Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 5, 2012

Feb 6, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:36 pm

Feb 6, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights

Actually, there aren’t any. Councillor Kelley announced last week that he would not be at this meeting, so unless that changes, don’t expect a mayoral ballot to take place at this meeting. Also, two of the more controversial matters that were tabled last week via Charter Right were the following Orders from Councillor Kelley that likely have minimal support from his colleagues. Expect them to be "Placed on File under Rule 19" without action, or possibly be amended by substitution to introduce plans more suitable to the majority of councillors.

Charter Right #12. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three Council members to start the process of searching for and hiring a replacement City Clerk. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Davis on Order Number Four of Jan 30, 2012 submitted by Councillor Kelley.]

Charter Right #13. That the Acting Chair of the City Council is requested to appoint a temporary committee of three City Council members to start the process of setting up a City Council review of the City Manager and to start the discussion with the City Manager of his intentions. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Davis on Order Number Five of Jan 30, 2012 submitted by Councillor Kelley.]

Unfinished Business #15. That the matter of the election of the Mayor and Vice Mayor be referred to Unfinished Business. Jan 30, 2012 ballot #4 (Councillor Cheung three votes; Councillor Davis one vote; Councillor Decker three votes; Councillor Kelley one vote and Councillor Toomey one vote) ballot #5 taken (Councillor Cheung three votes; Councillor Davis one vote; Councillor Decker two votes; Councillor Reeves two votes and Councillor Toomey one vote) ballot #6 taken (Councillor Cheung three votes; Councillor Davis one vote; Councillor Decker two votes; Councillor Reeves two vote and Councillor Toomey one vote)

That’s pretty much it until next week. It will be more interesting to see what happens Tuesday night at the School Committee meeting when they are expected to vote on the "Academic Challenge Plan" that’s part of the ongoing Innovation Agenda implementation. Will the School Committee vote in favor of mediocrity? Probably. Or maybe they’ll delay the vote. – Robert Winters


  1. There was a Mayoral Ballot #7 tonight: Cheung 3, Decker 2, Davis 1, Maher 1, Reeves 1
    Councillor Kelley was absent.

    Comment by Robert Winters — February 6, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

  2. I don’t think its fair to say “Will the School Committee vote in favor of mediocrity?” No one is putting in this many hours because we want our schools to be mediocre. That is absurd. I’m not sure what you are referring to anyway. What in the Academic Achievement Policy will lead to mediocrity? Are you referring to no longer continuing ISP? If we continue it, will that mean that our schools won’t be mediocre?

    Comment by Marc McGovern — February 7, 2012 @ 9:10 am

  3. Marc – My reference is to what appears to be a rigidity of thought regarding “heterogeneous classrooms and differentiated instruction” regardless of circumstances. There are, in my view, at least two unanswered and significant questions:

    1) What will happen when the difference in ability in a classroom becomes so great as to make instruction impractical?

    2) Does everyone actually believe that by offering enough “professional development” to teachers they will all become masters of “heterogeneous classrooms and differentiated instruction” and that this will work for all students in those classrooms?

    Personally, I have no opinion on whether the ISP should be maintained. Ideally, I would like to see any and all good aspects of that program made system-wide. Optimistically, I hope this becomes the case and I want to believe that the proposed plan has this as a goal. I do, however, remain skeptical. So much of the rhetoric that I’ve heard on this topic is philosophical/ideological, i.e. that it is “wrong” to separate students according to ability. What I have not heard addressed are the practical aspects of how a classroom actually operates.

    Just a little history – I once taught in a mathematics program for entering freshman at Boston University that grouped students of all mathematical abilities into one class (SAT Math Scores ranging from 320 to 720, some students unable to understand fractions and other students having already seen some calculus). The task was impossible, but it was also unfair to the students. Some students were guaranteed to fail while others were bored. I spoke out against this structure and it cost me my (tenure track) job. Within a year, the program was such a failure that it was discontinued. Students now take mathematics classes at their appropriate level.

    Comment by Robert Winters — February 7, 2012 @ 9:50 am

  4. Getting rid of the honors/AP equivalent classes in favor of “diversity” in the classrooms is a major mistake. Teaching students on the same level simply does not work in the public schools system. The smarter kids will end up bored and uninterested while the students who fall behind will have no chance. This is a terrible decision by the school committee.

    Comment by Joe Aiello — February 8, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

  5. I think the real question should be, “At what point does assigning or allowing students to choose options based on ability or academic background become appropriate?”

    I think we will probably all agree that this makes little sense for 1st graders, and almost all will agree that it is appropriate by the time students are about to graduate high school (though a few ideologues like Alice Turkel will probably disagree). It’s obviously the norm in college. So, if it’s not OK in 1st grade and it is OK in 12th grade, there must be a point at which it becomes both acceptable and desirable. [For you math geeks out there, this is the Intermediate Value Theorem.]

