Thursday, December 26, 2013

Can Southbridge Hit The “Reset Button” In 2014?


As we enter 2014 and anticipate our town’s Bicentennial in 2016 there is little doubt that Southbridge is a community with serious problems. Is there any way to hit the “reset button?”

Once the hub of economic, industrial and political energy in Southern Worcester County, “The Eye of the Commonwealth” has become an eyesore.

Unfortunately, even saying such a thing seems to automatically brand one as negative and worthy of dismissal.

On the other side are those who feel that talking up the town with its multitude of services and constantly praising positive gestures is the key to restoring civil pride and building toward the future.

While not belittling the latter, many of who are involved in making positive contributions to Southbridge, I believe that, by and large, they are self-deluded Pollyannas. I suspect that, had they been aboard the Titanic, they would have attempted to organize shuffleboard matches to distract people from the shortage of lifeboats.

Having done this blog for about three years (with occasional absences) I have noted a substantial decline in the number of those offering comments or opinions about local matters. While I have made an effort to restrict what many viewed as irresponsible and inflammatory remarks in the past, I have nevertheless seen a decline in the level of reader involvement. That is not attributable solely to banning the “trolls”.

Certainly, after having been essentially dormant for four months, The O’Zone has been blessed with a return of readers in the last three months. Based on Google provided statistics we have enjoyed about 40,000 page views since the beginning of October.

Unfortunately, those readers have generated little in the way of commentary. More disheartening, however, is the fact that virtually all of the comments have been of a negative nature.

There are those who will suggest that the nature of my writing has encouraged such elements to speak out.

I would counter that I have attempted to make positive proposals about the structure of town government, the town charter, town bylaws, executive compensation and a number of other issues.

I suspect that what is really at work is an increasing feeling of impotence on the part of the public.

As Town Councilor Conrad Vandal noted at a recent meeting of the Town Council, “We are a poor town.”

As such we are reflective of the growing disparity of incomes across America, a topic that has gained recent currency as the issue of “income inequality”, an issue that I attempted to bring to the public fore near the outset of writing this blog.

A consequence of that phenomenon is the exploitation of an “us and them” mentality that employs fear and alienation in seeking to blame “others” as the cause of the problems with which we are confronted. Whether those “others” are racial and ethnic minorities, the economically disadvantaged or members of a particular family or group, it is a tactic that has been employed throughout history by those seeking social and political advantage.

It is my opinion that the first step in correcting course is to clearly identify the problems that confront Southbridge.

The next step is to put forward realistic means of addressing these problems. By realistic I mean proposals that take into account the institutional, political and social factors that have led to the problems as well as the need to mobilize a level of public involvement that was last seen in the opposition to the contract with Casella and a realization that such efforts cannot expect a “silver bullet” solution but rather require an ongoing investment of time, effort and commitment.

Such progress is, of necessity, a grass roots democratic process. It is not the result of some outsider generated “Master Plan.”

It is my hope that The O’Zone can serve as a focus for addressing the problems we face as well as a forum for putting forward proposed solutions to these problems.

But no one venue can attempt to lay claim to what, of necessity, must be a citizen-driven agenda.

If 2014 is to be more than the ongoing descent into a Hell of desperation that we have seen for far too long, then it will require real leaders to step forward. Whether I agree with you or not, The O’Zone will provide a forum for any responsible spokesperson. Submit an article that raises an issue or proposes a solution and I will print it. All that I ask is that you use your real name with a means of verifying authorship (preferably a phone number) and that the article be emailed to me in Microsoft Word format. You can address such an article to obanion@netzero.net .

As a starting point I will suggest some of the matters that I think constitute issue areas with which our town must deal. The list is only suggestive. Feel free to address whatever you think is of importance.

The Landfill
Close or expand -$2.4 million revenue per year vs. loss of airport vs. environmental issues
Schools
MCAS vs. School choice vs. teacher turnover & performance vs. parent involvement vs. administration
Town Government
Council/Manager vs. Mayor/Council vs. Selectmen/Town Meeting
Budget & Taxes
Town Departments
Cut or expand
Police – Fire – DPW – Economic Development & Planning -Town Hall Staff – Health - Inspections
Economy
Jobs – training – downtown – business – industry





23 comments:

  1. As you state, Southbridge is a great place with a lot of potential but in the problems you list , you have missed the most important -- A disengaged citizenry. And, it is not because they don't care, it is because nothing seems to change for the better -- no matter what they do.

    The second most important problem is that there is no media in town to hold the politicos accountable. The most important freedom we have is that of a free press and the lack of any press at all allows the politicos to do what ever they want. All that they have to do is wait a week and no one is asking any questions about their actions. There is nothing out there to keep a story alive (you are the exception) until we get answers or action.

    Until we reinvigorate the media in this town the bobble heads will keep bobbing, Buzz will keep his chain saw running, town hall will continue to support extended families on the tax payers dime, and the people will stay disengaged.

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  2. With such a swelling local education budget along with the town’s operating budget; the “Escape Button” is more like it!

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  3. Almost 1,000 page views between yesterday and now - 2 anonymous comments - no concrete suggestions.
    Is it any wonder that we are making no progress?
    As the good book says, "As you sow, so shall you reap."

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  4. Suggestions:

    1. Scale back all town hall employees to part time. There are enough people in the town hall to keep it open full time.

    2. Eliminate the waste in excess administrators at the School Department. You only need a Superintendent, Budget Director, and a Curriculum Director (also only two secretaries).

    3. Merge the Public Works Department with the School Maintenance Department.

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  5. Add to you list of suggestions:

    1. One Principal / Vice Principal / school. (note: the high school and the middle school are separate schools.)
    2. One secretary / school. (ps: guidance departments do not need secretaries.)
    3. Limit the largest class (not the average class size) to 15 students. (This will effect MCAS Scores more than anything else).

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    Replies
    1. Can you show any other combined middle/high school with separate principals?
      Where is the proof that class size affects results?

      Delete
  6. Read this Article. It especially notes minorities and and the lack of achievement in class sizes over 20.

    http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Organizing-a-school/Class-size-and-student-achievement-At-a-glance/Class-size-and-student-achievement-Research-review.html

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    Replies
    1. That study concludes, “Even in light of findings that suggest no relationship between class size and student achievement, the preponderance of the evidence supports positive effects and academic gains when class size reduction programs in the primary grades are well-designed and properly implemented. ... Some researchers (e.g., West & Woessmann, 2003) believe that school districts would do better to hire fewer teachers with better credentials than to hire more teachers without regard to the level of credentials and experience. They argue that the quality of the teacher, rather than the size of the class, drives student achievement.
      In short, the stakes are high when undertaking these initiatives since debates continue about the ability of reduced class size to fuel student achievement, making it critical to approach the issue armed with credible research that helps inform decision-making.”

      It is important to note the source of this study, The Center For Public Education. Given their obvious bias (it is an initiative of The National School Boards Association), this is the best that they could come up with. When one weighs the limitations on resources and the weak evidence supporting the argument that class size has a meaningful impact it is valuable to look at the balanced evaluation presented by the Brookings Institution.
      See http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2011/05/11-class-size-whitehurst-chingos

      Delete
  7. The following is a quote from the review of literature that you cited. Brookings even admits that the Tennessee study is the best. With that aside, how are all the other, less expensive ways of improving student achievement working in Southbridge?

    Krueger’s analysis of the Tennessee STAR experiment finds that elementary school students randomly assigned to small classes outperformed their classmates who were assigned to regular classes by about 0.22 standard deviations after four years.[13] This is equivalent to students in the smaller classes having received about 3 months more schooling than the students in the regular classes.[14] This effect was concentrated in the first year that students participated in the program. In addition, the positive effects of class size were largest for black students, economically disadvantaged students, and boys.[15] Krueger estimates that the economic returns to class-size reduction in Tennessee were greater than the costs, with an internal positive rate of return of about 6 percent.

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    Replies
    1. The report says, “The most influential and credible study of CSR is the Student Teacher Achievement Ratio, or STAR, study which was conducted in Tennessee during the late 1980s.”
      It goes on to say, “Arrayed against these positive and mixed findings for CSR are two credible studies that find no positive effects.”
      It cites one case study conducted from 2004 through 2009, 20 years more current than the Tennessee study.
      “A recent study by Chingos systematically examined the broad and expensive Florida CSR policy. In 2002, voters approved an amendment to the Florida state constitution that set limits on the number of students in core classes (such as math, English, and science) in the state’s public schools. Beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, the maximum number of students in each core class would be: 18 students through grade 3; 22 students in grades 4 through 8; and 25 students in grades 9 through 12.
      In 2003, the Florida Legislature enacted a law that implemented the amendment by first requiring, from 2003-04 to 2005-06, districts to reduce their average class sizes either to the maximum for each grade grouping or by at least two students per year until they reached the maximum. Beginning in 2006-07, compliance was measured at the school level, with schools facing the same rules for their average class size that districts faced previously. Beginning in 2010-11, compliance was measured at the classroom level.
      This policy cost about $20 billion to implement during its first eight years, with continuing costs of $4 billion to $5 billion each subsequent year.
      Taking advantage of the staggered introduction of class-size reductions over time at the district and school level, Chingos utilized a sophisticated before-and-after analysis to examine the effects of the policy on student achievement between 2004 and 2009. He finds no evidence that the Florida policy had any impact on test scores in grades 3 through 8 (state-wide assessments in math and reading were not administered in the earlier grades).”

