Sunday, November 28, 2010

Accountability Redux

This past week the New York Times ran two columns by Thomas Friedman dealing with the current state of affairs in American education. I found them filled with insight, particularly as we inch toward the implementation of the reforms of Race to the Top. A major portion of these reforms deal with standards and accountability, as they mandate that principal and teacher effectiveness be in part judged by student assessment results. Furthermore, results of standardized tests such as the MCAS will now be "drilled down" to the teacher level. Therefore, within the next year you will be able to access the aggregate results and Student Growth Percentile median values for a specific teacher. According to Race to the Top guidelines, these figures must be used for a portion of each teacher's formal evaluation. The intent behind this new system is to recognize and reward effective teachers and to weed out ineffective ones. The RTTT Program provides competitive grant money for districts who take it one step further and implement a merit pay system to reward the most effective teachers.

The challenges of implementing such a system will be great, as is always, the devil is in the details (which still have not been unveiled by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). To be sure, all of us working in schools should be held to the highest standards of accountability, as the bottom line is student achievement. If our kids are successful, so are we. In that sense, I applaud RTTT for bringing data and transparency to a new level. However, as Friedman's column, "Teaching for America" points out, is there faulty logic in some of the philosophical underpinnings of RTTT? Some notions worthy of consideration:
  • There are presently 3.2 million active teachers in the U.S. Within the next ten years it is estimated that nearly one half will retire (the baby boomers). There clearly will be teacher shortages. If the premise of RTTT is to get rid of ineffective teachers, where exactly are all of the candidates waiting in the wings to take the place of all of the bad teachers? I know from personal experience that there are presently a dearth of high quality candidates in certain content areas, particularly in the critical STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Friedman makes the case that teacher training programs need to be made more rigorous, and perhaps like nations that outperform us on international tests- such as Singapore, South Korea, and Finland- only the best and brightest should be permitted to enter the teaching profession. In these nations only graduates who finish in the top third of their class are allowed to become teachers. If the U.S. adopted such a system, teacher compensation would have to be much greater than it is today.
  • In today's knowledge economy, all graduates must possess essential skills such as the ability to problem solve, critically think, effectively communicate, and collaborate. This point is consistently driven home in the research and is highlighted in Tony Wagner's recent work, The Global Achievement Gap. However, as rigorous of a state assessment the MCAS may be, does it measure all of these skills in a comprehensive manner? Therefore, should teacher effectiveness be confined to just this assessment? Or should we be using multiple measures of learning, some of which are performance-based in nature (e.g., portfolios, senior projects, exhibitions, etc.)? Wouldn't these better get at the heart of these essential skills?
  • The push for greater teacher effectiveness is only one side of the coin. We should do everything to reform our practices and ensure that all kids reach the highest standards. All of our schools should strive to be creative and do whatever it takes. Anything less is unacceptable. But this will get us only so far.... Part of the accountability dialogue must be around how ready to learn our students come to school. It is hardly a surprise that the annual Boston Globe Listing of District MCAS Performance is usually in the same rank order of the socioeconomic status of the 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth. It has been well documented since the federal Coleman Report of 1966 that home-related factors, such as socioeconomic status, access to health care, stable housing, etc., are the greatest factors in predicting a child's academic success, far outweighing school-related factors. Furthermore, how the parent supports the school and his child's learning, effort, and habits of mind is also paramount. As Friedman concludes his column:
"... If we want better teachers we also need better parents — parents who turn off the TV and video games, make sure homework is completed, encourage reading and elevate learning as the most important life skill. The more we demand from teachers the more we have to demand from students and parents. That’s the Contract for America that will truly ensure our national security."

Where are these ideas in the accountability dialogue?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving.... Mansfield 32, Foxboro 12

Congrats to the Mansfield Hornets, who were 32-12 winners over rival Foxboro in the annual Thanksgiving tilt. The win, which was the fourth consecutive one on Turkey Day, left little doubt who was the Hockomock League champion. Stalwart tailback Jamal Marshall (pictured above) gave a gritty effort with 78 yards rushing on 12 carries while battling bronchitis. However, the Don Currivan MVP Award was presented to junior QB George Busharis (pictured below with his parents) for his outstanding performance (9 for 11, 223 yards, 3 TDs). Congratulations!

The Hornets finish the regular season with a 10-1 record and a perfect 9-0 mark in the Hock. They next face Walpole in the Division 2 playoffs this Tuesday night, 11/30 at 7:45 pm at Weymouth High School.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Strike Up One for the Band!

The MHS Band marching down Fifth Avenue, NYC on St. Patrick's Day, 1957

If you know MHS Band Director Peter Conti, you know he is a talker. Big time. I cherish our nearly everyday chats where he fills me in on the latest on his family, the band, and what's happening in the community. I also value his institutional knowledge, as Peter is a lifelong Mansfield resident and a proud member of the MHS Class of '76. On many occasions he has shared anecdotes about the halcyon days of the band in the 50's, 60's, and 70's when it dominated the social landscape of our school. These were the days when one-third to one-half of the student body was a member of the band, drill team, or colorguard, and there was a very real sense of cache in being part of it. (Mind you, the sports teams weren't exactly championship caliber in those days.) Additionally, when the band performed in competition, from Boston to Disneyworld to Ireland, it always outshined the other schools. To say the least, Peter's descriptions of the band's accomplishments are epic in proportion.