    So, is Middle School where this crossover takes place? Personally, I think it depends on the student population you have in a given school or classroom, and this means that teachers and the administration in specific schools must have the FREEDOM to decide whether “leveled classes” are appropriate. I actually find it ABSURD that elected School Committee members are involved in this discussion. They are perhaps least qualified to decide this.

    Comment by Robert Winters — February 8, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

  6. I could not agree more

    Comment by Joe Aiello — February 8, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

  7. I am not currently living in Cambridge nor have I looked at the actual plans in too much detail I can say from experience that heterogeneous classes were a failure at CRLS, though not as much as I expected them to be in classes that had great teachers.

    As to the Middle School we have two big problems to address, the first is the equity gap since our kids are not on the same page when they get to the high school. MCAS scores, grades, and other actual statistical groups of data and evidence demonstrate that. It was true back when I first read the AUP report in 2004 and its likely still true now. Minorities and students from other socio economic groups perform worse than their white and better off counter parts. Creating middle schools with strong rigorous standards and teachers trained specifically to teach middle school students and teach the different parts of the classroom is an incredibly important step to closing the gap and also improving the weakest point in our system while also strengthening CRLS and the elementary schools. It allows K-6 to focus on their mission better, it allows 9-12 to be a whole lot of an easier adjustment for students and teachers alike since people will be coming in on the same page and its a model that works in most cities of our size and diversity.

    So on the first question should we have middle schools I would argue the answer is an affirmative yes. The second question, the component of the classroom and whether we will group children by ability in those years is a different one entirely. I would argue that if we look to Mr. Youngs former district we see excellent Middle Schools that have high test scores, satisfied students, and great equity without necessarily grouping by ability. The key is to take the culture of success and the ideology of achievement that existed at ISP, has been consistently diluted there since it merged with the Kennedy, and replicating it across the district in the middle school programs. We should not repeat the CRLS mistake of evaluating equity over excellence and stigmatizing achievement and calling taking undermotivated and misbehaving children to task as ‘blaming the victims’. That kind of social experimentation in the Evans era is a proven failure. If we go the opposite route and instill the same rigor, same discipline, and get great teachers that motivate students both at the top and bottom of the academic totem poll than we can be successful. Remember ISP was not and never was an honors program, it was open to any student regardless of ability or grades, it was motivation (a teachers recommendation) and a randomized lottery that determined who got in and who didn’t. So while I would argue that grouping by ability is essential at all levels in high school my own studies of other districts in MA and my own experiences working at the other CPS (in Chicago) show that middle schools with a focused staff, a culture that promotes excellence, firm expectations of students and staff, and a clear and consistent mission can be successful and can have successful classrooms that appeal to all levels of students. What MUST be done is ensuring that excellence comes first, what must NOT be done is valuing equity over excellence since it stigmatizes the gifted and does little to help those that need it. I am confident this plan is not Paula Evans redux at the Middle School level, Mr. Young and the staff that are planning this have an entirely different set of standards and the commitment is to excellence first and the belief, backed by data, that equity will follow excellence if it is expected of all students. I am a reluctant supporter since I know that inequity really failed a lot of my peers and some schools simply did not do as good a job as others of preparing our kids for high school work. That problem must be fixed and not to be too cliched Cambridge about it, that is a social justice issue. And a program that also values advanced learners and seeks to mimic national programs that fulfill both goals could be quite innovative. The phased transition that Marc favors will also ensure that this change will be successful. Lastly Marc and I have had our disagreements but he comes to the position as an educator first and a politician second and makes his decisions based on facts, data, and whats best for the district. Patty Nolan is of a similar mind and is open to new ideas and changing her mind when the data shows her what must be done. I can’t speak for the other members since many of them are new and I did not serve with them. We also finally have a Superintendent that does the same thing, and the ideologues have mostly been removed from the Committee and more importantly from 40 Thorndike.

    Comment by James Conway — February 9, 2012 @ 12:57 am

  8. Lastly I would prefer a model that creates honors classrooms in the Middle School level and do not share an ideological opposition to tracking or separating students by ability, to be clear. I do feel that this program will actually strengthen the rigor and excellence in all of our Middle Schools, that separate Middle Schools are so vital and essential that I am willing to concede the grouping question for now for the sake of the greater good, and I am confident the transition process is flexible enough that grouping can be introduced down the road if the data proves it needs to be done and the program as is does not produce the desired results. But I have been told from several sources I respect, including some members of the Committee, some staff in the district, parents of friends, and former teachers of mine that this is a good plan from an educators perspective and should replicate many of ISPs strengths without sacrificing equity or excellence, or replicating some of its weaknesses.

    Comment by James Conway — February 9, 2012 @ 1:03 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: