student has a 3-4 week summer program that is fun, inspiring, and a cross between camp and summer school. Breakthrough Cambridge has led the way, with an intense program with impressive results with their students who are mostly students of color from low-income backgrounds. The program marries the excitement of young teachers with engaging classes. The energy in the program about the thrill of summer learning and the saliency of teacher relationship is quite inspiring. What if every student had a similar experience for part of the summer?
Summer classes could include robotics, biotech, philosophy and other enrichment classes in every subject. We hope our colleagues across the city will see this idea as a potentially exciting one, which may put Cambridge on the map in fulfilling our mission.
Bold solutions are needed. We share a dream. Let's go for it.
Richard Harding and Patty Nolan are Cambridge School Committee members.
4. Differentiated learning
An ongoing, contentious issue in CPS is whether to offer different classes to students based on aptitude and facility with the subject. People often refer to this issue as "tracking", a term I resist since tracking usually means no route off an assigned track. I remain ambivalent about this question. However, I am not ambivalent about believing that our students' educational needs now would best be served by different classes in math in the middle grades. Our district has a general policy that students will be challenged through differentiated instruction within the same class, rather than differentiated classes. Other urban districts offer schools or classes based on preparedness. CPS does not. (The ISP has a related but slightly different mission and history.) The question of how we will meet students educational needs in the new middle school campuses is an open one, explicitly so for math.
I have been struck by some students experience that they are not being well served by our current policies, even in a small class with differentiated learning. We have a long proud history of offering different lessons to students who are behind their peers, recognizing that they need instruction tailored to where they are. Many in our community don't recognize the needs of kids who are ahead of their peers. Some of our schools do engage them, some don't. All should.
Let me relay an anecdote sent to me by someone in our community. A quite powerful statement on leveled classes, based on painful personal experience:
It is a mistake to imagine that students in non-tracked classes will magically be
unaware of how they compare academically with their peers, and it is my experience
that without tracking the contrast is only made more obvious.
As a student who spent many years at the academic bottom of differentiated
classrooms, I can tell you that it is not an inspiring experience. The absence of
tracking in the schools I attended, did not hide from me that I was least
competent student in the class. In fact, the contrast between me and the higher
level students was only made more stark. So stark, that I mostly gave up trying
and even ended up failing fifth grade.
My story is similar to many students who struggle in school as result of a less than
ideal home life, being raised by a single parent who struggled with alcoholism and
By ninth grade I was in a high school that had academic tracks which they tried to
disguise, fooling no one, with the titles such as environmental science versus
biology. Finally, I was in a class of academic peers and the possibility of
succeeding within this more narrow group seemed less daunting. Taking small steps, I
moved into more challenging classes until by senior year, I was in all top classes.
Even so, I missed a lot of valuable years of education. One of my only regrets is
that I was not placed in tracked classrooms at a much earlier age.
Ideally, all students would be able to get their needs met in a heterogeneous class. However, we know that is not always the case currently. When CRLS did away with honors classes, the high school lost a lot, including its accreditation. Now CRLS is viewed as very successful. Offering different level classes does not have to mean that the expectations or quality of instruction are different.
More in math than in other subjects, when there is a wide range of learners and ability and aptitude in a class, the challenge for teachers is monumental. If we put two teachers in every class, or had a relatively narrow range of preparedness, or had an extraordinary teacher who could effectively differentiate instruction, then yes, we could and should offer heterogeneous classes. But if none of those conditions are present, I believe it is not educationally sound to not have leveled classes.
Never mind that it takes either a long time or a particular skill set -- probably both -- to be an effective differentiator as a teacher. And we can't rely on all teachers being superstars.
When we do a review and have the discussion, we should include students voices. By a certain age, kids have a sense of how they learn best. Often kids themselves do not care so much how they are placed. I have asked them -- they know who is strong and they don't necessarily care if they're working in separate group or class. It's not as though we're hiding that by not having separate classes. And as the above personal story makes clear, it can hurt some students not to offer them classes with academic peers.
Students should be engaged, and to be challenged -- the key is to have high expectations -- for that student or group of students.
Take a student in first grade who learns to read easily, as though s/he doesn't need to go through the typical steps. S/he picks it up almost as if on their own -- appropriately high expectations for her/him might mean a book more typically read by 2nd or 3rd graders. We all know students reading Harry Potter in 4th grade, for instance. Others can't get through it until 7th or 8th grade.
Take another first grader who doesn't learn so easily, and who has to be brought through the steps to literacy slowly, with difficulty. Asking that student to read the same book would be unfair and educationally unsound. High expectations might mean getting to a first grade level by year end -- and that might be a stretch.
Of course, we'd want the first child to be challenged, and the second. And for the second to be given enough help to develop reading skills. How best to do it? With enough effective adults in the classroom, it is easier to effectively differentiate. With one adult, and a range of aptitude and experience among the students .....?
