Tag Archives: Advanced Work

The exam school choice, #13…something missing?

Latin EnglishThere is nothing quite like the Thanksgiving Day football game between Boston English and Boston Latin to get the Parent Imperfect thinking about the exam school choice in Boston. It is a huge choice for many individual families in the city, but it is also a choice that we, as a city, make each year about the sort of school system we want to have for our children.

This year, I’ve received an unusual number of questions about the BPS exam schools, some from perfect strangers. Last Saturday was the final day for students in Grades 6 and 8 to take the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) in hopes of entering one of the Boston’s exam schools for the coming year. I remember well that the parental stress level increased greatly in the days before that test. Now, at least there is a little break before the next decision point, when one must register for school and state preferences regarding the three exam schools in the system.

The calendar has generated many of the questions, but there has been another factor this year. In the midst of this year’s selecting season, BPS leadership has endorsed some eye-opening proposals to change the way students get into the exam schools.

Earlier in November, a highly publicized study of Black and Latino male achievement in the BPS confirmed what everyone in the system knows perfectly well. That the exam schools and the Advanced Work Class (AWC) programs are key elements of a system of tracking that aggravates the achievement gap in city schools. The question is what to do about the problem.

Opportunity and EnrollmentThe study, co-published by the BPS and two of the leading educational research organizations in the area, makes a number of recommendations, two of which focus on AWC and the exam schools. It recommends making all grade 4-6 programs Advanced Work programs, which is a positive way of saying that we should end the current practice of, beginning in fourth grade, taking the kids who score highest on a certain test out of their school communities and grouping them in special classrooms. If that’s not bold enough, the study went on to recommend that only children who attend the BPS for Grades 5 and 6 be eligible to apply for admission to the exam schools. This would eliminate the time-tested path to the exam schools, especially Boston Latin School, that passes through private and parochial schools. The goal would be to make the student composition of the exam schools more closely reflect the composition of the BPS, as a whole. I’ve seen proposals like this before (even made some), but at least in my memory, I’ve not seen a proposal like either of these in a document endorsed by the BPS.

Does this change anything for the kids who just took the test? I doubt it, at least in the short run. As in the past, families will rate the exam schools, according to their preferences, and test results will be fed, along with students’ Grade 5 and Grade 6 grades into the mysterious function machine that generates invitations to the O’BryantBLA and BLS.

Deciding on our order of preference among the schools felt like less of a turning point when we applied for Vince, as the word on the street was that it was pretty easy to choose BLS at first, and then change one’s mind later (not surprisingly, to change one’s preference to BLS was less simple, but that wasn’t our strategy). Now, because more and more parents apparently are making either the O’Bryant or BLA their first choice, it is more difficult to later change one’s first choice, regardless of what it is. I can find no data that says that more parents are choosing the O’Bryant and BLA first, but the cryptic placement results received by Connie suggest that it is, in fact, the case.

Latin crosswalkIn Vince’s case we later wished that we had paid more attention to the choice among exam schools. Even though it wasn’t at all clear to us that Vince’s learning style would work well at BLS (Liz will say that she was sure that it wouldn’t), we were convinced by the argument that said, “If he gets into BLS, let him try it. If it doesn’t work out, he can always switch.” Don’t be fooled by that argument. I can name you 25 kids in Vince’s senior class who have struggled mightily for 5+ years at BLS, but have resisted the idea of changing schools. Some parents of such students were clear enough or desperate enough to make the decision for their offspring, but we are among those who did not do so. In public conversation, Vince will say consistently that he really likes his school, and I have stopped doubting him on this point. He really likes the friends he has made at BLS, some of his teachers have been excellent and I expect that he likes being able to tell people that he goes to the such a revered high school. But all that love has come with considerable stress and conflict (for the whole family) and no small loss of self-esteem for the young man.

BLS has 2400 students, give or take a few, which I believe is way too many for a school with its approach to teaching and learning.  The “business model” of the school requires that the school admit well over 100 students each year that will face serious difficulties in adapting to its standards. There are more programs in place to support students in their transition (Saturday Success School, peer tutoring, etc.) than existed 10-15 years ago, but seventh graders at the school are still very much on their own to make their way in a large and unforgiving environment. There are, after all, something like 525 of them in seventh grade, so support anything like that received at many private schools is simply out of the question.

We visited both BLA and the O’Bryant with Vince and Connie. They liked things about the O’Bryant, but neither was drawn to attend the school. We never explored the reasons for that enough, but they seemed to have a mildly negative impression of the school before we even saw the place. Both liked BLA and would probably have quite happily gone there, had their parents pushed the issue, but we did not. They visited BLS after BLA and then “shadowed” a student at the school for a day. They didn’t shadow at either the O’Bryant or BLA. After shadowing, they were officially caught up in the hype and, truth be told, so were their parents. In the end, both Vince and Connie were on pins and needles in the days before their assignment arrived, anxious to hear that they were going to BLS.

The HypeThere is so, so much to say about the “hype,” and I surely can’t do it justice here. The hype is a comparative framing of the three schools and the way they sit in the whole BPS system (remember the English-Latin football game). Much of it is about the “best,” the exclusivity of exam schools and the power of the history embodied, especially, in BLS. But lurking in the definition of “best” are also powerful, often subliminal, messages about race, class and difference. I’m not accusing any school or any group within any school of projecting such messages. No one needs to project them: They are perfectly obvious, even if you aren’t looking for them, and they are powerfully reinforced by messages we all receive daily.

The hype and all of the changes going on for these kids (and their parents) at this time of their lives creates an emotional stew around the exam school decision that is even more toxic than the one surrounding Advanced Work Class. As parents who are busy doing too many things already, it is very easy to not deal with the complexity of this decision, let “the flow” carry one to a decision, and then, two years later, be wondering what happened.

Community conversationsWhat does it mean to “deal with the complexity” of this decision? The two-sentence descriptions of each of the exam schools are, by now, well known. Visiting each school usually provides enough information and direct experience to begin to challenge the stereotypes. People (especially mothers) discuss the topic obsessively among friends. And, of course, we try to talk with our children about what they want for themselves.

All of this is great and necessary. We did it all, but felt that something was missing. Maybe what was missing in our experience was any kind of a space for a broader community conversation about the choice, one in which we could get outside of our tight networks of friends and hear what others–including others who don’t have the exam school choice–feel about that choice. I remember really wishing that we could have this kind of conversation, even among parents at the Hernández, when Vince was in sixth grade. Since Connie was only at the Irving for a year, we didn’t have that kind of connection with parents there, so a different conversation would have been needed.

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The land of disparities

City yearYesterday, the Parent Imperfect joined a standing-room-only crowd of over 200 people at City Year, that temple of youth development in Boston’s South End. I saw lots of Boston Public Schools parents there, including one of the authors of the report, whose middle-school daughter was sitting in the corner of the auditorium, reading a book for the whole time. The daughter was amazingly patient (can I purchase a couple of bottles of this patience?) and Mom was very aware of her daughter, even as she tried to wield the stage hook against long-winded speakers.

The occasion these little dramas was the launch of a report about how Black and Latino male students fare in the Boston Public Schools. This report was a little different than many such efforts in that the BPS commissioned the work, participated in the study design and signed off on its findings. The Center for Collaborative Education and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform did the research. Speakers mentioned the Barr Foundation about 20 times, so I assume the foundation provided much of the dough for what must have been (and continues to be) a very expensive piece of work.

Privilege and prejudiceFor over an hour, slide after slide drove home the point that everyone in the room came in taking for granted: Structural barriers to achievement lead to very different outcomes in the BPS for Black and Latino males, on the one hand, and Caucasian and Asian boys, on the other. I would call these barriers, “institutional racism,” but, given the prominence of big institutions in the process, the study was politic enough not to use such incendiary terms. “Structural barriers to achievement” seems so much more neutral and, therefore, appropriate for polite company. I guess it’s OK to allow the reader to draw his/her own conclusions about such terms.

Overly polite or not, this study makes its point with more detail and more nuance than I have ever seen it made, at least in Boston. Rather than just talking about this statistic for “Black” kids and that one for “Latino” kids, the study uncovers the diversity behind such words by exploring, for example, at the differences in achievement between African-American males, born in the U.S., and Afro-Latinos from the Caribbean.  “Whites” and “Asians” weren’t described with this same sensitivity to diversity, but I can live with that, given the point of this study.

All of this made for a more interesting (and lengthy) presentation, but the bottom line is still the bottom line. Girls do better than boys in the system, across all groups. Within the boys, Black and Latino boys face particular barriers to achievement. Among Black and Latino males, Students with Special Needs and English Language Learners face double or triple barriers.

The lack of economic analysis in the study disappointed me. The authors clearly wanted to keep the focus on the impact of race and ethnicity, but even a couple of slides acknowledging that children living in poverty make up a large part of the student body of the BPS and that social class also influences educational outcomes would have helped. I’m not sure we can understand how race impacts outcomes in the BPS without at least a nod to the way race is tangled up with social class in U.S. cities, but that’s a much longer thing.

METCOI also wonder if we can understand outcomes in the BPS without also including analysis of trends in enrollment and outcomes in charter schools, the METCO program and the region’s private schools. I don’t have data, but I am aware that significant numbers of high-achieving students, including more than a few Latino and Black males students that I know, have departed the BPS for these alternatives (and no small percentage of them come tumbling back into the district later). The growth of these alternative forms of educating our children is gradually changing the composition of the BPS student body and, the nature of the challenges faced by the district. But not even the Barr Foundation could pay for that sort of analysis. These things are on my mind, but they don’t take away from what is a really important piece of research by these people.

The best part of the study is that it takes the bold extra step of naming some of the causes of the problem, and then suggesting ways that we, as a community, might change this situation. It’s here that the tracking that is so central to the BPS experience gets a hard time. For these analysts, something about the way BPS has constructed and implemented Advanced Work Classes and the famous Boston exam schools make those two programs, as currently configured, an important part of the problem. Few of the study’s recommendations deal with AWC and the exam schools (two recommendations, I think), but those are two of the recommendations that are going to get the most attention. The “Village,” the community list-serve at the nation’s oldest public school immediately lit up with both indignation that anyone would dare question the current paths of access to the school, and indignation at that indignation.
Come togetherThe Annenberg Institute at Brown University can tell us just how bad the racial and ethnic disparities are in our schools. The Institute might even be able to tell us what we need to do to narrow those disparities, but it can’t tell us how we can come together to make it all happen. This coming together behind a different vision has always been the challenge and the glossy report handed out yesterday (pea-green and purple, for some reason) isn’t going to help us do that. Political leadership could help make that happen. We’ll see. For the most part, how to come together is something for those us–students, parents, teachers, school administrators alongside political and other community  leaders–who live and learn in the land of disparities to figure out.

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Re-Inventing Advanced Work Class: A Dozen (+2) Quick Thoughts

3 in AWCIt is the time of year when the AWC program is causing some parents of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders in the boston Public Schools to wonder what to do next year. Do they leave their child in the place s/he knows and has friends, or do they opt for the “other track” of Advanced Work?

Thankfully, this is one discussion that Liz and the Parent Imperfect won’t need to have this year. We probably couldn’t survive another round of that. Recently, however, I fell into a very interesting e-mail conversation about AWC among some BPS parents active in their own kids’ schools. I can’t help but share some tidbits from it here, doing my best to obscure the names of parents and schools. My purpose here is not to promote one or another point of view, but to show that thoughtful people have quite different views (and interesting) about this program.

1. At [our school], parents have come together with teachers and the Principal to try to remake the awc/non-awc divide academically and culturally for next year, and we are cautiously optimistic.

So I wanted to have a sense of what schools are doing so we can learn some lessons…

2. We had an tour of our school for prospective AWC parents yesterday. Half of them were genuinely moved and pleased with the ideas we are considering for [changing] AWC. The other half took out their pens and crossed the school off their list… 

3. Your school is similar to one in my neighborhood in that AWC kids largely come from inside the school. Don’t be so hard on outsiders; many of us are turned off by the idea of sending our child into an environment where most of their classmates had been together for years. It’s not exactly welcoming to hear, “We’re full with our own….

4.  I would encourage you to consider the training of a literacy coach at the 3-5 level for your school.  Until teachers have deep and solid skills in a workshop approach to literacy instruction, it will be difficult for them to manage differentiation across the range of learners we’re talking about. The literacy coach provides in-house professional development for their cohort teachers (in this case 3-5, but it could possibly be expanded to 3-6; or train a second coach 6-8), as well as bi-weekly coaching visits – forever. The training happens through the Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University…

This should be a model the district leverages to address equity and differentiation…

5.  From what I can tell kids at our school are on a very broad spectrum of current capacity to handle [the the training on executive function], but they’re all doing it on some level and all learning skills to manage information, plan time, etc.  And yes there ARE kids with IEPs in the AWC classroom at the school…

Advanced Work II6. I wonder if it would be helpful to look at other schools where there is no AWC, very mixed classrooms in terms of academic skills, and where families choose to stay… as maybe we could assume that something is going right in those classrooms. It’d be easy to come of with a list anecdotally, but wonder if the info would also be accessible from BPS.

 It sounds like there are some interesting ideas about how to integrate the classrooms. Our experience at the school that our kids attended, is a bit different, as there are completely mixed classrooms, with a very small exodus for AWC, though a fair number of kids who get in. Thought maybe some of the lessons could apply though…
7. Hearing things like this make me feel better about even staying involved in this equity fight. The awc segregation is so disturbing and everyone tells me it is political suicide to be strongly against it. It is good to know some people are trying to mitigate this…
8.  …whatever AWC is or is not (and AWC classes vary and have their own inequities), it can’t be separated from the exam schools. BPS I think sees AWC at heart as about keeping middle class parents in BPS, and on the pathway to exam schools…
9. …I went to schools to see about transferring my daughter and was astounded at seeing what is basically tracking and racial segregation in several of the school I looked at. It seems to me that it is an unspoken bargain to keep middle class kids in BPS at the expense of poor kids and kids of color…
10. Interesting the interest and increased difficulty of getting into AWC coincided with the recession. Wonder if things will shift again now with housing prices being more fluid as Boston real estate continues to rebound and surpass…
11. The whole AWC thing creates different dynamics for those at schools that have AWC vs. those at a school without it. I have a appreciated the rigorous instruction that my son has received in an AWC classroom, but I have not understood why the curriculum and method of teaching…(teachers seem to have a lot more flexibility) shouldn’t be available for all kids? It seemed like everyone would benefit from the approach…
12. There can be lots of opportunities for all 4th/ 5th graders — regardless of AWC or reg ed or multi-lingual classrooms — to go on the same field trips (including to DC), be in the same chorus, school play or on the same sports team. This was true at the school my kids attended…
13. It is really great to hear about what is happening at the school where the parents are trying to change AWC. I look forward to learning more about this initiative...I don’t think there is a single white child in my son’s AWC class (though there may be one or two in the grades 5-6); his AWC class is under subscribed – only 17 students – and has historically been under subscribed. One child left to go to AWC at another school and I know others would have left if they could have gotten in. That said, there is probably more of distinction in economic levels – with the middle class kids clustered in AWC program.
There you have it, fragments of a back-and-forth among people who care. You can cut the ambivalence with a knife. But it’s great to see that some schools are trying to do something about AWC, rather than just send their kids there and wish it didn’t exist.
Will your child be going to AWC next year? How are you feeling about it?

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The Exam School Choice#12, Day Won

Boston Latin WallFor the Parent Imperfect, the summer is ending early this year. Yesterday, Boston Latin School began its optional orientation for all entering “sixies” or seventh graders. Connie is among that group of over 500 children. According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in 2012-13, there were 3795 seventh graders in the BPS. Assuming that number hasn’t changed dramatically in one year, almost one-seventh of the seventh graders in the system are at this one school, and almost one in four is at one of the BPS exam schools.

At first, Connie didn’t want to go to the orientation, but when push came to shove, she decided to get on the bus. Many of her friends from the Irving were going to orientation, which interested her, for sure, but what pushed her over the edge was her brother’s advice to go. What a surprise! The idea that Vince would suggest that someone spend any more time than the absolute minimum in school was…revolutionary. He said that there was too much sitting around, but that going to orientation would make things much easier when school started for real in September.

Connie took off for Forest Hills with a vanful of kids (and two parents) gathered at a neighbor’s house down the street. One of them who I think has had at least two older boys at the school (who did quite well) said to me, “Here we go, again.” when I got there. Fully feeling the ambivalence of the moment, I answered, only half-joking, “I should know better.”

Boston Latin GateConnie spent the afternoon and a good part of the evening with her friends from the neighborhood who are also attending BLS, so I didn’t see her until almost 9PM. When I asked her to “tell me everything” about the day, she answered that there wasn’t much to say. They’d spent almost the entire day sitting and listening to an adult tell them things. I wanted to say, “get used to it, honey,” but, for once, I refrained. I persisted with my questions and the following thoughts about the day surfaced:

1. It was exciting to see kids there that she knew from all of the different places of her life. She saw three others from the Hernández, about six others from the Hennigan and over 20 from the Irving. Of the 16 kids in her orientation group, 14 were from the Irving AWC. She was very excited to see her best friend from the Hennigan, who had not gone to the Irving. There were also kids that she knew from camp, theater, dance , gymnastics and from playing soccer. She was surprised to know so many of the kids in the group.

2. Her orientation teacher was the Divine Ms. H., one of the teachers with whom her brother did not had a great relationship. “I could see really quickly why Vince wouldn’t get along with her.”

3. It was bad enough to spend so much time sitting around, but every few minutes some adult had to remind them that the expectations of them were going to be very high, but they would answer those expectations because they were the “best .” It would have been OK to hear that once, but they heard it over and over. Connie wondered if they were trying to convince them about this best thing. She knows plenty of kids who are “smarter” than the kids who are there, but they decided to go to BLA or some other school.

4. She was familiar with the school, but it still seemed very huge confusing. She wondered if whoever gave numbers to the rooms did it to try to confuse the kids or make it a challenge for them.

5. Her home room will be right next to the one Vince was in as a sixie. She knows at least one other kids who will in that same home room, which was reassuring to her.

Boston Latin 17th CenturyDay Won is done. The die is cast. I couldn’t help but wonder how different the first day of orientation must have been for Connie than it was for her brother. He was one of the small group (three) of kids coming from his non-AWC school (“regular” ed), and he really didn’t know that many other kids at that first day of orientation. The school is definitely set up for children to come to it as Connie is coming. Her experience there will definitely be different. I only hope that it is different for the better.

After hearing it all, Liz said, “We may not have to work hard to get her to do the work, but we’ll have to work very hard to keep her who she is.” So true.

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The Exam School Choice #11, The Letter and the Number

The LetterThe last time around, the letter was a much bigger deal because that’s how the Parent Imperfect found out about Vince’s exam school assignment. This year, when the letter came on Wednesday, it was anticlimactic. We already knew that Connie had been invited to the nation’s oldest public school, which is what we need to know to make a decision about next year.

But the letter is not content to tell us what we need to know. It also gives us Connie’s numerical score on each section of the ISEE test. We have no idea what these raw numbers mean, although it was nice to see that her raw number was more or less the same on each section.

