Category Archives: School Consolidation

Small School; BIG Difference….

With a current enrollment of 104, Isleboro exemplifies the potential for excellence in small scale education, and offers lessons for our own policymakers:1gefs“…a 100 percent graduation rate over the past six years and also has a strong ability to individualize education by tailoring academics to a student’s particular needs and strengths….”

Mainland Students Pulled to Island School

Jack and the Giant School

image“…Curriculum: Even the smallest schools (100-200 students) are able to offer core curricula comparable to schools of more than 1,200. Moreover, small schools tend to be more flexible and allow teachers to exercise greater control over curricula. As a result, small schools more often apply innovative teaching methods, such as team teaching, integrated curriculum and multi-age grouping, all of which have been shown to improve student achievement….”

Read this compelling essay by Stacy Mitchell, courtesy of the institute for Local Self Reliance, in its entirety, here:

http://www.ilsr.org/equity/article/jack-and-giant-school/

“Consolidating districts doesn’t mean consolidation of SCHOOLS…”, said the Spider to the Fly…

9973TressDunceCap……except that it does, almost inevitably. Former Governor Baldacci’s school district consolidation initiative, ” Local Schools Regional Support” (LSRS) was heralded with reassurances that “Schools don’t have to close….” — ad nauseum.   Continue reading

Education on a Human Scale…

children-hands-heart.jpg?w=625

The issue of busing is weighed very differently depending on whose children endure the journey.  See what the research says about it, beginning on page 52 of the pdf….

“…There are some who cling, stubbornly, to the outdated view that bigger schools are necessarily better schools. Despite the fact that there is no research evidence to support this view, well meaning but misguided and ill-informed policy makers continue to pursue the closure and consolidation of small neighborhood and community schools. They pursue this agenda apparently unaware that the educational community has moved on from this mid-twentieth view to embrace the educational opportunities available to students in small schools. Despite paying lip-service to “evidence based decision making,” some educational leaders seemingly ignore the growing body of evidence that clearly indicate that smaller schools are to be preferred over larger ones. One has to wonder if these folks can read!…”

Read more of this fascinating study of school consolidation in its entirety, here: Education on a human scale_5 April 

…or keep scrolling for (colorful) highlights:

“….Once upon a time rural parents and educators were more or less alone in their struggle with governments and school boards to maintain their small community schools. Educational authorities and policy makers seemed united in their view that bigger schools were better schools. If parents truly cared about their children and their education, they would agree to close their small schools and have their children bussed down the road to larger schools in distant community. It was assumed that the “authorities knew best” and they only wanted was best for the children.
     For the most part parents trusted the authorities and went along with the closure and consolidation plans. Yet, in their hearts they knew something was wrong with what they were being told. They knew that their community schools were good schools; they knew that the children benefited in many ways by having their schools situated close to home. But those in authority consistently said otherwise. And in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the authorities had the power to impose their views.
     That was then; this is now. Over the past thirty years there has developed a considerable body of evidence and a set of informed perspectives that confirm what rural parents and known and felt all alone. In Chapter 3 of this report we present the evidence that supports the viability and value of small rural schools…”

“People in rural communities and rural teachers have been arguing for years that there is a fundamental inequity in an education system that funds on the basis of student populations rather than programs.”

Any discussion about small schools must deal with the issue of bussing. Part of the rationale for closing small community schools has always been the prospect and feasibility of bussing students from their home communities to larger schools situated in other communities. The persistent efforts of educational authorities to close and consolidate small schools and create ever larger schools has resulted in more and more students of all ages having to endure longer and longer bus rides.”

“Given that educational administrators have, in many cases and situations, held considerable power, school consolidation has often been achieved by over-riding public opinion on the basis of claims about the educational and financial benefits of larger schools. These alleged benefits are not supported by any significant evidence, and the more researchers have looked at the question of school size, the more clear it becomes that small schools are actually superior”

“Educational authorities, convinced that they were right, intimidated and informed parents that if they wished their children to have a quality education, they had to agree to close their small community school and have their children bussed to a larger school in a distant community. No additional evidence was necessary (Howley and Eckman, 1997; Truscott and Truscott, 2005, Theobald, 2005; Meier, 2002).”

“For many educational authorities there was no need for research to support this view. Most administrators and policy makers during this time period increasingly drew their educational models and metaphors from business and industry. Notions of economies of scale and the “cult of efficiency” (Callahan, 1964) provided all the “proof” needed to justify the consolidation and closure of small schools. For many it was simply a matter of common sense: if bigger factories are more productive than smaller ones then bigger schools must be better than smaller schools.”

“…don’t bother me with the facts, I have made up my mind” applied to educational decision making. It is hard not to conclude that those who still insist that bigger schools are better schools are simply not interested in the evidence to the contrary…”

…these large, typically urban schools are attempting to create the social conditions which exist naturally in rural schools, conditions which are ironically destroyed by consolidation.
     The research of the last thirty years clearly justifies educational policies that support the creation of new small schools and, more importantly for rural areas, sustaining and supporting existing small community schools. There is little if any justification for closing small schools as a matter of policy. All fair minded people have to wonder given this research base:
     Why do so many states [and provinces] continue to develop consolidation policies that are anything but research-based? Why is this irrational and failed approach to educational improvement forced upon rural communities, despite their widespread and often vehement opposition? (Rural School and Community Trust, 2006)
     To continue to pursue a policy of closure and consolidation in the face of the research evidence is to put the education of rural children and youth at risk…”

“Policy makers can change the rules under which state [provincial] systems operate, from big-school to small-school norms. They might, in other words, un-rig the game that requires schools to be large. This study and others show that large size is not the criterion of “excellence” it was once thought to be. And smaller schools have now been shown to exert an evidently robust effect on equity. It is interesting to observe that at the time large-school norms were instantiated—the early and mid-twentieth century—few educators or legislators worried about equity. Such norms seem to have outlived their utility (2004: 27).”

“Howley and Howley conclude their most recent work with a number of practical recommendations for educators and policy makers concerned with making the most educationally sound decisions regarding small rural schools. They base these “considered judgments” on the current body of research on this topic as well as their own and others experiences working with rural communities:
•    Sustain the smallest schools in the poorest communities.

•    In communities that serve all social classes, do not build large
schools.

•    Keep elementary and middle schools proportionately smaller than
high schools.

• When building new, keep schools everywhere smaller than
recommended in the 20th century.

•    Provide appropriate and adequate support to smaller schools: small
size improves the odds of success, it does not guarantee it.

•    Regard smaller school size and reform as distinct issues, but do not
hesitate to innovate in smaller schools.

•    Doubt that an educationally-relevant lower limit of school size exists. (emphasis added) Much depends on context, and even in the contemporary world, dedicated parents educate very small groups of children with remarkable success at home (2004: 28-29)…”

“The schools that are the focus of this study are small schools. From a national and international perspective they are very small schools. The body of research that has been amassed over the last thirty years confirms that small size is no impediment to academic performance. In fact for some groups of students a smaller school provides them with their best chance of academic success. To bus them out of their home community to a larger distant school may put their academic lives at risk…”

“…The criticism that smaller schools cannot offer as broad a program of studies as can larger schools has been around for a very long time; it is often used as a justification for closing smaller schools. Educational authorities, pursuing an agenda of school consolidation, point out the obvious: larger schools can offer a wider range of programs and more courses than can smaller schools. “Therefore, goes the argument, operating small schools with more limited curricula is unfair to the students who attend them” (Cotton, 1996).
However, as Cotton (1996) points out:

“While this has a certain common sense appeal, examination of the research reveals that there simply is no reliable relationship between school size and curriculum quality. For one thing, researchers have found that “it takes a lot of bigness to add a little variety”—that is, “on the average a 100% increase in enrolment yields only a 17% increase in variety of offerings” (Pittman and Haughwout, 1997). Moreover, “[t]he strength of the relationship between school size and curricular offerings diminishes as schools become larger…”

“..Meier (1996) addresses the issue of school size as an impediment to parental involvement. “Schools are intimidating places,” she writes, “for many parents – parents feel like intruders, strangers, and outsiders.”
And nothing seems more foolish than going to parent night and seeing a slew of adults who don’t know your kid, have very little investment in him or her, and whose opinions and advice make one feel less, not more, powerful. When kids reach high school, schools usually give up on parents entirely (except to scold them). But high school students don’t need their parents any less, just differently.
When the school is small enough, probably someone there knows your kid well enough, and maybe also likes him or her enough, to create a powerful alliance with you. Smallness doesn’t guarantee such an alliance, but it makes it reasonable to put time into creating one (1996: 13).  When that larger school is in a distant community, that feeling of alienation for parents is intensified. In addition, travel distance and time become additional barriers for parents to be involved with the school and get to the school for special meetings. In some circumstances having access to transportation can be a problem for parents…”

“…The trend to close schools was intensified by a culturally popular assumption … schools need to be big to be good. In fact, for many decades of the 20th century, school consolidation was considered synonymous with school improvement, despite the fact that there was virtually no evidence to support the assumption. While naïve views related to consolidation still exist, and the practice continues to be one of the first cost-cutting measures examined when states face serious fiscal difficulties, we have at last reached the point where consolidation advocates are forced to submit evidence for claims of greater efficiency and improved instruction (Theobald, 2005: 121)….”

“…school administrators often have something very different in mind when they speak of educational quality than the images of educational quality in the minds of most citizens living in rural communities. They speak, it seems different languages and it is very difficult to translate between the two…”

“…Theobald’s second point is that in the United States and in Canada as well, a higher standard of evidence is now required to justify crucial decisions that are made with public money. We are now in the age of evidence-based decision making and accountability. Theobald speaks to the passing of the time when a group of people can set themselves up as experts and make decisions on the basis of unjustified and unsubstantiated judgment calls….”

“…Let us be clear, it is not progress, technology or time that kills a small rural school or any school for that matter. Small schools often do not fit the standardized mould and they cause difficulties for administrators. And so, the very qualities that make these schools work and that their students and communities love about them are actually used as justification for their closure. These schools work because they are nonstandard and responsive to real communities…”

“…Contrary to the mythology, exceptional schools do not die off, most are killed by intentional acts, not by the inevitable forces of nature. In nature, variation, messiness, and chaos are not unnatural or unproductive forms of organization. In fact, as biologists would remind us, they are essential features of growth. When school people forbid such messiness, or view it as a burden, we undermine the possibility of proliferation … Many good schools die an early unnatural death because the policies that govern our public systems cut short their natural growth … the people who operate the present system do not see themselves in the business of trying to maintain idiosyncratic practice …they’ve been trained to seek, first and foremost, ways to solve problems by rule. If it’s not good for everyone, it’s not good for anyone. To make exceptions smacks of favoritism and inefficiency. (Meier, 2002: 156-157)
     The strange notion of fairness (in the sense that because we have lost our schools, you should too) and just desserts is sadly a powerful motivator of school closures. So many communities have lost school in past decades, so why should others be allowed to keep theirs? But what an odd and petty rationale for closing a core community institution; yet schools continue to be closed on the basis of this bizarre rationale of past mistakes…”

“Beware the Oversimplifiers…”

20070125_MDIslanderCartoon“…a century of consolidation has already produced most of the efficiencies obtainable. Indeed, in the largest jurisdictions, efficiencies have likely been exceeded—that is, some consolidation has produced diseconomies of scale that reduce efficiency. In such cases, deconsolidation is more likely to yield benefits than consolidation. Moreover, contemporary research does not support claims about the widespread benefits of consolidation. The assumptions behind such claims are most often dangerous oversimplifications. For example, policymakers may believe “We’ll save money if we reduce the number of superintendents by consolidating districts;” however, larger districts need—and usually hire—more mid-level administrators. Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….”

Read the full study here:

20110201_Consolidation_Howley_Johnson_Petrie-1

…a “Humble” Opinion…

“Corporate America and the construction industry are continually promoting the parallels in education and raising hens: cram them into a huge building, feed them all the same, and every single one of them will come out exactly suited for their purpose.

Thousands of Maine people have seen the results of consolidation and are working to extricate themselves from the mess.  Not only did taxes go up to pay for the mess, small towns lost their sense of community, lost their voice in the educational process and were continually steamrolled by larger towns that had more members on the Board.”

~The Humble Farmer

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“Where Have All The Savings Gone…?”

Image“….Long Time Passing….” is certainly an apt description of School Consolidation, which began long before Governor Baldacci ran with it  (maybe even before he began school himself).  Neither he, nor other policymakers ever looked for proof — hard, empirical evidence that rural school consolidation actually saves money and helps kids.  This data exists, whether we like it or not, and holds the potential to spare us the consequences of our own assumptions.  It isn’t what we don’t know about school consolidation that inflicts the harm; it’s what we know for sure that just isn’t true.

“Timbered Classrooms” curates some very interesting reading on the subject, to cultivate deeper understanding of the issue, and is tagged accordingly.

Here, though, we offer numbers specific to RSU #50, and build on the budgets we displayed in MSAD to RSU “Where are the Savings?”.

2010-2011 School Budgets Compared

2012-13 & 2013-2014 Budgets Compared

Again, we offer these raw numbers sans comment, and hold them up to your judgement.

Imagine That!

How is the RSU model working?  Support for withdrawal from the RSU is high, but so is the (mistaken) belief that it is “too late”.  It is never too late….  As Katahdin communities prepare to fight to save their school, they may ask themselves, “If we save our school, do we want to continue to funnel our tax dollars to fund it through an RSU that wants it shuttered?  …or do we want a dedicated Board to set priorities?  Do we want to pay the additional costs levied by the RSU in the event of a vote to preserve Katahdin even if it does not, inherently, cost more?”
images-1Can you imagine why any town would want to withdraw from any School Administrative District?

~Unless they wanted to have a say in the way that their tax dollars were spent at the consolidated school.

~Or unless they discovered that sending their kids away to school had destroyed their sense of community.

~Or unless they finally figured out that it would be cheaper and even better for the kids all around if they kept them in schools in their own town.

If you didn’t think about these things — and several other substantial reasons, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a reason any small town would want to withdraw from a SAD. The humble Farmer

The Hobbit Effect

 

 

By running our small schools on large-school terms, our Board and Administration is effectively squandering the opportunities their current size presents to children….  By taking an inordinate amount of time to rearrange the furniture, so to speak…(children aren’t going to stop growing up while you wait, study and spend)  …spending money for consultants and feasibility studies in an attempt to lend credibility to a decision they made long ago, Board members are shortchanging kids in the small schools in their care.   The RSU  needs leadership with the expertise to optimize the assets at hand toward educational excellence and efficiency, and respects the natural advantages of small schools for children and taxpayers alike.

 

fairyschool

 

“…The effective characteristics
of small schools can be lost even in small schools if
school leaders chase the illusion that bigger is better….”

The Hobbit Effect – Why Small Works In Public Schools

Notes on the Task Force…

sheep and donkey

“…they could look at a bowl of cherries and see nothing but pits…” ~Marty Strange, on the negative view of consolidation proponents toward small schools.

…an apt description of the negativity toward RSU 50’s schools for their size that permeated last Monday’s “Community Meeting”.  (A compelling essay by Mr. Strange, and other works by top researchers on school consolidation can be found in Great Plains Research Volume 23 No. 2   Abstracts are available here, and I just submitted a full copy to the Sherman Public Library yesterday).

Back to last Monday’s meeting.  I know many of you have asked for this and I’m sorry I took so long with my “homework”  At the beginning, Mrs. Hill expressed a very valid concern at the way in which meetings like this one are announced.  They should be on AlertNow.  I share her belief that people should be as informed as possible, and in a consistent way.  I also want to thank her, too, for welcoming my voice in this debate though I have no vote and likely disagree.

“If you want to know what’s going on you have to come to the meetings.!” ~Chairman Greg Ryan,  “We announce the next meetings at the meetings….”

I disagree.  People have a right to know what is going on whether they are able to attend meetings or not.  That is why we read newspapers rather than go, say, to the State gHouse….. It was suggested to a number of us some time ago that we record/video/mp4 -whatever, meetings and share them.  I lack the technological capability!  Tech-savvy readers?

It is difficult to attend, certainly.  I would have preferred to be at home with my family; on a rare night off for such a hardworking husband.  Anyway:

How did the meeting become so heated so quickly?

It all started innocently enough.  I asked Craig Kesselheim to clarify references to Searsport High School in the FTF report.  In it, the FTF asserts that Searsport’s size relative to Belfast and philosophical uniqueness should bar its closure.  It brought to mind, for me, another instance where that very same argument was used by then-Commissioner Susan Gendron to justify closure of Benedicta’s school.  Such value judgements run throughout the FTF’s “unbiased” analysis.  Many surrounding Katahdin look to Searsport as  a model to emulate for good reason.  I did not share a letter from a friend there; I didn’t have time, as the Board was busy  shutting down discussion for which they were unprepared, but here it is now:

“…Searsport High School has worked hard at coming back from losing their accreditation in the 90’s and has been working towards becoming a STEM school. The program is so popular and successful here that schools in Maine, New England and beyond have visited our campus and talked with teachers and students for advice and direction. The superintendent said more schools needed to close and he had Searsport High School on the chopping block even though our test scores were higher than Belfast and even though we are so close to becoming a STEM school. He wanted to move us into a school that is too small and falling apart, while our school is newer with modern improvements and state of the art lab, etc. If we moved to Belfast, we would have had to use modular classrooms as the school isn’t big enough to accommodate us. That was Belfast’s way of being able to say to the state they need a new school sooner rather than later. Basically it boils down to our communities wanting local control of our school tax dollars and control over keeping the momentum going with creating a STEM school..”

 

Our readers will likely see parallels in our own RSU.

The preference for large schools  underlied the discussion, and the Board’s position was clear, that schools of Katahdin’s size are inviable:

“…The criticism that smaller schools cannot offer as broad a program of studies as can larger schools has been around for a very long time; it is often used as a justification for closing smaller schools. Educational authorities, pursuing an agenda of school consolidation, point out the obvious: larger schools can offer a wider range of programs and more courses than can smaller schools. “Therefore, goes the argument, operating small schools with more limited curricula is unfair to the students who attend them” (Cotton, 1996).
“While this has a certain common sense appeal, examination of the research reveals that there simply is no reliable relationship between school size and curriculum quality. 

“Even the smallest schools (100-200 students) are able to offer core curricula comparable to schools of more than 1,200….” ~Jack and the Giant School, by Stacy Mitchell

Mrs. Robinson astutely pointed out how slight even the FTF’s own predictions are regarding more offerings saying, “I expected more”.

“..researchers have found that “it takes a lot of bigness to add a little variety – that is, on average, a 100% increase in enrollment yields only a 17% increase in variety of offerings…”  Education on a Human Scale

The FTF offers no evidence to support even these modest, predicted gains, and even they may be overly optimistic when applied to  RSU #50.  These figures do not account for the demands that increased transportation, construction, State subsidy uncertainties or taxpayer support will undoubtedly make on any savings.

The Board admitted what readers of Timbered Classrooms have known for some time:  that a new school is, indeed their first choice of scenarios.  Though it did not admit the myriad of ways pursuit of new construction in lieu of innovating; optimizing our small schools’ potential shortchanges kids in their care today, we can extrapolate a certain degree of callousness from  the Board’s willingness to yank $20,000 from the classroom to “study” this,using only data provided by the Superintendent.  Why did they need Great Schools Partnership then?  Save 20  grand and do this work yourself!  You’re all adults….  When asked for evidence,  “We haven’t done that yet” protested Greg Ryan, but further discussion descended into one, unequivicol conclusion:  Minds are already made up.

“Educational authorities, convinced that they were right, intimidated and informed parents that if they wished their children to have a quality education, they had to agree to close their small community school and have their children bused to a larger school in a distant community. No additional evidence was necessary (Howley and Eckman, 1997; Truscott and Truscott, 2005, Theobald, 2005; Meier, 2002).”

“For many educational authorities there was no need for research to support this view. Most administrators and policy makers during this time period increasingly drew their educational models and metaphors from business and industry. Notions of economies of scale and the “cult of efficiency” (Callahan, 1964) provided all the “proof” needed to justify the consolidation and closure of small schools. For many it was simply a matter of common sense: if bigger factories are more productive than smaller ones then bigger schools must be better than smaller schools.”