All to say, the "right" answer is not always clear. And equity in education does not necessarily mean the same. Students needs vary. So should their education. What should not vary are our expectations and standards.
5. The future of the Intensive Studies Program [ISP]
The ISP is the district's middle grade magnet program for students who are academically motivated. It is under review, and honestly, it is difficult to see how it will continue under the IA. However, there is a review underway and at a minimum I hope we learn from the study of the ISP and incorporate findings into the planning around the implementation of the IA. I have advocated strongly for a transparent and comprehensive evaluation of the program which can only serve us well for planning for the new middle schools, even if the program itself is ended.
The ISP has served our district since 1952, and is the only districtwide academic program for middle school students. We should learn from its experience. I have spoken with many ISP parents from many years ago, a few years ago and current. The program recently has not lived up to its potential. In my view, that is due to it not being supported by the district. Students now are entirely self selected, with no clear academic standard. And schools of course hate to lose students to the ISP, so students without involved "in-the-know" parents are not encouraged to enroll. Which leads to, at one of the ISP programs, a striking imbalance in socio-economic status.
The program does not offer as accelerated instruction as in the past. Students in the program report not being challenged. Yet many also want the program to continue, but to be an accelerated program of studies. I have long noted that we should be using our own data on selection into the ISP as a measure of how well our existing schools teach. Some schools lose almost no students to the ISP -- (notably Graham & Parks and King Open). Others lose enough to have a noticeable impact on the sixth grade (notably Baldwin, Morse). In our review of the program, it would be good to include an assessment of why some students and families select it, and why others don't. That knowledge can only help us in planning the program of studies for the new middle schools.
The most troubling aspect for me about the ISP is that it seems to be a poor stepchild. If we have a program, we should support it. If we don't think it meets our educational needs, we should not have it. The ISP was barely mentioned in the Innovation Agenda recommendations. It would be one thing if we had discussed this question, talked to educators in our district, brought in outside folks, reviewed literature, surveyed our own students. Instead, none of that has happened.
The ISP review planned a year ago is now in progress. Unfortunately, it started very late in the year, and had no community input to the process, the questions, the protocols for interviews and focus groups. The initial plan did not include systematic outreach to all parents and students, past and present. The review was in our goal for this past year, but did not happen when expected. That is completely understandable, since the amount of work accomplished this past year by the administration is remarkable.
But it is understandable also that many parents are frustrated. Parents wrote to us quite respectfully last October about wanting to be involved with the ISP review and evaluation, and the superintendent met with a group of parents in January with expected follow up. Unfortunately, the promised follow up never happened until after the review process was decided and defined. I understand the pressure of time, and the amount of work which has been done on a range of issues. But for those parents who have felt dismissed, the lack of involvement is distressing and I feel for them.
Now, what we need to do is try and mitigate the missteps. There is supposed to be more outreach. And since the initial review did not include any exploration of the role of the ISP in the district as far as retaining families who otherwise might leave, I have asked for that issue to be added to the scope.
I could support having the ISP replaced with something better, as long as we do it thoughtfully and provide a clear sense of how it will improve education in Cambridge. Below is a letter we all received last October from a group of more than twenty parents.
Dear Dr. Young and Members of the School Committee:
Middle grades education has been a major focus of the district over the past few years. Last spring the Superintendent presented five different proposals for the district's middle grades. However, given other concerns which came to light during this process, any proposed re-structuring was put on-hold in order to carefully examine areas, such as Cambridge's controlled choice policy and our current physical plant, before making a final recommendation. We appreciate the time and effort that has gone into this effort to date, and are grateful for the thorough approach you are taking in reviewing the middle grades program.
In the Middle Grades Improvement Plan for 2010-2011 a series of action steps are outlined, which all "focus on improving achievement for all students and reducing our persistent achievement gaps." One of these steps includes an evaluation of the Intensive Studies Program (ISP), in which "the district will evaluate the curriculum, assessment and overall effectiveness of the ISP Program and its capacity to meet the needs of advanced learners."
As families of current, former and future students in the ISP at both the Peabody and Kennedy-Longfellow Schools and therefore stakeholders in the evaluation of the ISP, we are eager to learn about the specifics of the evaluation process. Additionally, we would like to offer our knowledge and experience of the Peabody and Kennedy Longfellow programs as the parents and guardians of its students. You have indicated that families will be involved. Please let us know how, both we as parents and our children, will be part of the review. We think our experience will be very valuable in understanding the strengths and challenges of this program, not just from an academic/learning standpoint, but also from a social/developmental perspective. We also hope that you have a plan for speaking with alums of the ISP, currently at high school or in college or graduated.