This point came clearer to me with last weekend's MHS Band Reunion, where members of the band from the years 1950 to 1980 gathered in Mansfield not only to reminisce but to also pay tribute to band director Jim Gallo, who served MHS for 29 years during that era. As part of the weekend's events, last Saturday over 200 band alumni marched down Main Street with our current band, led by Jim and Peter. That evening over 300 gathered at the Holiday Inn for a banquet in Jim's honor. Many had traveled great distances to participate, as far as Washington state and Alabama. As I had the pleasure of attending, I was struck by the deep fondness and gratitude that our band alum had for their experiences and their teacher, Jim Gallo.

Like all great programs in any school, the MHS band had great leadership. Along with the late, great Bob Dolan (who served as the drill team and colorguard director), Jim built up the program from the ground. From speaking with the alumni, it is clear that Jim's passion and commitment were the driving force for such success. Jim ate, drank, slept, and breathed MHS Band, Drill Team, and Colorguard. He had the vision of what it could be and then applied 29 years of hard work to see it though.

But perhaps the greatest measure of Jim's greatness as an educator was his ability to connect with all of his students on a personal level. Not only was Jim a teacher but a mentor to thousands of MHS students. He had that perfect blend of being an authoritative role model that demanded excellence and a caring adult who consistently communicates genuine concern. Although I never worked with Jim or even observed him, this fact was clear from hearing from the alumni individually and during the banquet's presentations. He touched so many lives, and this is the essence of his success. This was true 60 years ago when Jim started... and it is true today.

I am happy and proud that Jim's legacy lives on today in so many ways with his outstanding student, Peter Conti. Many thanks to Peter and the Band Reunion Committee (Chaired by Barbara Kudzol, '62) for putting on a great event!

Jim Gallo leads the alumni and band down Main Street, Saturday November 6

The mentor (Jim Gallo) and his student (Peter Conti) on the town common, November 6

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Foreign Language Honor Societies Induction 2010

It was a great night last Thursday as the 24th annual Foreign Language Honor Society Induction Ceremony at Mansfield High School was held in the MHS Auditorium. Seventy-four French and Spanish students were inducted into the Société Honoraire de Français sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French and the Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

These honor societies are national organizations and the criteria for selection is uniform, mandated, and of the highest caliber. Each inductee has maintained at least a 90 average in his or her respective language for two years prior to consideration. In addition, the inductee must have a cumulative scholastic average of 80% or above in all other subjects.

As I am asked to do every year, I gave some opening remarks, striving to even give a few words of wisdom in French (thank you, Mrs. Gildersleeve and Mr. Benoit!). I congratulated the inductees and current members, reminding them that they were well on their way to acquiring a 21st century skill, the ability to speak another language. This is a skill that I believe will soon be a necessity in our global economy, as I have recently read of the emergence of more English speakers in China than in the United States within the next twenty years, underscoring the need for a second or even third language acquisition.

Senior members of each society, David Brown, Matthew Cioe, Bridget Davis and Maura Harwood conducted the ceremonies in the target languages. Walter Xu, Co-President of the Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica, and Jonathan Paz, member of the Société Honoraire de Français, opened and closed the ceremony, marked by the passing of the candle of knowledge and presentations by both societies. French Vice-President Kevin Sankey introduced the French song, “Un p’tit air de 1925”, reminding the students of times where having fun did not need to involve iPods or Playstations. The Spanish song, “El Universo Sobre Mi” ably introduced by Spanish Co-Secretary Kirby Viera, reminded us to be happy to be alive and to enjoy all that life has to offer.

The seniors who participated in 2010 Spanish exchange program with the town of Aranjuez, Spain were the guest speakers. Kristina Ivas, Faye Harwell (SHH), Catherine Hamel (Co-President, SHH) and Kylie Nelson (SHH) shared their personal experiences and photographs with the inductees and the audience. Their presentations all reflected on both hosting the Spanish students here in the United States as well as their experiences in Granada, Madrid and Aranjuez.

A reception in the main lobby of the High School followed the ceremony.

The following students are the 2010 inductees:
Société Honoraire de Français
Krishna Bandi , Lindsay Beise, Medha Biswas, Michael Blackman, Laura Burnham, Lauren Connors, Brent Doherty, Taylor Donnelly, David Elofson, Brett Fortin, Carlos Gómez, Ashley Goverman, Katherine Hogan, Amanda Iandoli , Thomas Joncas, Sowmya Kuruganti, Marielle Lajoie, Andrew Marcaccio, Ennya Monestime, Meghan Parrett, Joseph Presentato, Kristina Rothchild, Michaela St. Jean, and Christopher Walsh

Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica (pictured above)
Micaela Allen, Joshua Bayliss, Michaela Bowes, Joshua Buonpane, Brianne Burke, Meghan Carroll, Milena Casamassima, Megan Cole, Anna Craft, Catherine DeBruyn, Richard Erickson, Brian Ferreira, Michelle Flynn, Andrea Gemme, Kevin Giffels, Melissa Godfrey, Anne Claire Grammer, Morgan Grant, Matthew Harris, Katherine Hrach, Michelle Ivanoski, Elijah Karpf, Joshua Lampron, Nicholas Leonard, Patrick Maloney, Aubrey Matthews, Paige MacPherson, Victoria Mello, Nathaniel Michener, Colleen Moore, Hanna Nash, Allison Neenan, Mitchell Negus, Christopher Nugent, Gabriel O’Connor, Terrence O’Mara, Nicole O’Neill, Ariana Pasquantonio, Luke Pastor, Kailee Paulson, Kenneth Ratliff, Colleen Riley, Cori Roach, Nathaniel Somes, Theresa St. James, Andrew Sullivan, Jessica Todesco, Guy Vareewong, Jack Vultaggio, and Laura Whalen

To these fine students, felicidades and bonne chance!