I hope that the people of the RSU #50 communities will soon demand evidence to support the path their Board is aggressively pursuing:

“…Those who say small schools are not “efficient,” or effective, need to cite the evidence, not just the rhetoric. …” ~Size Matters

Such careful, critical analysis is long overdue, and it is surely the responsibility of Board members to engage, actively and independently throughout their terms:

“…I suggest that potential candidates for school board should be required to visit exemplary schools in Maine and elsewhere before announcing their candidacy. They should be asked to share with the electorate their vision of excellent schools and their ideas for how to help schools achieve that vision. They should be required to demonstrate an informed engagement with topics in the national educational dialogue….” ~Kathreen Harrison School Board Candidates Should Show Serious Engagement

Though a stack of research/empirical evidence sat in my knitting bag, consolidation proponents — with none at all, accused those of us who see value in small schools of “being emotional”, “negative” and unable to get along with others.  (Actually, we embrace sharing – real, universally beneficial sharing.)  Not surprisingly, no one showed any interest in evidence:

.  “…don’t bother me with the facts, I have made up my mind” applied to educational decision making. It is hard not to conclude that those who still insist that bigger schools are better schools are simply not interested in the evidence to the contrary…” Education on a Human Scale

I came to this issue in 2004, inclined to believe consolidation saved money and offered opportunity, and did not have children in school when Commissioner Gendron came after Benedicta Elementary.  I got involved, only because she had refused to answer any of my neighbors’ letters — I just asked her , politely, of course, to answer them as they were becoming increasingly upset.  Thus began a lengthy, spirited-yet-civil correspondence, as I pursued the research with an open mind; determined to go where the evidence led.  I was surprised by how decisive it was!  …as surprised as researchers themselves:

“…the advantages of smaller schools have been established with a clarity and confidence rare in the annuls of education (Raywid 2000)

The Commissioner and I would never agree, and some views she held on equity for rural children I found difficult to respect.  She always engaged, though, even coming to Benedicta several times under contentious circumstances and I do respect and appreciate that.  Perhaps more now as this Board is disinclined to do likewise.

The contrast between the former Commissioner and the behavior of this Board toward Timbered Classrooms, certain employees and me could not be more stark.

But it should not be surprising:

“…It’s an unfortunate, but fairly common reality that intimidation and personal slurs are used against people fighting consolidation. Sometimes teachers or administrators have their jobs, or the jobs of family members, subtly threatened. Sometimes rumors are spread locally. It’s not uncommon for pro-consolidation media outlets to portray community advocates of small schools in unflattering ways, to use derogatory rural stereotypes, and to misrepresent the legitimate concerns of rural residents and parents as self-interest, commitment to local athletic teams, or ignorance of and disregard for what’s best for their own children….” ~Anything But Research Based

Phil Knowles was right about one thing:  (no, this is not a typo, and it WAS only one thing:  Education cannot be run like a business.

We have to remember, education is education, a humane and human process. It is not competition or production. It is not a business, and business leaders really don’t know much about it. Education is not their area of expertise…. Not a Business

He went on to express openness to scenarios that, “…throw my kids under the bus…” because Southern Aroostook is closer to Region II and would afford those kids the opportunity to return in time for another class.

This is why Regional  Boards are so problematic.  Why on Earth would you throw ANY child “under the bus” EVER?  This is exactly the type of thought processes that occur in a Board that is too far removed from the kids.  They begin to think in terms of averages and lose sight of the preciousness of every single child.

A child is not a “regional unit”, is not “scaleable” and none of them are “average”.  The Board could create and empower separate committees to see to individualize decision making:  Pearls of Wisdom From out Coastal Cousins

Back to “Proximity to Southern Aroostook…”.  It’s an argument we have heard over and over and over, and one more often used to justify closure.     Do you know what else is “proximate to Region II”?  Houlton.  If busing is so benign, then, why not close SACS?  The distance is less than what you are asking Katahdin’s children to endure.  Why does the harm of busing matter more or less depending on who is in the seat if “all children matter equally”?

Claims that the desired “new school” will remain small, and retain all of the benefits of small schools is used to discredit the research offered here.  READ: “…too small to benefit from scale…”  In a few words, Larry sweepingly dismissed every item of research presented here and beyond, “They’re not talking about us….” — the height of absurdity in a decidedly farcical evening.

They are correct, though, and will likely be smaller than anyone may think.  …too small to offer the benefits touted by the Board.  Do we have reason to believe that precipitous enrollment declines will NOT continue unabated?    Though I believe in public education, and find “shopping” for schools in a “market” abhorrent, I am doing just that and am not alone.  The Superintendent referenced the difficulty in attracting and retaining good teachers.  The only reason I do not home school, is the relationships children form with wonderful teachers.  If they will not choose RSU #50, then why should I for our children?  Has anyone on the Board spoken with good teachers who would not submit a resume?  I have.  Like many problems in the RSU, size isn’t the issue.  Further, as research shows that taxpayer support diminishes with distance in consolidations, interest in changing the cost-sharing formula to a per-pupil one will likely grow and that budgets will become even more difficult to pass.

At the moment, our small schools are being run by people seeking to prove their inferiority, as is reflected by budget priorities toward “Bureaucrats and Wardens” which does not bode well to realizing their full potential.

I’ve always thought it odd that school size was treated as a choice — it isn’t always.    Children in your care are not going to wait for you to “decide” whether to pursue “bigness” OR innovate as quality small schools do.  Policymakers have a responsibility to do the latter, though we all know it conflicts directly with their efforts toward the former.

The Board would do well to remember, that,  they have no choice — they are running small schools at the moment, and their negativity toward them amounts to an admission that children are being shortchanged now – and unnecessarily according to research and to residents who believe the budget is sufficient to improve education for kids if spent differently.

“…Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….”Beware the Oversimplifiers

The communities have a decision to make, here, and I do wish them well.  The Board made theirs long ago.

What We Know And Don’t Know About Small Schools

What this Board and Administration does not know about small schools is eclipsed only by what they do not WANT to know. When are they going to answer to the evidence? Never, voluntarily anyway….

Timbered Classrooms...

girlwalkingleaves“…the closure of schools on the basis of their size is not warranted in terms of academic achievement or community or other measures of academic quality. There is a lack of evidence to suggest that small schools are incapable of achieving the broad goal set out for public schooling….” ~Michael Corbett

WhatWeKnowAndDontKnowAboutSmallSchools

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What We Know And Don’t Know About Small Schools

girlwalkingleaves“…the closure of schools on the basis of their size is not warranted in terms of academic achievement or community or other measures of academic quality. There is a lack of evidence to suggest that small schools are incapable of achieving the broad goal set out for public schooling….” ~Michael Corbett

WhatWeKnowAndDontKnowAboutSmallSchools

Futures Task Force Findings – FINAL

lavendar cougar

 

The work of the Futures Task Force completed, Timbered Classrooms would like to share with our readers a copy of its conclusions.  Many thanks to our readers who brought this to my attention.  How did I miss it?  Good question, but thank goodness for you!  Trying diligently to bite my tongue, (or my fingers!), for the  moment, anyway, I hope YOU won’t!  We always love to hear from you, whatever your views.  I have a great deal of confidence that our readers will perform a careful, critical reading and ask the deeper questions this report undoubtedly raises.

RSU 50 FTF Report (1) FINAL

 

 

A Sneak Peek At The Times

The following has been submitted to the Houlton Pioneer Times for publication.  Please join Timbered Classrooms in thanking the author, David Robinson, both for speaking out, and for offering our readers a first  look…

 

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“I am concerned about the RSU 50 budget negotiations because of my lack of confidence in the superintendent. During the budget validation meeting of 2013-2014 superintendent Malone pointed out to the citizens that he was under no obligation to abide by any agreement he may enter into during the process. Further he made clear that he also is not obligated to operate within the budget guidelines once a budget is approved. for example; a town manager is required to spend the towns money as set out in each of the warrants approved during the towns annual budget meeting, the superintendent is under no such requirement. The RSU 50 business manager numerous times during the meeting had to speak for the superintendent as he seemed to be adrift on the inner workings of the budget.


How can I vote for the 2014-2015 budget that doesn’t pass the stink test. We have reportedly got between 700 and 800 students with a budget of nearly 10 million dollars this is ridiculous.


We voted down this years budget and what does the board do ? Agree to cutting building maintenance and resubmit the budget to the public for a 29 July validation meeting. Well, this was last years threat, why cut building maintenance? Here is why, the superintendent wants a new school, so, if he cuts the maintenance of buildings he can down the line, blame the public for the poor condition of the buildings and enhance his argument for needing a new school. I have no idea what is going to happen with this money if the budget is approved. For sure though I know the superintendent will hire who ever he wants, and let go who ever he wants. He will spend the funds however he wants. He will tell us whatever is needed to pass a budget. It is time for the school board to act and find a superintendent with integrity and a budget that makes sense.    No excuses.”  ~David Robinson
 

 

 

 

 

“On The Table” – Scenario #6; Promise and Principles

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“A major challenge is operating and maintaining a nearly full complement of RSU 50’s school buildings in spite of declining enrollments and a shrinking tax base. Every building in the district requires maintenance, some of which is already being deferred because of current fiscal constraints.  Infrastructure of each building includes wireless capability and upgrades, phone system and HVAC.  There would be no savings in student transportation. …”   

What?  …a “nearly full complement”?  Scenario #6 involves closing Katahdin Elementary, and going from three buildings to two, eliminating one of the more expensive, looming roof repairs:

Roof Systems of Maine 2012-2013 quotes for roof repair:

 KES $86,400 (building would close)

KHS $5,500

SACS $80,000-$116,000

No, there are no transportation savings; under ANY scenario, and most of them increase bussing expenses.    Scenario #6 does not, and represents the lowest cost in that area…. Where are the concerns for transportation costs, for taxpayers AND children, under the scenarios that increase them?

“Busing is expensive and affects students and their families in many negative ways. An alternate, beneficial strategy for using an existing large building is to reconfigure the grade span in the facility to include students from kindergarten through 12th grade. In rural areas, drawing students from a wider age range will increase the pool, narrow the geographic area in which they live, and cut their transportation time to and from school. In any area, there are many social and pedagogical benefits to bringing students of all ages together, as well as benefits from making the school more accessible to the community. The best SWaS will serve elementary, middle, and high school students within the same facility…. Dollars & Sense

We have been warned, ad nauseum, by the Futures Task Force Committee, that some scenarios would provoke fear.  “One person’s good idea, is another’s dangerous idea….” or something to that effect?  Anyway, that fear was on display at the last FTF Public Forum, when the idea to consolidate the Katahdin side only was raised — much of it from a Board and FTF member himself!  “This does nothing for kids!” shouted a lady whose name escaped me… Really? The research says that it is your determination to gather all children and resources under one roof in our far-flung district; and the bussing that entails — that does “nothing for kids”.  …or taxpayers.  I was surprised by these outbursts, given the community support for Scenario #6, but perhaps I should not have been.  Perhaps the research based nature and community buy-in is what makes it so scary for those determined to shift investment entirely North?

There is a wonderful piece out today about unspoken assumptions and education policy, that would apply equally well to the school consolidation issue.  The FTF speaks to the “daunting” task of curriculum coordination and a strong desire to pursue scale.  Small, effective, and efficient schools abound, and the research is clear:

Even the smallest schools (100-200 students) are able to offer core curricula comparable to schools of more than 1,200. ~Jack and the Giant School

Highly effective, and cost-efficient “tiny” schools are showing us our own advantages that this administration is determined to squander in pursuit of mythical “scale”.  Children are not “scaleable”.

“Option #6 appears to avoid the ultimate question of programming and staffing in the face of declining populations…” ~FTF

On the contrary!  The research compiled here on Timbered Classrooms has taken on the issue of size and scale head on.  We still need an answer from this administration to the question, “What is the minimal sized Pre-K – 12 unit that YOU would deem ‘viable’?”  The research has already answered it, loudly and clearly, as have highly effective and frugal tiny schools around the State.   It is this Board that is “avoiding” it.

One can’t help but notice that the pros and cons of each scenario are not applied with any degree of continuity, or fairness.  For instance, the Superintendent balks at the cost of moving monkey bars across the road while embracing the idea of building an entirely new school.  Challenges that affect administration and management staff appear to garner more weight than those that affect kids and taxpayers — bussing to name many — as it leads to many other issues and expenses.

Consolidating the Katahdin side in this way has garnered a heartening amount of community support.  When I mentioned a Timbered Classrooms poll to that effect, the Great Schools Partnership Consultant Craig Kesselheim wanted to know where the respondents reside.  I have no way to know scientifically, but am certain that most come from the Katahdin side; most invested in this infrastructure and that’s a good thing.  There is something about people voting to liquidate the infrastructure of another, distant community that raises ethical questions.

“Lose your school. Lose your community. School administrative districts were no more than a scam and a few people have finally figured out that it would be nice to keep the control and the tax dollars in town. Oh, it would also be nice to keep the kids in town. But getting the control and the money back is the main thing. You will not get your schools back in town without a fight. There’s too much money at stake. And it’s fun to spend other people’s money.”

~Robert Karl Skoglund, “The Humble Farmer”

Local school boards, as in an AOS style of consolidation that I and many others favor, make the most effective decisions and are most accountable for children and taxpayers.  The closer decision makers are to children the more sense their choices make to families and other taxpayers.  The Board could create and empower committees for each side, and govern with respect to unique local interests now if it chose to .  Otherwise, the withdrawal effort would have to be completed first.

There is a striking difference between the way children grow and learn, and the way adults think, and it costs taxpayers and children dearly.  Many consolidation proponents recognize the problems with bussing, and how expensive they are, and adopt a “well, you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet” attitude — especially if it isn’t their children affected.  But children are not regional units, and each one is precious.  Nor do they wait for your long-term plans.  Others recognize the harm children are enduring now, but console themselves that it will be made right by more consolidation later.  It doesn’t work that way.  They will not get this or any other year back again, and the evidence suggests that future children will be disadvantaged by this vision.