It is critical that the ISP be looked at in terms of not only meeting the needs of advanced learners, but should also be reviewed in terms of what needs it may be meeting for middle school students in general. Given the K-8 structure of the District, the ISP has served as a de-facto middle school program for the district -- an opportunity for students from across the district to begin a program together, and not just transfer individually into another K-8 school. Also, are there particular impacts the ISP has in the development of students as they move up from the elementary school grade level? As they transition from middle school student to high school student?
Historically, Cambridge has lost students at each grade level, which meant that by the time a cohort was in middle grades, the total number of students was noticeably smaller than kindergarten and first grade. We believe that the ISP kept that number from being even lower. It is all of our hopes that the program be strengthened. But we also believe there is a need currently filled by the ISP. Without the ISP, there needs to be another way for those needs of our students to be met.
We look forward to hearing what the steps are in the evaluation of the ISP, and how we can contribute. We are also interested in the overall Middle Grades Action Plan. Thank you.
6. Shorter updates
Initiative around teacher evaluation
Teacher evaluation and effectiveness are obviously key to educational improvement. There is a welcome emphasis nationwide on trying to improve the process. Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Education spent a lot of time looking at this issue. The report of the task force on the question has made the news, and made conversation around many dinner tables quite interesting. Recent Cambridge Chronicle writings noted the promise and the fear raised by including test results in teacher evaluation. Our city's teacher union has been very active in exploring how to improve the process and respect the profession of teaching.
A listserv to connect parents across the city was created in January. The listserv is intended to share questions, information, across schools. Below is a summary.
CPSParents is a Yahoo group for group emails for parents of children in the Cambridge Public Schools. The group's web location is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cpsparents/. The purpose of this group is to:
This list is open to all those interested in the public schools in Cambridge, and discussion on the list should be focused on the public schools.
- Provide a forum for discussing issues that affect the Cambridge Public Schools but that are not school specific; and
- Provide a forum for exchanging information across the various Cambridge Public Schools.
Cambridge Family Information Network [CFIN]:
There is another parent group seeking to unite the community around issues of communication. If you're interested, there is a website under development and a citywide group of interested parents. See http://www.cambridgefamilyinfonetwork.com/index.html
CFIN is a district wide parents' group whose mission is to provide information and act as a watch dog for the implementation of CPSD's Innovation Agenda. We welcome all parents and our meetings are open to the public. Please join us, or send us information you would like posted, by emailing email@example.com
SPED & 504 review:
Last update I summarized the review of both Special Education and 504. The brief update is that work is continuing to improve the Special Education in CPS and to build on the work in the review. The SPED PAC leadership was quite thoughtful in their appreciation and critique of the process and has stepped up to help the district work on addressing the needs of both IEP and 504 students.
One clear result of the review, and of parent input, is that starting in September the Office of Special Education will be responsible for overseeing student with 504 plans. This change is especially important since many students with 504s transfer off IEPs, and if the process of understanding how to meet their educational needs is not handled well, it may represent a step backwards for those students.
The separations for strands of self-contained classrooms will be addressed and the bringing together of classes is now being planned, and will take effect with the implementation of the IA in the fall of next year. Progress is being made on addressing other important issues raised in the review: e.g. a resource room in the high school, co-teaching evaluation and review, training for general education teachers and equitable staffing across all schools
CPS is fortunate in offering several opportunities for bilingual education. The Amigos School is a JK-8 bilingual dual way immersion school for Spanish and English. Ola is a JK-8 bilingual dual way immersion school for Portuguese and English, housed within the King Open School. Starting in September, we are offering a Chinese Bilingual Immersion Program starting next September! The King School has had a Chinese program for many years, and has recently increased the instruction.
I will continue not only my strong support for innovative programs like the Chinese Immersion program, but also continue my quest to get second language in all schools starting in Kindergarten. I have asked for second language to be a districtwide goal for years, and feel that we could find funding in the budget to make it work -- after all, we have about the most generous budget in the state. Last update I wrote at length about bilingual programs, so won't elaborate here -- feel free to resurrect that email from your files. Or ask me to resend.
Sports injury report:
One of the incredibly wonderful aspects of our district is our sports teams and the opportunity at our high school to play sports without paying a fee. We also do a lot to ensure that our athletes play safely. To that end, the School Committee just received a report I requested on injuries on all sports team. The report came out of a workshop on concussions and concern among a few parents that some of our teams had an unusually high incidence. (I always ask for data when a claim is made - the report was for a summary by team of the injuries requiring medical intervention, with benchmarks.)
The report did show some areas of concern. The overall number of head injuries is high compared to the two districts cited as comparable data. And there are real outlyers in the data -- the girls and boys soccer teams. Both of those teams have far higher number of head injuries than any other team except football. If you want the full information, feel free to ask. CPS district is doing a lot to keep players safe and instituted some benchmark testing for concussions and has suggested that the district test all students, even those in non contact sports and perhaps all students including those who engage in sports outside of CPS.