Then came another set of meaningless numbers. The letter tells us that, of the 2009 children who took the test and chose Boston Latin School as their first choice, Connie ranked “X,” taking into account both her test grade and the summary of her grades in fifth and sixth grade that has appeared, as if by magic, there on the page.  Again, this ranking number doesn’t mean a lot to us, but we were curious to see that her ranking for BLS was actually “higher” (better) than it was for the other schools. How is that possible? The letter doles out these numbers, but provides no explanation.

In any case, without much discussion, Liz and I decided that we would continue the time-honored tradition of not sharing with our children this ranking. In Vince’s case, that worked fine. He actually asked for this number for the very first time about two months ago. Only three of the 39 students in his sixth-grade class got invited to BLS and these were not kids (including Vince) who were going to rush into school and start comparing their numerical rankings. Liz hid the letter somewhere (in fact, I have no idea where it is) and we sort of forgot about it.

But not all sixth grades (or sixth graders) are alike. Did it slip our mind that we decided to have Connie go to an Advanced Work Class? It seems that the next day, nearly everyone in Connie’s class was talking about their ranking (I must wonder if it was really “almost everyone”). In the more competitive AWC environment, this question of the number took on prime importance for some. According to Ms. Connie, three of the young ladies in her class ranked in the top 16 of all children taking the test throughout the BPS, so she was more than curious about her number. I’d like an audit of those results…

Liz and I looked at each other, suddenly realizing that we should, of course, have talked to Connie about the letter and the number before she went to school the next day. When we sheepishly told her that we had received the letter and, as in the case of her brother, had decided not to share the number, drama ensued.

weird parentsWould we please not compare her with her brother or assume that because something was the right thing to do with him, it is the right way to treat her? It’s bad enough that she can’t see TV shows, will never have her own laptop and has a phone from some other time that barely does text messages…now we’re not going to give her a chance to be proud of how she did on an important test? Having weirdos for parents is more than a girl can take sometimes.

We wavered before the real (and somewhat justified) emotions of youth denied, but did not give in (at least as far as I know). We apologized for not telling her about the letter the day before, but insisted that nothing good can come of her knowing a number that can only serve to make some people feel better and others feel not so good. The only thing that matters is what schools she has to choose from, right? I could see in her teary eyes that she was ready to go to all of the other meaningless numbers that seem quite important to us, but she spared us that observation.

Why does the BPS feel that it needs to tell this group of parents exactly where their child ranked on the private school admissions test that they use to decide who will go to the only public middle and high schools that have anything like the resources needed to educate adolescents? Why, when so much important information is not shared with parents, does this tidbit deserve to see the light of day?

Now I have to find the letter. With all our focus on the number, I’m not sure we got to the part of the letter that tells us how we need to respond to confirm that Connie will, indeed, join her brother at the nation’s oldest. Once bitten, twice…gnawed.

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The Nine-Hour Day, Part I

You may remember the spectacle of the Parent Imperfect going into a panic when he realized that he had chosen for his daughter a school that would have her in school for nine hours a day. This child is much too busy and restless to be in school that long. I raced to the Hennigan School like a maniac and accosted the poor woman who took care of the school choice forms until she gave me back Connie’s form so that I could change the order of her middle school options.

It mattered not. The bizarre sorting hat that is the BPS assignment process gave us neither of the schools we chose over the Washington Irving Middle School, so we ended up in our walk-zone middle school. This is, of course, the gold standard of assignment nirvana, so we should feel very lucky.

During the weeks after we made our choice, Connie discovered that most of her closest friends from the Hennigan would be joining her at the Irving, so she started to feel better about it. Her best friend, who lives closer to the Irving than we do, had chosen another school because an older sibling had lived through a terrible three years at the Irving in an earlier time. Post-traumatic-BPS-stress goes away very slowly, if at all.

So Connie is now seven weeks into her Irving career. She has memorized the Warrior Creed and gotten used to wearing a uniform each day and keeping her shirt tucked in. She notices that there is very little fighting or bullying at the school…less than at either of her two previous BPs schools. This surprises her, given what she had heard about the Irving.

