Friday, August 31, 2007
RSC looks at issues facing Mass. schools
Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees Glenn Koocher addressed the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) on August 9, touching on a number of current hot issues and concerns, including the future of METCO and why so many U.S. schools appear to be underperforming.
Future of METCO
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that using race as a specific indicator for diversity was improper. Koocher pointed out that several, but not a majority of justices, felt race was totally appropriate to cause diversity in schools; however, the court ruled that an indirect means to achieve racial diversity must be used.
In light of the Supreme Court ruling, Koocher commented on the possible future of METCO, a program specifically designed to get racial diversity into white suburban schools. Currently, only non-whites can apply for the METCO program, and program administrators are worried about possible lawsuits. One thought is that the program might be changed to be based on income instead of race.
Reached after the meeting, Brenda Finn, Superintendent of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District, said, "I do not anticipate any changes to the METCO program in the coming year."
Koocher gave an overview of problems in some city schools. He said that teachers spend 50% of their time trying to control the behavior of their class. "How do you get the job done?" He linked problems at school to health issues, citing children's teeth as an indicator. If children have poor dental health, they are likely to have poor health in general. Other characteristics include elevated anxiety, undiagnosed eye problems so children cannot read a blackboard clearly and sleep deprivation, often due to the absence of parental supervision. He said that many inner-city families suffer from sustained despair and a feeling that poverty is inescapable.
Top scores for Mass.
In contrast, Koocher pointed out that Massachusetts does very well when compared to the rest of the nation. "In the NAEP National Test, [the National Assessment in Educational Progress] taken in grades 4 and 8, we are the top. Massachusetts is number one."
Extrapolating data from national tests and state standardized tests, Koocher said that Massachusetts sets its standards of proficiency higher than any other state. He feels the bar may be set too high, particularly for special education students and students whose native language is not English. These cohorts are expected to make continual progress, and reach the same proficiency level as other students by 2014. Koocher suggests that the state assess these cohorts differently, because he feels the present standard is mathematically unreachable, and said, "By setting the bar far higher than other states, Massachusetts has ensured that 75% of schools will fail to reach proficiency by 2014." "We should be more reasonable in setting targets for students," he said.
One suggestion he made was for school districts to hire more social workers because they see "the big picture."
School committees and morale
Koocher switched gears and spoke about how regional school committees function as municipal legislative bodies, "You make the law through policies and budgets." He said there is a connection between high performing school districts and their school boards. Koocher called the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee "a highly functioning board."
Finn, speaking to the RSC said, "You are the best School Committee I have ever worked with."
© 2007 The