The high school renovations are almost complete! WE got an update from the city and the construction project manager in May, and the project promises to be on time and on budget! The school looks great and the students are excited.
There is a group of community members who are organizing a yearlong celebration of CRLS, headed by former mayor Frank Duehay and Andy Farrar. It promises to be a wonderful celebration, full of substance and style. Check it out at https://sites.google.com/site/celebratecrls/
Nolan campaign hoping for a "recount-proof" showing on Tuesday.
The Committee to Elect Patty Nolan has had volunteers door-knocking, hosting events and gathering endorsements. "I am hopeful but honestly having won by just 19 votes last time it's still an uphill battle due to some great challengers. I want a recount-proof margin this time," added Nolan. "I am an issues-based candidate, which is tough even as an incumbent. Most voters vote for people they know from growing up here and that means they don't consider me."
At a reception hosted by Liz Adams aimed at private school parents who want to support and know more about the city's public schools, state rep Jonathan Hecht spoke of Patty's ability to help him learn about how state issues affect local school districts. Hostess Liz Adams spoke of Patty's willingness to build bridges and work hard. At an event in North Cambridge at Cornerstone Cohousing, Nolan spoke about the need for learning from other districts and high performing schools in order to improve our schools. Recently at an event hosted by Art & Betty Bardige, Nolan spoke passionately about one of her signature initiatives — raising the level of math instruction in all schools.
Individual endorsements continue to come in, showing an impressive diversity of support. Long time Cantabridgians Lynn Hassett and James & Nancy Daley are joined by newcomers like Andrew King & Mary Wissemann. Several members of her Ward 9 Democratic Committee like Kathy Reine and Helen Glikman are on the list, and the Ward 6 Democratic Committee endorsed Patty for the fourth time in a row. Former School Committee candidate Alan Steinert and state senate candidate Tim Flaherty are on the list of endorsers, as well as Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks. For a list of endorsers, see Endorsements
The campaign is especially pleased by the endorsement by the Cambridge Chronicle. In 2005, in their first endorsement, the Chronicle hoped that Patty would continue "pointing out inconsistencies in the budget numbers and advocating on behalf of parents" and if elected "would continue to be a thoughtful presence at meetings — this time with a vote." This year the Chronicle endorsed her as someone "who will help guide Cambridge Schools in the right direction and help move forward with the Innovation Agenda."
"It's telling that the Chronicle was on target about Patty in her first race. She's done what she promised and lived up to the hopes of parents across the city" noted volunteer campaign manager Trish Marti. "She has been able to move the district forward on a number of issues, doing the hard work to make change, from raising expectations in math to identifying lapses in information, to better governance. Most importantly, she walks the walk of focusing on higher expectations for all students." Treasurer (and husband) David Rabkin noted that "Patty's got momentum, even though she has run a low budget campaign and taken the 'No robo-calls pledge.' "
Letter: Outreach important year-round
Wicked Local Cambridge
Posted Oct 21, 2011 @ 03:35 PM
For those of us involved with our school district, fall is the time to analyze MCAS results and adjust to the new school year. And for us candidates, it's a time for campaigning, door-knocking and meeting voters. One thing that has struck me as I speak to people around the city is how interested people are in green initiatives, yet how difficult it is to get behavior change and spread the word about all that is going on in our city.
There are many exciting ways the school district is doing its part. In conjunction with the city and utilities, a number of school building have had energy savings improvements. The recent reopening of CRLS showcased other great energy-efficiency improvements that are making the school healthier for staff and students, saving money and lowering emissions. It's about a year since another landmark initiative -- the hiring of a full-time sustainability manager for our school district. Under the leadership of central administration, our district now has a sustainability plan on our website, weekly updates to all staff and a resource for ideas on making the district operate more sustainably.
This week another school, the Peabody School, joined the pioneering King Open and Graham and Parks Schools in composting and fully recycling lunch.
This summer students in a variety of programs focused on environmental education. Students at the media lab produced some incredible films with an environmental focus. At several MSYEP sites, teens engaged in learning and teaching about energy and cost-savings by taking simple steps.
The Climate Emergency Action Group continues to extend the work of Green Decade Cambridge and search for ways to engage people. The volunteer-led CPAC keeps working at accountability coupled with calls to action. It will take all of us to reach our climate goals. Let's keep the campaign spirit of outreach on other issues going year round. --
Patty Nolan, Candidate for School Committee
Sensational Summer School — not an Oxymoron
By Patricia Nolan & Richard Harding
(submitted to Boston Globe, version printed in Cambridge Chronicle June 2011)
With summer upon us, it's time to be serious about solutions to the educational crises of low expectations and unengaged youth. We support a bold solution: extend the school year for every student. As policy makers, we have proposed requiring ALL students, starting with middle grades, to be engaged in meaningful learning for several weeks during the summer. If we're serious about achievement and preparing students for a global economy, we must address summer learning loss.