She loves changing classes like her brother has been doing for years, but she can’t get used to the fact that she can’t go to the bathroom for the last 15 minutes or the first 15 minutes of any class period. Because there is always a line after Prohibition, that can mean that she needs to wait 45 minutes to use the bathroom, which is not ideal at all for a girl of her age. What social deviance are we avoiding with this unique form of collective punishment?

Nine hours is a very long time to be in school each day. We are aware of all of the research extolling the virtues of extended confinement for young people, and I expect that the Extended Learning Time at the Irving will improve student performance at the school. As it’s now being done at the school, it is not great for Connie.

One presumed benefit of the longer day is more academic time. I don’t see it. Connie has three “academic” classes each day: Math, ELA and Social Studies. These are generally long periods of 80 minutes. She’s really excited about one of her teachers, OK with another, and very disappointed with the third. She has no Science course during this first half of the year. Science will be substituted for Social Studies in the second semester.

When we were choosing schools, the principal at the Irving (Arthur Unobsky) was quite accessible. I should say that I like him (from a distance, I don’t really know him) and have great respect for his commitment to the school and for the leadership he is providing. On one rainy day, I went to the school at dismissal to pick Connie up. There was Arthur, standing out in the rain in his suit in front of the dreaded Triple Eatery. He was holding a (wet) radio in his hand and talking to the kids as they hurried past him. I wasn’t sure if I should be in awe of the man’s commitment, or wondering if the guy knows enough to get in out of the rain. In twenty total years in the BPS, this is the first year that either of our children has been in a school led by a male principal.

On three separate occasions, Mr. Unobsky ASSURED me that there would be language options for sixth graders this year (specifically Spanish, but any would do). There are no language options, which is disappointing for both Connie and myself. I don’t know if it matters to anyone else.

Connie also has a Visual Arts class that she loves. I believe she has it twice a week. The teacher really impressed both Liz and I when we went to the school’s well-attended Parent Open House in September. The girl is now drawing in her free time for the first time in many years, which is very nice to see.

Her fifth core class for this half-year is Phys. Ed., which she has three times per week. I believe that the gym period is shorter than the academic periods, but I’m not sure. This could be an extremely important part of the Extended Learning Time program, but Connie (who likes her Phys. Ed. teacher) complains that he has a penchant for long lectures in class, which is the last thing she needs during her only chance for physical activity. His female sidekick is less this way, but she is on family leave, apparently. When there is physical activity, it’s usually “student-directed activity.” As near as I can tell, that means throwing some equipment in the middle of the floor and letting the kids direct their own play. I see a place for this, for sure, but in combination with long lectures, this is a very big missed opportunity.

A recent public radio report examined an Extended Day program at a school in Lawrence, MA that has decided to place at the center of its approach a commitment to physical activity for the kids. Students apparently get over two hours of physical activity per day in two or three periods, and the Phys. Ed. is designed to provide both intentional skill/confidence building and leadership opportunities. No radio show can convince me, but this approach makes a world of sense. The Lawrence program claims that the physical activity is greatly improving academic results at the school, but talk is cheap. Even if this was a fib, I’d still be in favor of making intentional physical activity a cornerstone of any extended day program for elementary and middle schoolers.

Connie, who is an active child still participating in a demanding gymnastics program, is gaining weight at the Irving School. It is also harder for her to do her gymnastics because of the longer school day.

There is much more to say about the Nine-Hour Day, but that’s enough for now. Seven weeks in, it’s been a decidedly mixed bag for Connie. The Irving is moving in a positive direction, and the staff and parent leadership definitely want to make it a school that all students will opt to attend for all three years of middle school. Honestly, that’s not likely for Connie, given the way the incentives work in the BPS, but nor is it something that we are completely closed to. After all, we have our own traumatic-BPS-stress that’s not yet “post.”  For her to stay at the Irving, however, the Extended Learning Time program would have to receive some pretty significant tweaks.