      The Brookings study concludes, “Another important point is that the effect of any increase in class size will depend on how such an increase is implemented. Our earlier rough calculation indicated that a one-student increase in the pupil/teacher ratio in the U.S., which would save over $12 billion per year in salary costs alone, would decrease the teaching workforce by about 7 percent of the nation’s teachers. Many school districts and states across the nation are considering reductions in the teacher workforce on this order of magnitude. If the teachers to be laid off were chosen in a way largely unrelated to their effectiveness, such as “last in first out,” then the associated increase in class size could well have a negative effect on student achievement. But if schools choose the least effective teachers to let go, then the effect of increased teacher quality could make up for some or all of any negative effect of increasing class size.

      State resources for education should always be judiciously allocated, but the need to carefully weigh costs and benefits is particularly salient in times of austere budgets. Class-size reduction has been shown to work for some students in some grades in some states and countries, but its impact has been found to be mixed or not discernable in other settings and circumstances that seem similar. It is very expensive. The costs and benefits of class-size mandates need to be carefully weighed against all of the alternatives when difficult budget and program decisions must be made.”

      You conclude by asking, “With that aside, how are all the other, less expensive ways of improving student achievement working in Southbridge?” What other, less expensive options are you talking about?

      Delete
  8. 1. Increasing the size of the administration.
    2. Countless PD dollars wasted on programs that are not followed up on except to discipline teachers. (RBT this and RBT that.)
    3. Chasing highly competent and successful teacher out of the district and creating a workplace atmosphere of distrust and disunity.
    4. Increasing class sizes to over thirty (especially the standard levels which are mostly all inclusion and ELL (11 standard (5 IEPs or 10 ELL and or 5 or 10 ELL).

    Again I ask how is it working? What are the Scores? What are the projected scores now that we spent all that money on the various testing and data collection programs?

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  9. How many of the studies that show little or no correlation between class size and achievement took place in districts like Southbridge- over 70 percent free and reduced lunch; 25 percent Special Ed., and over 50 percent minority?

    If study was conducted in Harvard MA, the prediction would be that there would be little or no correlation. However, if the study were conducted in an inner city or high poverty area where the demographics mimic those of Southbridge, the prediction show a significant correlation especially if it was a longitudinal study that encompassed a whole system.

    One of the problems in the district and in the state is that they want instant results. Well, that is not going to happen. (although it did under the Bishop administration because areas of under performance were identified and worked on for an extended period of time. Also, the staff at that time worked as a team to implement the strategies that were identified to bring the level of achievement (as measured by MCAS) up.)

    Currently, there is no collegiality at the middle high school. Teachers are hunkered down in their classrooms. They don't want to associate with each other in fear that something might be said to get them in trouble. Rule by fear and intimidation only works so long as the masses acquiescent. Beware the time when both the teachers and the people of Southbridge unite and come kicking on the door for answers.

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    Replies
    1. You’ve now taken a leap of speculation that betrays a pre-conceived conclusion. Predicting the outcome of studies that not been conducted is the height of specious argumentation, Further, to cite the aberrant results of one year’s MCAS scores that engender more questions than answers indicate nothing short of a bias that is impervious to rational dispute.

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    2. I beg to differ on your point about predictions. Predicted outcomes are the basis of any research. Without them you are performing nothing more than Alchemy.

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    3. Excuse me?!?!
      Predictions are made based upon already conducted studies as a means of validating the reliability of those studies when corroborating studies are undertaken. One does not cite those predictions as any form of reliable fact before the corroborating studies are completed and the results either confirm or deny those predictions.
      You are citing predictions of as yet unconducted studies as a justification for policy in an area where the results of the existing research are anything but conclusive. That is not the scientific method, that is religious faith.

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    4. Sorry if you take offense, as it seems you have. I say do the study and find out because things don't seem to be working or else you would have cited concrete evidence from all that testing and data collection programs and training that we have paid for.

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    5. No offense taken.
      Rather I objected to what I perceived as an attempt to substitute speculation for data to justify a conclusion. Thanks for your clarification.
      It is unfair to assume, however, that I have access to the data collected by the district administration. I wish that I did.