Just as Democrats and Republicans need to come together, education advocates need to work together. We -- a black man raised in Cambridge public housing born after the sixties and a white woman raised in suburbia with two Ivy League degrees born before the sixties — have bridged our differences to advocate for this controversial solution.
When's the last time a Massachusetts student had to help with the family harvest? Right. Yet our school year has a ten-week gap. As you read this article, some students are reinforcing skills — through courses, camps, family vacations, museum visits or other activities. Others are losing them. Ask any teacher how much time they spend getting students back to where they were in June. Too much.
As Cambridge School Committee members we are acutely aware that our city's public schools should be able to solve this problem. We spend twice the state average ($26,000 per student), and proudly claim Harvard, MIT and many other world class institutions and companies. Yet here, as elsewhere, achievement gaps persist across most groups and many academically strong students feel unchallenged or unsupported. Less than half our black and low income students are proficient in MCAS (slightly less in ELA and far less in Math) and a large proportion of academically motivated families opt out of our public schools or never move to Cambridge in the first place.
Taking aim at these problems, our district is restructuring our middle grades. We propose including summer as an integral part of our school year.
We applaud Massachusetts' extended learning time initiative, but it is not the only answer. Many ELT schools, including the two in our district, do not outperform other district schools. And dramatic school improvements occur in many schools with standard hours. We believe that if the ELT initiative focused on extending the school year combined with intensive teaching the results would be more conclusive.
Convincing educational research compels us all to rethink our aversion to mandating summer learning. As TIME magazine noted "By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind, and summer was the biggest culprit. By ninth grade, summer learning loss could be blamed for roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap."
A Nellie Mae Foundation study and a recent RAND study found compelling evidence that students without educational summer activities slide back. This effect is particularly acute for students who struggle, including students with IEPs. But also true for students of all backgrounds and aptitudes.
Successful programs replicate like Breakthrough and SummerAdvantage deserve replication. Both programs show impressive results with diverse students, marrying the excitement of young teachers with engaging classes. By the measures of MCAS and college matriculation Breakthrough shines in Cambridge. Similarly, CitizenSchools demonstrates that well-trained volunteers can have positive impact during the school year. All three programs cost effectively produce measurable results.
What if every student had an engaging educational summer experience? Summer classes can catch up students who are behind and inspire those who are ahead. Students of every flavor and academic record need encouragement, challenge and nurturing. Along with classes in the basics, summer programs should offer robotics, biotech, philosophy and poetry. Our own children, solidly middle class, have been transformed by engaging summer opportunities.
Some are skeptical and decry a "loss" of summer. But it wouldn't be a loss if the summer programs were fun, inspiring, AND educational -- a cross between camp and summer school. Making it mandatory takes away the stigma and making it fun takes away student resistance.
The idea is now on the table. We hope it is seriously considered, as part of Cambridge's restructuring. And if it works, we hope Boston then Massachusetts follows. We have a dream. Let's make it real.
Patricia Nolan and Richard Harding are School Committee members in Cambridge. The views expressed are their own.
More in-depth information on
Patty's view on district issues:
(responses to topics from the Cambridge Civic Journal)
NOTE: as with all things Patty does, she is thorough and thoughtful. Her responses are quite substantive. Her answers are longer than others, because she has accomplished so much and believes you deserve the full story on her approach to the job.
In Cambridge, a tale of two districts:
Patty Nolan's summary
of Cambridge Public School District's Challenge
Cambridge Chronicle guest commentary, September 24, 2009
There is a district with truly enviable and laudable graduation rates for all students. In a state and country with a real drop out crisis and truly tragic statistics on education levels for low income and students of color, over 90% of African Americans and low-income students finish high school. A district with a school listed in the Boston Globe as top of the state for 8th grade Science MCAS results — overall. And that's for a class where a majority of students are non-white and about half low income — outpacing schools with no diversity. A district where parents can choose public Montessori or Spanish bilingual schools. Where no one pays for school buses or sports, average class size is 18 and the arts have flourished despite tough economic times.
There is a district with 12 out of 13 schools on the just released watch list for poor MCAS performance, including 6 in restructuring. (And even the one school not on the list did not make adequate yearly progress.) A district where nearly a quarter of parents opt out of regular public schools and many academically strong students report not being challenged. A district where average 2009 MCAS proficiency of African Americans is an embarassing 35% — half that of white and Asian students, and only a little higher for Latinos at 42%. And while the 2009 MCAS shows some welcome progress in the Latino-white achievement gap, there's no progress on the African American achievement gap and some slippage in the low income achievement gap (low income average proficiency stayed about the same, while non low income increased.)
A tale of two districts. What to do? Be inspired. Be encouraged. And be realistic. There is a wonderful sense of optimism and excitement in our schools, among our families, and in the community. Rather than focus on the bad news or dismiss the good, we can hold both in our heads and work together on addressing our problems, which we all must own. And unlike many districts agonizing over how to keep the budget balanced, our $25,000 per student allocation gives us tremendous opportunities, if we use it well.
A key to our success in meeting our challenges will be to resist the calls for more emphasis on testing. While MCAS shows us some areas we need to watch, it would be precisely the wrong answer to respond with an obsession on the tests. I already hear some saying the test results show we need to focus more on the tests. That is exactly the wrong answer. We have too much of that already — our own market research and my own experience as a parent say so. More would be counterproductive. Less might well be the trick.
MCAS is not and should not be the sole measure of any school, student, teacher or district. While it is useful for some measures, it is a means, not the end. And Cambridge can take heart. Our new superintendent came from Newton. That district not only does better on MCAS than Cambridge in the aggregate — but in virtually all subgroups, most by double digits. Almost half of Newton's special education students scored proficient, compared to only a fifth in Cambridge. And the story is similar for African American, low income and Latino students. Most importantly, higher achievement did not come from more teaching to the test, but engaged teachers, intense focus on educational needs, deep commitment to family involvement and inspiring leadership at every level. Cambridge, with our exciting new superintendent, who is already making waves by being highly visible in our schools, talking to teachers and stopping to chat with crossing guards and custodians, can certainly build on our past success and fulfill our mission to: "be the first diverse urban school system to work with families and the community to successfully educate all of its students at high levels."
Letter to the editor, Cambridge Chronicle:
Our green efforts are insufficient
October 15, 2009
These days everyone is green. And trying to outgreen each other.
As elected officials with long histories of personal, professional and political efforts on behalf of the environment, we applaud environmental initiatives. We have participated in Walk/Ride Days, enjoyed the offerings of City Sprouts, helped weatherize neighbor's houses with HEET, swapped our own incandescents for CFLs, promoted transit alternatives with Cambridge's Energy Smackdown team, spread the word about the Cambridge Energy Alliance's work and more. They're all good efforts, but they're only a modest start to the serious lifestyle changes needed to make a real difference in climate change.
We must be honest and recognize that our efforts to date, both individually and collectively, are insufficient. Despite our city's lofty goals and wonderful rhetoric, we have failed miserably in reducing our own emissions. The City's recent hearing on climate emergency made the state of the climate emergency crystal clear. The hearing also provided reason for hope. [Video of hearing on city website, and summary at CEA website.] The world, as we know it, does not have to end if we can muster the personal and political courage to change the way we live. But that is going to be very, very tough.
All of us need to be held accountable for our own carbon and emissions footprint. We need to be doing little and big things -- including some things others consider unnecessary or wacky, whether it's giving up meat or promoting composting toilets at home and school. On a daily basis we need to discourage car use, radically change our consumption patterns, mandate following energy audit recommendations, avoid long distance travel and, on every level, make it morally irresponsible not to conserve.
The word "emergency" was not used lightly when discussing climate change. Our response, individually and politically, must reflect the massive nature of the challenge.
Huron Ave. (School Committee member)
St. Gerard Terrace (City Council member)
Selected pieces from 2007 below
Nolan: Research shows schools
can't focus only on tests anymore
(Guest editorial by Patty Nolan, Cambridge Chronicle, June 14, 2007
Last year, the School Committee authorized qualitative and quantitative market research to "determine the possible causes behind the decline in enrollment, assess potential new programs, how to attract more residents into CPS and measure overall satisfaction with the school system." We recently received a report on the survey part, and look forward to a thorough report on the other half of the project, a synthesis and summary of the focus groups. The project will inform our work as a district.
The results confirm some of our district's great aspects. Almost all of our parents believe that their children are getting a quality education, and are appropriately challenged and appreciate wonderful teachers. Tremendous affirmation of hard work all around.
Of course, both current and withdrawn parents identify some areas we fall short, which should inform us on continual improvement. Unsurprisingly, withdrawn parents score our performance lower than in-district parents.
One surprising finding: Majorities of current and withdrawn parents believe our district does too much teaching to the test. Based on other answers, this finding doesn't appear to be an MCAS rejection sentiment, but a more nuanced sense that we have focused too much on testing, not enough on excellent education.
The report debunks at least one myth: overwhelmingly those surveyed who withdrew cited academic quality as the single most important reason; just 8 percent cited housing or transfers. Those who left care deeply about public education — a whopping 86 percent would have preferred staying.
The survey confirmed another issue: behavior is a problem. Of those who left, 57 percent said that "classroom behavior issues played a large part" in the decision. And a significant portion of our parents, 37 percent, agree that "bullying is a real problem for my children." Those who deny this problem should read the report. Acknowledging a problem is the first step to solving it.
