Letter submitted to Amherst Bulletin three weeks running
On March 28th Amherst votes on a school plan with a configuration that most published research and data suggest is problematic. Dozens of data-driven studies suggest that larger school size, larger grade cohorts, transitions, insufficient playspace, and barriers to community involvement worsen school performance, increase discipline problems and widen achievement gaps. The effect size of any feature in isolation should not be overstated; nonetheless, the findings identify features shared by high-performing schools. In town meeting, Diana Stein shared US Department of Education data that mirrored the published studies: Massachusetts’ top 25 public schools had fewer than 570 students, and all but one are K through at least 4th grade. I can accept higher taxes and pragmatism, but of the four school options originally proposed, we vote on the one least aligned with success.
Amherst’s own successful schools validate the small, K-6 plan. Wildwood and Fort River have big problems, but not with academic performance. Before replacing a thriving and supported K-6 standard, we should know the specific measures planned to detect and mitigate foreseeable problems. But instead of transparent due diligence, there has been active denial of the problems experienced by other district. To say that our parents and high-quality teachers will compensate for the obstacles associated with grade reconfiguration misses the point: why impose obstacles? In making a data-driven decision on a vote directly impacting my young children, I find the available, published data far more compelling than trusting that Amherst will be the outlier in future studies.
I support new schools for Amherst’s excellent teachers and students, but not one so deeply flawed. After spending five decades with then-fashionable open classrooms, residents should remember that a new building with decades of problems is no bargain. Vote NO to avoid another 50-year experiment.