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The Riot Act?

Connie has absolutely no interest in the sporting events that draw the Parent Imperfect to the television (football, basketball and baseball, for example), but the Olympics exert a strange power over her. Yesterday, she took a rare nap in the PM after a very late night at her friend’s birthday party, but then spent hours glued to the pairs figure skating, the mogles, speed skating and whatever else was on offer. This from a child who can easily go a month without watching any TV at all.

On Saturday, she and her mother went to Wheelock for her costume fitting for her upcoming role in The Little Mermaid. She’ll be a crab with little to say. Connie couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity. The PI shares her excitement, but wonders what it will be like to have to get her to the other end of the Jamaicaway every night for a month for rehearsal. Carpooling seems like a great idea…

Now it is time for the PI to turn back to the letter he received from the Hernández about why Connie should stay there, rather than go to the Advanced Work Class. The second argument in the letter was:

“2. We have a good track record of 6th graders entering the three exam schools–Boston Latin, Boston Latin Academy and O’Bryant School of Science and Technology. Generally those studends who remain at our school for 6th will again be eligible for the exam schools. Some families have even by-passed going to exam schools in 7th and entered exam schools in 9th grade.”

The PI knows well that this is true. Vince stayed at the Hernández for 6th grade and ended up at the nation’s oldest public high school for 7th. Last year, 4 of the 31 sixth graders from the RHS got into exam schools. This is something like 13%, which one imagines is close to the average for non-AWC sixth graders. In the AWC at the Washington Irving Middle School in Roslindale, all 23 sixth graders were admitted to exam schools. That percentage is easier to calculate.  The PI is trying to determine those percentages for the entire system, but those numbers are hard to find.

But the reason to keep Connie at the Hernández has to be the quality of the experience in those grades, not the fact that she has a larger or smaller chance of getting into the exam schools if she stays.

Vince’s educational experience in 4th and 5th grades was uneven, but generally pretty good. Those two grades are “looped” at the RHS, so he had the same teachers for both grades. For a number of reasons, 6th grade was much less positive. The elementary to middle school transition is a difficult one throughout the BPS system, and the RHS is no exception, even though students can stay in the same building during the transition.

There is a big debate about the value of K-8 schools (such as the Hernández, versus middle schools that house only grades 6-8. Some studies suggest that there are real advantages to the K-8 model, while other research concludes just the opposite.The BPS is definitely moving slowly toward the K-8 model.

In the case of the RHS, there is clearly a huge difference between the educational environment of the elementary and middle school grades. Part of that stems from the fact that parents with options (like the PI) move their children out of the school before 6th grade, but it is also true that the school administration has not been able to take steps to solve some of the problems present in grades 6-8.

The PI will never forget the first day of school when Connie entered second grade and Vince entered sixth. The opening ceremony for the whole school had the feel of a pep rally where the sense of excitement about the possibilities of a new year were palpable. Then, the elementary students and virtually all of the parents filed out and the staff assembled the middle school students to read them the Riot Act about what would happen if they messed up academically, or got caught with cellphones or didn’t follow the school dress code. Huddled in the corner of the auditorium, Liz and the PI were the only parents present (they probably shouldn’t have been there). The PI  recalls not a single statement in that meeting about the exciting learning that would happen in the coming year. The rest of the year quite faithfully reflected what happened on Day One.

Finally, just to complete the picture of a system lacking good options, one family did make the move last year from the RHS to the Curley School for sixth grade AWC. After the experience, the mother of that family reported that, in terms of academics, “the move wasn’t worth it. If we had it to do over, we would stay at the Hernández.”

So…go figure. The argument that some RHS students do get into the exam schools after 6th grade is absolutely true, but the argument that RHS is able to provide a consistently positive educational experience for grades 4-6 is less convincing. The budget cuts that loom on the horizon aren’t going to make it any easier to do so.

Thanks to those who have read these things and talked to the PI about it. All feedback helps!

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