For too long, we dismissed people suggesting this issue needed addressing. I hope now we discuss solutions and listen to the voices speaking. In classrooms where teachers reach all students and get them engaged, behavior problems disappear. This finding might mean we need to help some teachers develop better strategies around this topic.
There is one glaring lapse: the survey left out people attending private, parochial and charter schools — ignoring 20 to 30 percent of our school-aged population. How can we increase enrollment and market share without talking to people who never entered? I hope we will include all families. As one independent parent put it, most "do care about the public education system in the city that they live, pay taxes and raise their children in." Many would prefer to be in our public schools, and struggled with the decision.
There are too many results to cover briefly — on controlled choice, middle schools and other issues. Summarizing: it is great to have real market research. The project yielded discomforting results and positive ones. If we openly face the former and celebrate the latter, our district will continue on the march to where we belong: at the top of the state, make that country.
Patty Nolan is a member of the School Committee.
[Originally published under another School Committee member's name.]
Letter distorted image
(Letter from Patty Nolan, Cambridge Chronicle, July 12, 2007
Solid analysis and intellectual honesty are hallmarks of my participation on School Committee. Thus, it was personally disappointing to read Nancy Walser's article last week, which distorted my positions for political purposes. It is a disservice to the public and needs to be corrected.
I wrote a balanced summary of a market research project, designed to understand why people leave, why people don't enroll and concerns district parents have. I noted two lapses, based on my professional experience and comments by two national public opinion professionals. Paying for qualitative research and focus groups without getting a written report was an oversight. Leaving out the 30 percent of residents who never entered our public school district and were in the contract as an explicit focus was, as well. I encourage people to watch the June 5 meeting with the survey presentation (www.cpsd.us/ceatv/sc_archive.htm).
Why spend money on comprehensive market research and ignore the full range of findings? If we tout only the positives and gloss over problems, how will we solve the problems and be credible policymakers? For example, to assert parents are satisfied, with "only 5 percent expressing dissatisfaction," when almost half stated they might leave misrepresents the findings. The firm we hired labeled that high number "a clarion call" to action." Most of us love our schools and appreciate our strengths and tremendous achievements. But we also have concerns.
I do hold our district to higher standards, since I believe Cantabrigians do not want to be compared only to low-income districts, as the administration does, who spend on average half what we do. We should celebrate our strengths, but surely our high spending levels, phenomenal teachers, and incredible community can get us to the top of the state.
I did help organize forums with award-winning public schools that have excelled with many types of students, especially low-income. A majority of our elected officials co-sponsored these opportunities to learn from others, just as others learn from Cambridge, which also excels in many areas. Does the fact that some such schools are public charter schools mean we shouldn't learn from them?
Anyone can find votes where I stood on principle and voted my conscience, as you can with all of us. Please judge each of us by our full record, not a subset distorted for political purposes.
School Committee Member and Candidate
Open letter to reject negative campaign
Dear selected leaders who know me:
I know that you stand for principled campaigns, constructive dialog, and voting on issues, not innuendos. I also believe that you know I always act with integrity, even if you don't agree with me on all issues. I respect that you are busy, but I believe this request is important. I am asking you to join me in rejecting a negative campaign. A group called Progress for Cambridge is engaged in a subtle misinformation campaign and distorting the record of School Committee votes. The group was set up to endorse a slate, Nancy Tauber, Gail Lemily Wiggins and Stefan Malner. I have asked those candidates to reject the campaign run on their behalf.
If you are a supporter of any slate member, please ask them to reject the tactics of misinformation. I have a policy of not responding to personal attacks in kind, but I do correct misinformation. Below is the letter sent with specific examples of how I believe the group's information is flawed enough to be worthy of a Swift Boat Veterans for Truth award. I believe any ethical candidate would disavow much of the website content. If you agree, please let the group and/or the candidates know.
The candidates are not behind this misleading campaign. I am calling on them to disassociate themselves from those engaged in the misinformation.
I understand why I would be a target. I have been effective and have accomplished a lot in my first term, and clearly am able to work collaboratively, since none of us can get anything done on our own. Many times I acted on principle, even at political risk. I have stood up for transparency and full information, the whole story, not just part. Whether it is asking for full examination of our extraordinary budget of $23,000 per student or pointing out that despite a wonderful, even stellar graduation rate of African Americans and other groups from high school, our district continues to have a 30 point Achievement Gap in proficiency for African Americans and lags many districts with fewer advantages, or calling for public input into major decisions, I have stood up often.
But it still hurts, personally and our democratic process. I remain optimistic that most of us don't want negativity and misinformation to win in Cambridge. Please join me in asking for a rejection of the Progress for Cambridge tactics.
************ letter sent by email Oct. 29, 2007 **********
Dear School Committee candidates Nancy Tauber, Gail Lemily Wiggins and Stefan Malner:
I respect each of you. If you are elected, and I am re-elected, I look forward to serving with you.
Each of you have campaigned constructively and with integrity. I personally appreciate that you are willing to serve and that you each have an important perspective to add to the campaign. Thus, I request that you publicly reject the endorsement of the Progress for Cambridge [PFC] group, take all mention of them off your website and materials, and refuse to allow them to use your name, until they stop the misleading, irresponsible campaign being run on your behalf.
The PFC campaign calls for collaboration on the School Committee and more members who advocate for the district, not individual schools or neighborhoods. The implication is that none of the incumbents are being collaborative or advocating for the district, a baseless charge. Moreover, the PFC gathered a selective, biased and misleading list of School Committee votes which were picked with the goal of discrediting many incumbents, but especially me. That the list doesn't include all votes, nor even all split votes, not even all votes related to the same issues, is proof that there is an intent other than to inform the public.
It is clear that the PFC is engaged in a subtle misinformation campaign which involves distorting a few selective votes with the specific intent of raising doubts about my commitment to the district and my values. It is a sad day for Cambridge when such negative campaigning takes place. I hope you will reject that approach. This is not about my not wanting my record and votes known. Quite the contrary. I always publicly explain my votes, especially controversial ones. I am proud of votes I've taken, whether I've been part of a 7-0 vote, a 6-1, or anywhere in between, and whether I voted with a majority or minority. This IS about a misrepresentation of a number of votes.
Here are just 3 examples, and there are others on the list just as misleading:
1. School Choice motion
The PFC biased description:
"April 4, 2006: Grassi/Nolan motion to open up the Amigos School for transfers from outside of Cambridge under the state's School Choice program. Motion stipulates that any non-resident children attending the Amigos under this program cannot transfer to other CPS schools out of Amigos, but it could have prevented transfers into Amigos in future years due to non-residents taking seats."
The full story:
The description states "the motion could have prevented transfers into Amigos in future years due to non-residents". That scenario was virtually impossible. The Amigos School Council had unanimously asked for this policy change to help their school. The motion was extremely limited in scope, would have brought $5,000 per student (minimal additional costs were expected) and could have been eliminated after one year. The proposal allowed a max of 2 non-Cambridge students per grade, grades 3-7, grades with more then 8 empty seats, which historically had stayed empty for years. The Amigos community felt the loss of students was compromising their educational program. Furthermore, by law, this motion would need re-approval every year, when new limits could be specified or the program ended. Those of us who supported this were voting for something we viewed as positive for the district as a whole, as we do with every vote, not for something that might limit choices for residents, as falsely stated.
2. Report card report motion
The PFC biased description:
"April 4 2006: Grassi/Harding motion to require Superintendent to report on progress of baseline report cards/progress reports. [Note: In the prior 2005-06 term, the School Committee passed a motion by Grassi to mandate uniform report cards for all elementary schools, despite the superintendent's statement that there is no research linking standardized report cards to higher achievement.]"
The full story:
The description mentions a prior year's motion "to mandate uniform report cards". What the description of this vote doesn't mention is that this motion was NOT to mandate uniform report cards. Both Mr. Schuster and I voted for this motion only after specific assurance at that meeting (watch the videotape) that the motion did NOT mandate uniform report cards, as falsely implied by the PFC.
3. Controlled choice policy change motion
The PFC biased description:
"Feb. 27 2007 Fantini/Walser motion to bring to 2nd reading and amend the controlled choice plan to change FRL/PL ratio to allow apportion a sufficient number of seats to reflect the change in economic status of in-coming Kindergarten registrants, as well as to add Ks to Haggerty and Tobin and to add English- speaking K students to Amigos."
The full story:
This takes the cake! The vote on this policy is listed with myself and Mr. Schuster being absent, implying dereliction of duty. I was present for almost all this special meeting, but left early due to a babysitter emergency and Mr. Schuster was attending a national conference. By SC rules, all policy changes must be voted at two meetings. Thus, we both knew another vote would take place, which would be the decisive vote on the policy. At that required second reading, the previously voted-upon policy change was rejected publicly by 6 of the 7 members, since it had become clear that the change voted Feb. 27 benefitted the middle class at the expense of low income families. A DIFFERENT policy change was passed, one worked on by me and the result of a true collaborative effort by the whole Committee, which increased options for BOTH the middle class and low income families. That policy change passed unanimously. NO MENTION is made of this REQUIRED second vote, which effectively reversed the vote on the PFC list.
When I asked Gail & Nancy last Thursday to disavow the PFC and ask the group to stop spreading misinformation or reject their endorsement, you both said you didn't know some votes on the list were falsely and misleadingly presented. Now you know. I look forward to your response to my request to reject the endorsement of this group, whose tactics lack integrity. Let's all pledge to campaign positively.
School Committee candidate
184 Huron Ave. Cambridge 02138
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