Mayfield OpEd: Massaging Numbers Rather than Solving Problems

Opinion – Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette, Jan. 25, 216, at

Jacob Mayfield: ‘Massaging numbers’ rather than solving problems in Amherst schools

Monday, January 25, 2016

To the editor:

The Amherst School Committee’s decision to support grade redistricting has nothing to do with equity. Do not accept the slight of hand.

The Amherst public schools are unequal. However, the surface treatment of putting all children in the same building will likely worsen the issue. Getting everyone through the door is not the problem: what happens inside is.

The School Committee voted against the professional training and experience of Amherst’s teachers, the majority of parents and a large body of data supporting small schools with fewer transitions as beneficial. Presenting a few select anecdotes and equity platitudes instead of data, they chose the option supported only by functionaries.

Given this course of action, a larger, one-size-fits-all district offers only more of the same. No option solves Amherst’s racial and socioeconomic diversity problems by itself. Rather than argue the impact of Wildwood options on equality, the question ought to be how to improve the performance and enrichment of all students.

Can we trust that the extra effort will be made to address equity plus the additional downsides of a larger school? Given the recent behavior of the central administration, we cannot.

By undercutting the recent successes (by Amherst’s own metrics) of the high performing and diverse Wildwood and the vastly improved Crocker Farm schools, the School Committee makes clear that diverse, high-performing schools are not their priority. The vote to redistrict again reveals the purely bureaucratic motive of regression to the mean. Homogenization may level core test scores and flatten diversity — we will be told that everything is equal now — but the only real change in equity will be shifting liability to the teachers and students.

Redistricting is not a bold solution. It is massaging the numbers when we need the hard work of improving education.

Jacob Mayfield