This is an open letter to the consolidated school district’s board of directors.
By Neil Nussbaum
Thank you for all of your hard work. And a special shout out to director Membrino (now you’re sunk, Theresa!) for inquiring at the last school board meeting as to what standard of review you ‘all should employ when voting on the Empire’s latest obsession (a dolling up of CBMS referred portentously to as “Option Four”). I’d like to suggest an answer.
You speak of your five goals, which, of course, come directly from Section 2 of Act 46 (“Goals”). The first of these is “provide substantial equity in the quality and variety of educational opportunities” throughout the consolidated school district. All of your work is guided by the following question: “Will XX make the district’s educational opportunities more equitable?” Not equal - equitable.
Though the words “equal” and “equitable” sound very similar, they should not be confused. Equality is the state of being equal; equity is fairness. In math, inequality occurs any time that the amounts on the two sides of the scale (the “≠” sign in this instance) don’t match. Inequity, in contrast, is calculated using a statistic called the Standard Deviation (σ), a measure that is taught to our kids in the sixth grade (www.corestandards.org/Math/Content/6/SP/). The goal is σ=0 (absolute equity). As inequity increases, so does the Standard Deviation.
Trick questions: Which, if any, of the construction options that you are currently considering are being offered to remedy statistically uncovered inequities that exist in the consolidated district? How do the actions that you are about to vote on remediate these inequities? Do any of the actions that you are about to vote on have a risk of creating new inequities or increasing existing ones? And how will the project’s summative assessment evaluate achievement?
With all due respect, these questions have not yet been asked and answered. There’s no way to tell whether any of the proposals before you will exacerbate or remediate existing district inequities because no evidence-based inequities have been extrapolated yet. The prerequisite work hasn’t been done. To identify and remediate inequities:
1) compile data;
2) identify inequities in student achievement by applying the formula for the Standard Deviation from the Mean (Excel function STDEV) to the compiled data;
3) formulate a plan to reduce identified inequities;
4) ask for community approval when necessary, and revise a rejected request until approved;
5) execute the plan;
6) assess the post-execution prevalence of the identified inequities;
7) modify as necessary; and
8) lather, rinse, repeat until the equity targets have been achieved.
You all have spent much of the last year and a half trying to make things equal, such as:
• internet speeds;
• class sizes;
• admin/student ratios;
• programas de idiomas extranjeros (programmes de langues étrangères).
How about starting to focus on equity? Here are two respectfully submitted suggestions:
1) kindly inform Mr. Epstein that you can’t play right now because your horse and cart are all screwed up and you can’t get over to his house until you finish putting them in the right order;
2) in the five minutes that you have left over after dealing with all the meaningless, distracting crap that you contend with every two weeks, ask your employee to hunt for evidence of inequities straightaway. You are responsible for the PreK through 12th-grade education of our children, so please consider focusing initially on these time points: 1) entrance into the district school system; 2) entrance into HUHS; 3) HUHS graduation; and 4) xx years post-graduation. Investigate additional data points down the road.
How cool is this? Tease the data out by town, some other geographic marker, gender, shoe size, whatever; the sky’s the limit. Then you’ll be ready to make resource allocations that are tailored to address demonstrative inequities, and confirm that your resource allocations achieve their desired outcomes. Here are some starters:
2) test scores (SBAC’s, others);
3) graduation rates;
4) pregnancies (but not by gender - that would just be silly);
5) sports participation;
6) co-curricular participation;
7) yearly income of HUHS grads (six years post-graduation);
8) 7 Cups (DASS-21) scores.
Want to get started right away? Accepting public input? I have a hunch (it’s just a hunch, really) that Valley athletes don’t generally fair as well as their brethren, sistren, and non-binary to the north when the HUHS feeder populations merge (ninth grade). So, how about:
1) compiling the: 1) HUHS varsity and JV rosters (including cooperative teams and M2M (member-to-member) participation) for the last 10 years for all sports; and 2) results of head-to-head competition between HUMS and CBMS eighth-grade teams for the last 10 years;
2) analyzing the data for historical inequities and trends in participation on HUHS teams between the CBMS and HUMS feeder populations;
3) proposing to correct identified inequities (if there are in fact any) by building a new gym at the Waitsfield School (if a new gym appears likely to correct the evidenced inequities);
4) putting the proposal up for a bond vote (ooh, ooh, can I chair the Vote Canvassing Committee?);
5) build it and build it high, as soon as the bond passes; and
6) performing formative and summative assessments and watching the inequities shed quietly off like the undetectable march of the waning August moon towards nothingness.
Please do your job. Everyone will go home happy; and early too!
Nussbaum lives in Moretown and is a member of Vermonters for Schools and Communities, www.vtschoolsrock.org.