Friday, April 28, 2000
Revisiting the Vacation/Sports Issue
At the end of last week, which also happened to be the end of April vacation week, a conversation I had with a friend of my daughter caused me to revisit the opinions I had expressed in an editorial last February. At the time, several coaches at the high school were protesting the new sports-during-vacation policy which allowed student athletes to miss practices and games scheduled during vacation weeks without having to suffer dire consequences. There was so much resistence to this change in policy that a handful of experienced coaches turned in their resignations in disgust, saying that the new rule would destroy team spirit, as well as cripple any team's chances for a winning season. I had more or less written "phooey" to this response, suggesting that the coaches' precipitous actions created a situation where the student athletes were the losers.
In the course of my conversation last week, I realized that I, as well as everyone who huffed and puffed about the new policy, had forgotten to take one thing into considerationthe student athletes themselves. According to my daughter's friend, who plays on the varsity softball team, there were no issues with the new policy because the athletes didn't want to miss any games. A few players took some time off, but arranged it so that they only missed one practice, and that was it: no total collapse of the team or its morale, because these players are dedicatedto their sport, to their teammates and to their coaches. I would be willing to bet that this was the case with most of the varsity sports that played through vacation week. There was no mass exodus of dilettante players missing games to fly down to Disney World, but it was reassuring to know that if a player had to miss a game for a family or a college commitment that could not be rescheduled, that player would not be ostracized upon returning to the team.
Kudos also to the coaches who rethought their stance, decided to postpone their protest and returned to coach their grateful teams. These coaches provided a classy example for their players on the importance of team spirit.
When Bigger is Not Better
It's not easy for towns to agree on goals, especially when economic pressures force choices among conflicting priorities. There are important issues regarding the quality of education in Carlisle that require us to think about goals and priorities.
Notwithstanding the detailed work on school enrollment projections for Carlisle, summarized recently in the Mosquito, there is demographic evidence on a larger scale that can provide some guidance. Apparently, there is a "baby boom echo" producing an unparalleled enrollment increase in public schools. U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley predicts that enrollment will rise to a new high by 2006. This enrollment growth is the test, Riley said, of whether America will invest "the time, energy, and resources, so that these children and this nation can look to the future with confidenceUnlike at the end of the "baby boom" of the 1950s and 1960s, we will gain no respite from the current enrollment boom, as births will begin edging up from 4.1 million in 2008 to 4.5 million in 2018. The long-term implications of this immense wave of young people going to school require educators and community leaders to recognize that short-term solutions symbolized by the ever-present portable classrooms in countless school yards may not be sufficient to the task at hand." Carlisle is not alone in this problem, and we need long-term solutions.
Whatever our long-term solutions, we also need short-term solutions that maintain the quality of education in Carlisle. I, and many other Carlisle parents I've talked to, don't believe that "The only thing to do next is to increase class size" (CSC Chair David Dockterman, Mosquito 4/14/00) in response to growing enrollment and shrinking budgets. Unfortunately, class sizes are increasing in Carlisle next year, as a result of budget and space constraints (i.e., the proposed budget does not provide level service). Studies regarding the impact of class size have produced diverse conclusions. However, a March 1999 report from the Department of Education ("Reducing class size, what do we know?") came to the overall conclusion that the pattern of research findings points clearly toward the beneficial effects of reducing class size. The findings of various studies led to the conclusions that class size reduction leads to higher student achievement, and that positive effects are seen not merely in test scores but in a wide range of categories such as socialization and student engagement. The significant effects on student achievement appear when class size is reduced to somewhere between 15 and 20 students. Most classes in Carlisle are at 20 or above, and growing.
There are high priority initiatives at the national level and in many states for class size reduction. I'm concerned that there is no plan to align Carlisle with any of these initiatives. In fact, we seem resigned to going in the opposite direction. To those of you who are thinking that you or your older children had much larger classes, I would urge you to consider that schools are a much different place today. To those of you who are thinking of the school enrollment issue as numbers and averages, I would urge you to think of the numbers as individuals each child has only one chance at an education. How can we claim to provide our children with "world-class" education when we are not providing a basic, key ingredient for a successful educational experience? Carlisle should have a plan to limit class size. If you agree that reducing class size is a priority, let the school administration, school committee, and town officials hear from you.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito