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The Future of Holyoke Schools

2014/02/22 in Activism, Economics, Education, Holyoke, HPS, School Committee, Youth

The Holyoke Public School District has been in the news quite a bit lately: data walls, high-stakes testing, Level 5 status, dropout rates.  A lot of questions are left unanswered however.  And the controversy over data walls seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.  Where does all of the data for the data walls come from?  Currently, students in Holyoke lose about 20 school days per year due to varying forms of data collection.

The district has contracted with the Achievement Network to administer the ANet tests in Math and English.  There are up to four tests per year for English Language Arts (ELA) and up to four tests per year for Math.  The testing takes place in grades 2 thru 8 and requires about 3 ½ hours to administer schoolwide.  While the idea of creating tests aligned to the standards that are being taught in schools is a good one, it is unclear why such tests must cut in to the instructional time that is so valuable to the staff.  Currently, the tests are given on paper, each student getting their own printed packet.  Teachers helping to organize these testing days are out of the classroom for days before, during, and after the administration of the test.  What is the cost to the district to complete all of this testing in its eight K-8 schools?  How many instructional hours are lost throughout the year?  How much does the district pay Achievement Network?  How much paper do these tests require throughout the year?  What is the cost of placing substitute teachers in classrooms to cover for teachers that are organizing these testing days?

Another source of data is the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test created by the Northwest Evaluation Association or NWEA.  These tests are administered twice a year for ELA and twice a year for Math.  These tests are administered on the computer to students in grades 3 thru 8.  The time required varies for each student, with testing lasting up to two hours for some students.  During this testing window, there may be no computer labs available for the general population to use in any of their classes and additional instructional time is lost.  What does the district pay to contract with NWEA to give these tests?  How many instructional hours are lost for this test?

But wait, we’re not done yet.  Students are also given the Benchmark Assessment System in grades K thru 8.  This is a test of reading fluency and reading ability that requires the English teacher or another educator to spend approximately half an hour with each student individually assessing their reading ability.  Some teachers may have as many as 120 students that need to “benchmark” twice a year.  How many instructional hours does that add up to if there are over 3,600 students in grades K thru 8 in the Holyoke Schools? Currently, most students are given the BAS only two or three times per year, but the Holyoke Early Literacy Initiative (HELI) is now suggesting as part of its literacy plan that students in grades K-3 be given the BAS at least once per month (see page 53)!  How much money did the district spend on the kits that are used to assess student reading ability?

Most people in the state are aware by now of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).  This is another set of tests given to students in grades 3 thru 8, as well as grade 10 for Math and ELA.  In addition, 5th, 8th, and 10th graders take a Science MCAS test, and students in grades 4, 7, and 10 take a Long Composition test.  Again, the big question is how many instructional hours are lost due to the testing windows, set forth by the state, for these tests?  How much money does the state spend every year on the testing materials, including the plastic rulers and Reference Sheets for the tests?  How much money is spent on grading the Open Response questions statewide?  What are the costs incurred to ship all of these “sensitive” materials to and from the schools?

Recently, Massachusetts also adopted the ACCESS test for English Language Learners (ELLs).  This test is administered only once a year, but in districts with large populations of ELL students, the testing can be very disruptive to the regular school day.  Parts of the test must be administered individually, and students are often taken out of their regular classes to take these tests.  In addition, the ELLs may not receive the instructional support from their ELL instructors that they would normally receive during the “testing window.”  If students are pulled from their regular classes, who is responsible for filling in the gaps of material they may have missed?

Lastly, every district in the state must now create District Determined Measures, or DDMs, in each subject area and grade level.  For districts receiving Race to the Top money, such as Holyoke, all DDMs that are planned to be used the following school year must be submitted to the state by this June.  DDMs can be as simple as pre and post tests for units or as complex as student portfolios.  While the DDMs should not significantly impact instructional time, they are yet one more assessment tool that students must endure.  It is not yet clear if these DDMs will eventually replace all of the other assessments (besides MCAS).

This amazing amount of data collection seems only to result in frustration on the part of students and teachers.  How much money could Holyoke use to improve its facilities, increase access to technology for students and teachers, and fill vacancies with qualified individuals if all of the money spent on data collection was saved?  How many more enriching activities could students experience, like field trips, if the money were being funneled into these so-called not-for-profit corporations?  As it stands now, more than 10% of the school year in our city is devoted to testing, testing, testing.  Don’t our students deserve better?

One product of all of the low test scores of our students is an overemphasis on English Language Arts and Math.  The logic stands that if students are not performing up to their expected grade level, they must need more time devoted to ELA and Math, right?  Unfortunately, we are sending a clear, albeit subconscious, message to our youth that Science, Social Studies, Art, Music, Physical Education, and play are not as important as ELA and Math.  If these other subjects were as important as ELA and Math, we would spend more time teaching those subjects and we’d certainly spend more time testing you in these subjects!  Currently, students in the K-8 schools in Holyoke receive at least 90 minutes per day of instruction in both ELA and Math.  In contrast, they receive just 45 minutes per day in both Science and Social Studies.  In some schools, students receive 90 minute blocks of Science and Social Studies every other day.  In other schools, students have Science for 90 minutes per day for half of the year and Social Studies 90 minutes per day for the other half of the year.  Not only is this not fair to the students at the K-8 grade levels, it is inconsistent with the scheduling at the high school levels.  Students in grades 9 thru 12 have classes that last about 50 minutes each.  Are we truly preparing our students for high school with such a large emphasis on ELA and Math?  Have the scores students achieve increased since the district implemented the longer ELA and Math blocks?

Where does all of this testing and overemphasis on Math and English lead us?  It seems to have earned the district Level 5 status for Dean Technical and Morgan Schools.  It also seems to have earned us a dropout rate much higher than the state average.  (2.2% statewide, 26.8% in Holyoke, according to Rep. Aaron Vega at the 2/3/14 School Committee Meeting, and statistics found HERE).  This should not be so surprising to the public; what do the students have to look forward to?  All of the creative classes have been taken away and been replaced with additional testing and test preparation.

What does the district do now?  Can we become a voice of leadership in battling the increasing pile of tests?  Can we urge our School Committee to take some of the money in the budget to provide the things that educators, parents, and students want and need to be successful?  Can we work to prevent more schools from entering state receivership?  Should we as parents join together and boycott these tests?

Why do we tolerate this when in other countries they have greater success with fewer resources and less standardized testing?  Take Finland as a perfect example.  Speaking to tolerance, why do we sit idle as the system continually gets worse when in Spain there are strikes and parents marching in the streets when cuts threaten to raise class size from an average of 21 students!

There there is Common Core – embraced by liberals, called a socialist agenda (see paragraph titled “The Real Agenda”) by conservatives and a corporate takeover of education by leftists.  It most certainly is the latter.  To quote Chris Hedges ~  ”…the federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education – and the corporations want it. That’s what’s happening.”  I find it absurd that the conservatives are blasting Obama on this claiming that it is “socialist” when clearly the push in this country by both major parties is to privatize everything – healthcare has been via ACA; social security has had several attempts made; national security is now big enough to be its own branch of government with thousands of private contractors running the show: for-profit prisons in a “free” country that locks away a greater numbers of people both in number and by per capita than any nation in history; military/defense by ending conflicts like Iraq only to replace troops with tax financed private security forces; and now a mission to destroy public school with more charter schools and these numerous testing initiatives.  The public trust continues to be chipped away for the benefit of capital.   Of course we should be upset and act on all of these attacks, but when our children are on the front lines we must fight tooth an nail – so where is the outrage?  Why is it mostly only the teachers that we hear speaking out?

Additional factoids:

In 2006, the dropout rate in Holyoke was 35%; in 2007, it was 27.7%; in 2008, it was 32.9%; in 2009, it was 34.3%; 2010: 28.4%; 2011: 26.9%; 2012: 25%; 2013: 26.8%

Since the beginning of Feb., 53 “anticipated openings” for teachers for the next school year have been posted on the district’s website.  Many of those positions need to be filled now, as teachers have retired mid-year.

 

The Party is Over

2012/11/07 in Anarchism, Brutality, Democrats, Economics, Education, Elections, Eschatology, Federal, Imperialism, Lies, Neoliberalism, Obama, POTUS

(no pun intended)

Time to Get Back to Work, Government…

B.O. is not up for reelection now that he’s in his 2nd term and the campaign cycle for the next presidential election should not start for AT LEAST another nine months so we have some time to really get some shit done here.  If the DNC and Sir Obama, the Capitulator, want to conclusively demonstrate that his second term will be REALLY different, what he needs to do TODAY, very first thing, is this (these are all things that the President can do, on his own – as charge of cabinet, our military and the agencies under his control).

Dear Supreme Oligarch of the Corporatocracy of the American States, I beg you, please hear my requests that I humbly submit before you:

1) RELEASE Bradley Manning - post haste - Manning’s imprisonment should be a bellwether that Shamwow’s by which your other 2nd term “accomplishments” should be measured. Nothing ELSE you could do would reveal your willingness to respect individual rights of conscience.  Manning has been tortured, humiliated and held for nearly three years without trial.  It’s time to face the facts that we as a nation committed war crimes and the airing of dirty laundry that Manning has provided is indeed the best thing for our country and the human species worldwide.  US Imperialism and our wars are a cancer on this Earth.  Admit it by giving Manning the freedom and clemency that he deserves.

2) FIRE Arne Duncan – and prove he’s not out to bust the teachers’ unions and privatize the schools.  Your administration has forever privatized health care, a large part of security in our “kinetic actions” abroad, Homeland Security, FOIA requests, domestic spying, prison industrial and a number of other things handed over to for profit interests.  I wish that we could roll all that back…  but we cannot do this to our schools.  Also, while you are at it, FIRE Treasury’s Geithner AND his alleged replacement, Erskine Bowles who both want to fuck with entitlements.

3) ANNOUNCE a cease-fire in Afghanistan and end all your murder of innocents – provide a steady withdrawal schedule instead of that 2024 that you have in negotiation (not 2014 that Biden said in debates, that is not at all true).  We have been there for 11 years.  UNESCO announced that Afghanistan is now the worst place in the world to be born.  Things were actually better before the bull-in-the-china-shop that are our kill teams and drones arrived there.  STOP IT.  While we are on the topic, world supply of heroin from Afghanistan went from 0% in 2001 to 90+% today.  I paraphrase one CIA operative that spoke about our South and Central American dealings during the Iran-Contra era.  ”Certainly the CIA launders money for black-ops…  add hard drugs to the equation and it amplifies it.  It is money laundering on steroids.”  Yes, that heroin production in our presence is indeed suspect (this happened in 2007, not under Obama’s watch, but it does prove that they are still up to the same old dirty tricks – expected as the CIA does not change its spots)

4) PUT solar technology BACK on the WhiteHouse and on ALL Federal buildings nationally.  Commit to stop Keystone XL, “clean coal“, fracking, offshore drilling, domestic drilling and eliminate all other absurd non-renewable and Big Oil Profit programs that are part of your plan.  End the tariffs on Chinese made solar panels.  You announced a tariff due to China’s subsidizing the manufacture being unfair.  WE SHOULD BE SUBSIDIZING or outright financing renewable energy technology.  Because of the tariffs the prices have gone up enough that in some areas where there a boon in installation it has slowed down completely.  This has cost jobs and has not helped reduce consumption.  2011 was the Biggest Year Ever for corporate profit in the petroleum sector due to your policies.  

5) ANNOUNCE an end to the war on journalists, whistle-blowers, environmentalists, peace seekers and animal rights activists – in other words, defend the Constitution like you took an oath to do – and put an end to the militarization of police, US Marshals, TSA, Border Patrol and Homeland Security that target these groups.  Do not have your DOJ defend the NDAA to the Supreme Court – you know it is unconstitutional – ADMIT IT.  Do not kill any more US citizens via the “disposition matrix” and its drone activated targeted kill list.  This is another unconstitutional impeachable offense that you and your admin must admit your wrongdoing.  Work with Congress to repeal the Patriot Act.  End all other nefarious and invasive plans that are in the works like the NSA’s Orwellian “Perfect Citizen” project.  

But he WON’T do any of this things, of course, because he no longer needs ANYBODY’s approval except the cult of the Democrats that have come to accept these horrors as good policy.  He is all set. Next stop, to be enshrined in the US political pantheon as a great leader right to all the other jackasses that have promoted US Imperialism, War and Crony Capitalism.  Maybe he’ll get another Nobel Peace Prize?  …or maybe a future president will bestow upon him a Medal of Freedom, like Obama provided our favorite mass-murderer named Madeleine Albright?

Press Release from Occupy HCC

2012/03/08 in Activism, Deval Patrick, Education, Holyoke Community College, Mailbag, Occupy, Press

HUSH was contacted by Cheryl O’Connell of Occupy HCC with this press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Cheryl O’Connell
Email: occupyhcc@gmail.com

SUMMARY OF EVENTS FOR HOLYOKE COMMUNITY COLLEGE MARCH 6 STUDENT WALKOUT TO PROTEST GOVERNOR’S PLAN TO CONSOLIDATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE BOARDS

Tuesday afternoon, March 6, around one hundred fifty students and allies walked out of Holyoke Community College to voice their concern with Governor Deval Patrick’s community college consolidation proposal. A student played music as protesters met at the plaza outside the Student Lounge. Energy was high, students were excited to have a venue where their voices would be heard.

As the crowd grew student Lance Matos stood and spoke about the Governor’s proposal and how the student body felt this will affect Holyoke Community College. He spoke of the concerns that a budget based on quantifiable data and the standardization of community college curriculum would lead to schools that teach to tests rather than focus on quality education. Students who have gone through the public education system in Massachusetts have experienced how the MCAS created an environment of teaching to tests. Many students at the walkout communicated that they felt they were short-changed in their K-12 education due to the MCAS and worry that standardization of higher education curriculum would lead to this type of teaching environment. Matos pointed out that while Patrick is distancing himself from “The Case for Community Colleges,” a report by The Boston Foundation that focuses on how to best help the workforce through higher education, his language and timing is far too suspect to credit the proposal being unrelated to the report. Matos reminded students that one day of action will not be enough to defend higher education. He encouraged them to continue being active. Later in the day students were asked to join other representatives from Holyoke Community College on Thursday, March 8 to travel to Boston for Student Advocacy Day where student will be able to voice their concerns to state politicians.

Following Matos’ speech he opened the floor to other students to speak about their experiences at HCC and voice their concerns in relation to the Governor’s proposal. Dozens of students took turns sharing how Holyoke Community College has benefited them and given them opportunities they never even realized were available to them. The concern that narrowing the focus of community colleges to mainly workforce development would lead to the neglect of other educational opportunities was repeated by many of the speakers.

The event ended with students chanting “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” During the event students circulated a petition they plan on submitting to Governor Patrick stating that they take a stand against his proposal and that they demand student voices be a part of any change in the way that higher education is run. Over 250 signatures were collected during the event and students plan to continue collecting signatures for the next few weeks, both in person and online. Students encourage all community members to sign it, saying this affects all of our communities, not just community college students. The organization Massachusetts Jobs with Justice is hosting the students’ petition online. It can be found at here.

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Name: Cheryl
Email: occupyhcc@gmail.com
Subject: student walk-out at hcc
Questions/Comments: Hey,
I’ve been following your blog and was wondering if you would be interested
in the press release about yesterday’s student walk-out at HCC. If so, drop
an email to us at Occupy HCC and I can send you a copy with some photos.
Thanks, great job covering the news in Holyoke!

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