Saturday, June 22, 2024

Challenger running for committee for the first time

The candidate’s website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Email | (617) 270-6549

Background: Teaching, strategy and communications | Focuses: Closing the racial academic achievement gap, community feedback and eighth-grade algebra


Compiled by Alex Bowers

1. What are the top three issues you would like to address if elected?

Racial achievement gap. The Cambridge Public Schools candidly admitted on October 3 that Black, low-income, and English language-learning students are further behind than they were pre-pandemic, while “non-high needs” and white students have made gains (slide 10slide 19).

But what CPS hasn’t said is that schools in the district have huge achievement disparities. The highest-performing elementary school shows average “meeting or exceeding” scores that are more than twice as high as those at the lowest-performing one. (See stats here.) Mostly, all demographics go up or down based on the school (see data).

This means that the school committee needs to push CPS to investigate what is working at the highest-performing schools, and start piloting those ideas at others; and what isn’t at others, and end those practices.

Students’ mental health. Mental health is a crisis in CPS’s middle and high schools — with over one in four students struggling with their mental health most of the time (see March 1 discussion slides). But CPS isn’t in crisis mode. They haven’t followed up on the mental health data since that initial meeting, or implemented the solutions discussed — such as setting up a “trusted adult” program for each student, or implementing a high school cell phone policy.

Reading and math fundamentals. 

  • Reading. CPS needs to tell families that it is moving away from discredited reading practices, which were still in force as recently as this past school year. (For more, see my recent newsletter.)
  • Math. 47 percent of lower school students are partially or not meeting state math standards. On top of that, as the Head of CPS Math boasted in August (video), advanced learners are made to do games like Sudoku during class. The school committee must push for fulfilling math instruction for every student.

2. Using the Excel tutoring initiative as an example, explain how you would identify goals, monitor progress, and evaluate the effectiveness of a district program.

The tutoring program, as presented in April (slides), seems grounded in detailed school-by-school data — it looks more promising than others that have been unveiled recently. For example:

  • Where are the mental health solutions promised in March?
  • How could CPS’s special education services have gotten as chaotic as recently described?
  • Why do families of advanced learners feel like the district isn’t listening to them or making progress on their goals?
  • What is the plan for the three elementary schools that are performing considerably below the rest of district schools?
  • What is the plan for all middle schools, which seem beset with academic and socio-emotional problems?
  • Why doesn’t the bus app work for all routes?

In all cases, there’s been an almost complete lack of follow-through. It’s on the school committee to make each of the programs listed above (and more) standing agenda items — revisited every 2-3 months — so that data-based updates become a habit. CPS can’t be allowed to forget about or hide important initiatives.

3. What processes would you put into place to encourage parents and caregivers to have a voice in shaping the district’s priorities?

It’s central to my campaign to make CPS start soliciting (and using!) feedback. Currently, teachers, principals, nonprofit partners, students — and of course families — feel unheard. Family-wise, the result is that only well-to-do, well-connected parents are able to express themselves via cumbersome processes like public comment or email campaigns.

CPS has access to 99.8 percent of family emails — they should use this with regular, simple surveys about how they think school is going.

In January, CPS successfully hosted families in-person by offering free childcare and breakfast, and by facilitating feedback in small groups — CPS should do more of this. For accountability, the results of this feedback should be published regularly (excepting where there’s a privacy concern).

4. How can the district improve its efforts to provide culturally sensitive instruction tailored to student interests, skill sets, and ambitions in light of the diversity of student experiences? 

One answer is the feedback answer above.  If students (and families) feel that instruction is culturally insensitive, they should be able to say so.

If students feel that class is too boring/moves too fast, they should have a safe venue to say so.

Another is saying no to “Sudoku-Gate.” When the Head of Math instruction says it’s fine for advanced learners to be made to do Sudoku puzzles during math class, the school committee needs to push back hard: it is unacceptable for teachers to have kids zone out in class. 

Something is wrong with the culture at CPS that this is allowed in schools and allowed to pass without comment in a public meeting.

5. How do you propose to improve educators’ experiences (for instance, professional development, workload, and evaluations) in the district?

First, feedback. When I speak with teachers, a common refrain is, “They don’t listen to me.” It’s a huge problem, and demoralizing. (One instance is the Schedules debacle, which I explored in a few newsletters.) 

Second, a complaint we’ve heard recently is that teachers aren’t being evaluated regularly. The school committee should push CPS to show the timetable of evaluations and understand what the issue is.

Lastly, at which schools are teachers most satisfied? Why? At which are they the least satisfied? Why? The school committee should push to see this data. It is from our own, real, concrete experience that our solutions should emerge.