      Delete
  10. All this discussion about class size. A good teacher can effectively teach large groups if they have the solid characteristics of good teachers. Unfortunately, too many really
    effective teachers have left this district. The established hiring procedures are ignored, resulting in friends of school committee members and administrators to waltz in.
    If you want to see an example of what these nre teachers are all about check out "mass messiah" on YouTube. A grade 7 math teacher of my child.

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  11. After witnessing this conversation and having posted an article today that extols the merits of creativity and individual expression, I am compelled to ask “Have we failed in the design of public education?” Is it solely a tool to create functional cogs in an economic machine?
    In today’s article I mention the series called TED talks. I provide a link that introduces what these are. It might be a fitting fillip to this discussion to watch the introductory video to TED that addresses the question of whether education serves the student or whether it teaches the student to serve the system. If you are interested in this issue, watch the presentation at:

    http://www.ted.com/playlists/77/new_to_ted.html

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  12. Compulsory public education begins in Massachussetts in 1634 with the Satan Deluder Act to ensure that all citizens should be able to read the Holy Scriptures.

    It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of
    the Scriptures, as in former times keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these later
    times by perswading from the use of tongues, that so at least the true sense and meaning
    of the Originall might be clowded by false glosses of Saint-seeming deceivers; and that
    Learning may not be buried in the graves of our fore-fathers in Church and
    Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our indeavors: it is therefore ordered by this Court
    and Authoritie therof;

    That every Township in this Jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the
    number of fifty Housholders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to teach
    all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either
    by the Parents or Masters of such children, or by the Inhabitants in general, by way of
    supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the Town shall appoint.
    Provided that those which send their children be not oppressed by paying much more
    then they can have them taught for in other towns.

    2 And it is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one
    hundred Families or Housholders, they shall set up a Grammar-School, the Masters
    thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the Universitie. And if
    any town neglect the performance hereof above one year then everie such town shall pay
    five pounds per annum to the next such School, till they shall perform this Order. [1647]

    After the Revolution the Founding Fathers decided that in order for the American Experiment to continue that a formalized education system was needed. Jefferson's model was to educated everyone up to a point where they could read, write, cipher, and know the History of the Country. His plan then was to select the top 10% for further education and it would be their responsibility to serve the people. (Philosopher Kings).

    Benjamin Rush developed the system of education that would pass on the ideal of the Revolution and Patriotism to the next generations. He coined the phrase Republican Motherhood where it was incumbent on the mother to inculcate the young with "American Values" that would ensure that the American Experiment would be passed on to the next generation.

    So, when talking about Public Education its goal has always been to provide the student with the tools necessary to carry the ideals of the culture through successive generations. One thing that it has never really embraced is that Renaissance concept of Liberal Arts where the goal of an education system is to transform the animal that is Man into a Human Being capable of rational thought and the ability to use his God given gift of free will to benefit his brothers.

    So, what is the purpose of education? It is to produce the next generation of taxpayers.

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  13. I would like to see something done about the "English as a second Language" program. If you don't speak english, then why should the citizens have to pay for a teacher to teach them english? The problem never goes away, because once those kids have kids, they don't teach them english and again we have to pay a teacher to teach them english. I understand the "Leave no child behind program" but come on, there's a limit. Also, my husband says that if you don't like the schools where you live, then move to the town where you want you kids to go to school (unless it's a vocational school where your town participates).

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  14. We gave away our town to the Welfare Dept. and its clients. We are working to support this group of non workers. When you are told that people choose to not work because they make more money staying home it is a slap in the face to Southbridge homeowners/workers.
    The welfare office and the drug rehab clinic What used to be South Village . You want a better town? You need to attract better people . As a lifelong Southbridge resident I have seen this town decline. I blame it on the caliber of people that have moved here over the last 30 years.
    How can you pass MCAS if you don't speak nor care to learn English. How can you prep someone for MCAS that is in High School and can't speak English We are now a poverty stricken town because our residents are low income. Sorry about how this sounds but when we had a booming downtown we didn't have so many welfare recipients or rehabilitating druggies living here. This is what we are attracting now.
    Want to know how to fix this town, remove anything that will encourage so many low income people to move here. We are making it very convienant for people to move here and go sign up for food stamps, public housing, Mass health, free cell phones all in one location.
    How can you clean up a town where the majority of the residents are just here for a free ride?
    Crime rate , teenage pregnancy, child neglect, drug abuse. All related to our welfare dept.
    The landfill should of never been opened. We were told at the Town Council Meetings when it was being debated that if we brought in more trash the landfill would last longer.Didn't make sense then doesn't make sense now .One of our most valuable resources is our water. We now run the risk of contamination. Only God knows what is being dumped there. We need to close this landfill to all but our residents.

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