We have been assured, by our Representative in the State legislature that KHS was built for, and has, in fact housed more children than are currently enrolled pre-K-12.  The savings would not be gobbled up by more transportation costs, as bus routes would remain unchanged.  …or more “bureaucrats and wardens”.

What the FTF is “avoiding” is the RSU withdrawal effort, and the issues driving it.  Though some members, indeed, work in good faith, other, more powerful people have been trying to “steer the ship” (to borrow a phrase from a recent comment) to consolidate kids, resources and infrastructure North since before Superintendent Malone had both feet in the door.

The communities have some vital decisions to make, and I hope they won’t wait for the ballot box.

A Look At School Consolidation Through the Research Lens: From the Penn State Center on Rural Education and Communities

Like the Sunday paper, this compilation from the Penn State Center on Rural Education and Communities is extensive, and has a great deal to contribute to the decisions at hand…

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http://www.ed.psu.edu/crec/topics/consolidation

On Research Based Policy – “The Political Economy of School Consolidation”

791066-My_introdution_to_Duck_and_Cover_Patten“…(“technical”) arguments, tiresomely repeated in the current round of school 
 closings, actually serve to conceal the social, political, and economic agendas intended to change the behavior of the affected parties (communities, parents, and students). Intentional concealment is all the more likely given recent empirical evidence discrediting substantial portions of the traditional “technical” arguments against small-scale schooling. Decades of research on appro- priate school size fail to document anything like the benefits for large schools advertised during this century (Smith & DeYoung, 1988). More- over, evidence that small schools actually blunt the negative effects of educational disadvantage (variously construed) on academic achieve- ment continues to accumulate (Fowler & Walberg, 1991; Friedkin & Necochea, 1988; Howley, 1989; Huang & Howley, in press; Plecki,)

Read the work, in its entirety, here:

The Political Economy Of Rural School Consolidation

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“On the Table” Series Continues: #5 – “TABLED”

Review this and other Scenarios currently under consideration by the Futures Task Force (FTF):

 RSU50Scenarios

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Scenario #5, where elementary grades would remain in place on either end of the district and a new 7-12 facility would be built in Crystal.  Happily the Committee had the sense to table it.  It really is utterly absurd.

The Committee did comment, though:

  • Few benefits involved
  • Would “appease” some stakeholders, but would not address current and future constraints.
  • Too draining on the budget or too much loss for each individual community
  • No cost savings
  • “not”

“Few” benefits?  The FTF does not say what those are, but I see “none”.  ..and who on Earth would be “appeased” by an asinine idea like this?  I don’t know what “stake” they are “holding”, but “appeasement”?  How about a first-class seat in a handbasket?  No; all seriousness aside, I recognize that I may be missing something here, so, please readers, enlighten me if you can?

That this would be “too draining on the budget”, and the “drain” would pull money away from kids, as construction projects; new facilities do, is a given.  But “too much loss for each individual community”?  Most of the other scenarios pull more children even farther away from their communities than this does; the losses are greater, so why does the concern of the FTF for this very serious issue disappear under them?  Once in a while, I ask a question I don’t already know the answer to — this is not one of those times….

In case you were wondering (and I don’t blame you) about the value in discussing Scenario #5 at all is the mindset of a committee that would propose such a thing, and even believe that it could garner even a modicum of support from “stakeholders seeking appeasement”.

Overall, this decision is going to come down to values.  WHO benefits, and on WHOM do the “challenges” fall?  Our readers have made themselves clear that benefits MUST go to kids and taxpayers, and challenges must fall on adults, namely administration.

We will see how the FTF weighs its decision.

“On The Table” – Scenario 4; “The Wheels on the Bus”

sbnite0214Review the Analysis of this, and other scenarios currently under consideration by the Futures Task Force:

RSU50Scenarios

Scenario 4 varies little from Scenario 3a and b.  In fact, it varies so little, that the Futures Task Force has apparently cut and pasted many of the benefits and challenges from Scenario 3a and b.  Here in Scenario #4, the Futures Task Force considers consolidating only the high school either at SACS (4a) or Katahdin (4b), but leaving the elementary grades in place.  (Well, it isn’t really considering consolidating the High Schools at Katahdin, for reasons outlined in “A Tale of Two Scenarios”.

“Administrative roles and support staff can be diversified, (i.e. Curriculum Coordinator, Assistant Principal)….”  — This is actually listed under “Benefits”!  A cue, certainly, that the hiring of Bureaucrats and Wardens” , which has frustrated taxpayers so will continue unabated, or, more likely, grow precipitously.

Another item, seemingly mis-filed under benefits is, “Co-curriculur opportunities may become more competitive, thus contributing to higher levels of performance (not limited to sports).”  So much for maximizing opportunity.  This is the very thing that researchers cite as a disadvantage to kids.  Does this Board seriously have such an issue with the “performance” of our fine young people that it wants to “weed” some of them out of the opportunity to participate?  I, for one, am proud of every one of those precious children, and I know I am not alone.  Readers?  Feel free to jump into the comments section anytime.  You can always come back to this part later.  I don’t know why, exactly, the prospect of “climbing” to Class C is also touted as a “benefit” — these aren’t letter grades, and one is not superior to another.

The striking thing about the “benefits” claimed by the FTF is WHO actually “benefits”.  ….and it isn’t kids or taxpayers, but administration itself.  Please keep this in mind, as we look at “Challenges”; on whom they fall the hardest:

“Challenges presented by both options include the assimilation of students and staff from one of the district’s facilities into the other… …”lost identity”… …loss of intimacy… …more competitive selection process for co-curricular opportunities” (Wait!  didn’t we just see this under ‘benefits’?) … …longer bus rides for some secondary children”  Anyway, these challenges fall squarely on the shoulders of kids.  But taxpayers are hardly spared, as “bureaucrats and wardens” are not alone in lining up to claim a share of their dollars.  The committee refers to bus route redundancy; “PK-6 students bussed separately than 7-12 students, even if they stand at the end of the same driveway” and “remodeling of classrooms and other school facilities that must be repurposed”  will cost our coffers dearly.  It looks as though “50 years of consolidation” has replaced educators with “bureaucrats” “wardens” AND a crap-ton of very expensive bussing… …as expensive to kids and communities as it is to taxpayers.

The analysis of benefits and challenges unique to 4a and b appear to have been copied and pasted from 3a and b, and are every bit as questionable.  4a, like 3a (consolidating the High Schools at SACS) is strongly favored by some on the committee, reflecting its dogged determination of some to shift  resources and kids North. I want to acknowledge the fact that others on the committee are acting in good faith, but it is safe to say that those who posed the question, “What do you know about building a new school?” to the Superintendent during the interview process, has an outcome in mind.

Under “data still required” the committee trots out Spruce Mountain and Oceanside – (sigh) AGAIN.  “Optional: contact schools where student relocations have occurred in recent years to gain their perceptions on the experiences of students, teachers and families.”  So why would research like this be “optional”?  Why would you not do likewise with schools that have opted to remain small, local and use their natural attributes to their advantage?  …and why, for the love of Pete, are you so focused on Spruce Mountain (geographically much smaller, so that expenditures in the receiving community benefit the sending one as wel… Oh, and by the way:  the communities of Spruce Mountain coughed up $44,000 each to keep the sending school open for Adult Ed., community purposes etc. because they recognized the liability and cost of abandoned infrastructure to a community.  Is RSU 50 planning the same thing?). Oceanside? …a hot mess from Bangor Daily News accounts.  If THIS is what Craig Kesselheim puts on his resume?  I’d hate to see what he leaves off….

A Timbered Bookshelf – “From Schoolhouse to Schooling System: Maine Public Education in the 20th Century” by Gordon A. Donaldson Jr. Ed.D.

“From Schoolhouse to Schooling System traces Maine’s efforts to educate its children and youth through the twentieth century. It is a story of high ambitions, changing economic fortunes, and the struggle to shape widespread community schools into a coherent system. Donaldson’s book offers a richly detailed description of the past and the lessons it serves up for the future.” ~Maine Authors Publishing

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“From Schoolhouse to Schooling System: Maine Public Education in the 20th Century examines schools in six communities, Peru, Anson, Lubec, Houlton, Cumberland, and Bangor…”

“…The state’s forced consolidation of schools “was a case of 1920s-style thinking being applied to the 21st century world,” Donaldson said.  He also said the trend of grouping teachers in larger schools for the purpose of professional improvement was outdated by 1980.  “By that time, professional development and knowledge were readily available, and sending students to larger schools held no value.” he said.  “So the 2007 consolidation law made next to zero sense educationally”, Donaldson said

Read the entire review from “The Ellsworth American” here

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Small Schools that Work – Surry Elementary

Worse than the constant bemoaning of “declining enrollment”, and citing it for all of the serious issues RSU #50 currently faces, is the admission by this Administration that it cannot provide our students with a good education, and taxpayers value on their dollars at our current size and building array.   Our readers (who just passed the 100 mark!  Thank you all so much!) see even smaller schools than our own, not simply surviving but thriving around our State, and want to emulate them.  Schools like Surry Elementary, enrollment of 102, et. al. show us the advantages we already posses.  If this Administration does not know how to use them, then, perhaps the Board should find someone who does….  Of course that will, ultimately, be up to the communities…

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“”It’s all about doing whatever we need to do and keeping an eye on whatever is working.” said Principal Cathy Lewis.  Class size plays a role, too.  Surry, with an enrollment of 102 students is a small school. Class size ranges from 8 to 15 students.  “I would say it has a huge influence on the opportunity for connections.”  Lewis said.  “That’s personal connections where students feel they have a relationship.  The more opportunity there is for connections, the better it all works….””

Read the article by Jennifer Osborn of The Ellsworth American, here:  Surry Elementary 1

 

“On The Table” – A Tale of Two Scenarios, Consolidate North or South

“Options 3a and 3b are intentionally paired as two sides of the same coin: consolidate all students and staff to either the North end of campus, (3a), or the South end (3b)..”

RSU50Scenarios

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Just as Scenarios 3a and 3b represent “two sides of the same coin”, benefits and challenges emanate from “two sides of the Committee’s mouth”.

“Significant cost savings would appear to be immediate due to the closure of facilities” is cited as a “benefit”.   Meanwhile, under “challenges”…

“Challenges unique to option 3a…” (let’s be honest, here – 3a is strongly favored; 3b is not under any serious consideration — more on why in a moment…) “..involve facilities constraints.  SACS does not have a dedicated auditorium or music instruction space.  The building will require a new heating system and the roof needs work. Science lab classrooms may need to be refurbished or expanded.”

“We will save you money.

”That’s the bait that trolls in the suckers.

We grow old too soon.  Smart too late.”

~The humble Farmer, on School Consolidation

Now, as for why 3b is not “viable” to this committee:  The vehement objections to a research-based and popular solution — consolidating the Katahdin side only — revealed that NO solution that keeps Sherman/Patten/Stacyville/Mt. Chase children and tax dollars in their community is “viable” to those who want that money and Katahdin communities to invest in much needed renovations to SACS or a new school.

“You don’t save money, but you change who gets it.” ~Marty Strange

Before I became a mother, I worked in Economic Development.  I learned from the best, that the most effective way to build your community and local economy is to invest in pre-K-12 education, infrastructure, partner with universities to use buildings at night for online course opportunities…. But efforts to draw investment to your own community inadvertently result in a divestment from someone else’s.  The loss, certainly, does not fall on everyone equally.  Here, the pursuit of some on the Board simply to draw investment to their own community,  is a painful divestment from another — and from their children, as the research is clear that small, local schools are better for kids, taxpayers, communities and school boards. (Boards whose members are closes to the kids and taxpayers; who actually represent the same children and taxpayers, function more efficiently.) Indeed, small schools around the state are innovating, serving their children and communities so well, that Board members come from far and wide to learn from them.  What about our own?

Back to the FTF analysis:  Benefits “unique to 3a” (consolidating to SACS) are outlined:

~”locating all the regions students closer to Region 2″  …a shorter bus ride to Houlton also, in the view of the FTF, would expand academic opportunity as well.

“..a shorter bus ride to Houlton”? That is just silly.  The travel time to Houlton, for CTE or other opportunity will not change from where children LIVE.

This does speak to the flight of students – an alarming 70 in all, though.  Most who leave SACS are taking advantage of the opportunities in Houlton, while most who leave Katahdin are homeschooled.  Now, not all families can homeschool, on either end of the district, certainly.  More children from the SACS communities, however, have access to the opportunities Houlton presents, giving them far more options than children on the Katahdin side under 3a.  “You don’t get excellence without equity”, and the apparent lack of commitment to equity by the Administration and Board is a continuing concern.

Families opt to homeschool for a variety of reasons, certainly, and transfers… but Superintendent has said he has spoken to only “..a couple”.  Aren’t you even a bit curious?

These figures are as clear as they are  alarming.    If this Board cannot fathom how to compete with Houlton, then, 3a should give its members pause.  When asked if he had spoken with families pursuing other options, the Superintendent said, “A couple”.  Well, I have spoken with more than “a couple”.  I hope the Board will too.  “It’s not them, it’s you”.

Advantages to 3b involve facilities: “..dedicated space for school performances and for music instruction, sufficient spaces for administrative offices (we can’t have cramped administrators!) playing fields and an environmental studies ecosystem resource behind the middle school.”

Challenges include “…closure of the SACS facility, a related problem in finding a new location for the Region 2 Forestry program”  How about the “environmental studies ecosystem resource”?  I don’t mean to suggest that I support EITHER 3a or b.  I don’t.  The auditorium is small — too small for concerts, and you had better get tickets to plays early!

Another challenge to 3b… “The end of day travel time from Region 2 back to Katahdin would reduce academic course options for this population”.   Does the Region 2 bus typically return students to their sending school in time for more courses?  …or do they spend the entire CTE day at Region 2 in any case?  Would the Region 2 bus depart Houlton early enough in the day to afford students academic courses at, say, SACS?

“A PK-12 school on either end of the district would likely choose to rally around the creation of a new school name and mascot, similar to the recent experiences of Spruce Mountain (Jay/Livermore Falls) and Oceanside (Rockland/Georges Valley).  This phenomenon is not foreign to the RSU 50 Communities’ own history of past consolidation.  In other words, it can be done.”

Yes, memories of past consolidations are alive and well, but if you think for a minute that they will make it easier in the future?  Call me. I have some oceanfront property in Benedicta to sell you.

Anyway, a closer look at the models this committee has chosen to emulate would be valuable here, wouldn’t it?

First, Spruce Mountain.  The combined square mileage of Jay/Livermore Falls is but a fraction of RSU #50’s.  Transportation here would be far more daunting.  Jay and Livermore, consolidated in name before a building, adopting a new name and mascot with “North and South” campuses.  After taxpayers rejected a $5 million request for renovations to the former Jay H.S., they did approve nearly $2 million.  The former Livermore Falls H.S. building remains open for Adult Ed summer recreation at a cost of $132,000; $44,000 each from Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls.   How much would Sherman voters approve to renovate SACS? …or keep Katahdin open for Adult Ed.?  Abandoned infrastructure is a liability to a community, certainly, but don’t ask children to ride a bus further than you are willing to drive for Zumba!

Oceanside is interesting, as Mr. Kesselheim touted his work with the communities of RSU 13 as he introduced himself to RSU#50.  Here, one of many Bangor Daily News article describing the turmoil and the cost.  St. George is in the midst of a rather acrimonious withdrawal effort from the RSU…. So, where do we sign up?

Though the FTF intends that a scenario selected here would serve as a transitional one enroute to a new school, it acknowledges the possibility that 3a or b could well become permanent.  That is more than likely, and may well be the intent of some on the committee.  Once taxpayers have footed the bill (which of course will be more than the estimates) for all the renovations to SACS, how eager will they be to break ground on a new structure?  A new school in the center of the district appears, at first glance, more equitable than shifting all infrastructure, children and economic/community development potential to one side, and thus may garner more support than the latter.   Perhaps the “transitional” claim is intended to soften the loss some on the Board are determined to inflict on Katahdin’s communities.  Just a thought.

Now let’s hear yours…

 

From Our Series titled, “On the Table” – Scenario Option #2

“What do you know about building a new school?” ~Interview question posed to Mr. Larry Malone when he was a candidate for his current position.  …also the sound of the school closure train leaving the station…

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View “Scenario #2, as well as other Visions of the Futures Task Force, here:

RSU50Scenarios

The second option on the table for the Futures Task Force is “..building a new, PK-12 structure and ‘decommissioning’ all current school facilities in the RSU..” apparently “received a very strong endorsement from the FTF membership”.

Of course, as usual, no supporting research was offered.

The “benefits” they cite are listed below, contrasted with what the research actually says:

~”site neutrality” : According to the research, this will not look like any sort of advantage, come budget time.  Research highlights the increased difficulty in raising funds where communitie’s sense of ownership is diminished by both size and distance.

~”coordination of services” : This may help you fill you buzzword bingo card, but beyond that…. “coordinating” children from a 400+ square mile district under one roof is an anathema to efficiency and convenience.

Since I became involved in school issues, I’ve been struck by the adult-centered mindset.  In conversation with a Board member, for example, a brief mention of an AOS model of governance,  was met with, “Oh!  For a Superintendent that’s….!”  “…a pain in the butt..?” I finished.  “I know”.  Why was “Superintendent convenience” foremost in his mind? What about kids and taxpayers?  The closer decision makers are to kids, the more sense decisions make to them, their parents and communities.  Our readers have been very clear about who comes first in THEIR minds.

~”educational opportunities and staffing” : Research shows that that bigger is not better; larger schools do not necessarily offer more, and face diminished participation due to distance and more competition for available spots on sports teams, in plays and in classes.

~”creation of a new multi-community asset” : To which communities does this new “asset” belong?  Not to all of those that must pay for it, certainly, as distance undermines access a great deal.  Children are not regional units.

~”efficiencies that accompany a regional location” :  What is more inefficient, and archaic, from the standpoint of children and taxpayers than bussing long distances every day, that thwarts achievement and diminishes participation.  Research shows that these “regional” schools do not accomplish more, even in cases where they do offer more choices (which is not a given).  Participation rates clearly fall.  Yes, it is convenient, though certainly not more “efficient” for a Superintendent to have all his or her charges under one roof, but at what cost?

A regional perspective; assets that belong to everyone and no one; presents just one of many stark differences between the way children grow and learn, and the way people think.  Buildings don’t educate children, people do.  Parents who have seen their children go without will want to know why there is money for new construction but none for their kids….

Good luck with that.

From our “On the Table” Series – Scenario #1 – “Keep the Current Building Array”

The first in our “On the Table” Series, this is a close reading of Scenario #1 currently under consideration.  The FTF analysis of this and others can be found here:

RSU50Scenarios

 

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Scenario #1 – Retain Current Building Array

Here, we look at the first Scenario under consideration by the Futures Task Force (FTF).  Well, not really under any serious consideration as it was dismissed by its members at the beginning as unworthy of consideration.  But that raises serious questions:  If you believe the state of our educational infrastructure is untenable?  …and the only solution you are pursuing is further consolidation?  Schools of similar size and smaller are the pride of other Maine communities.  Schools the size of Katahdin do not “die”; they are killed, for the mistakenly perceived economic development purposes of the potential receiving community.  How do you “kill” a school, and simultaneously invest in the children within? Is, “…if we could get a building condemned, that would solve our problem!” Is that the language of investment and pride?

I’ll leave that to our readers to answer….

The FTF lists “small class size” as a “challenge”, though parents, communities and private schools would tout it as an advantage.  As vital as teachers are, they are also the most visible – and low teacher/student ratios drive business-minded people crazy. So crazy, in fact that they are willing to spend more to relinquish this natural advantage, that elite private schools, are larger urban ones spend a great deal to emulate, than it would cost to maintain it.

We hear “duplication of services” quite a bit, and it bears remembering that services children receive are “duplicated” elsewhere as well.  Are educational services in Houlton “redundant”?  Bangor?  Alaska?  The Pre-K-12 units are 20 miles apart, and much farther for children.  Distance costs, it does not save.  The view of the leadership, that services offered to Katahdin’s children are “redundant” and should be eliminated is unsubstantiated.  RSU 3, touted as a model for RSU 50, is a similarly large district in terms of square miles — with 8 schools.

To deem Katahdin “inviable” is an admission that children within are presently being shortchanged, and parents reject the notion that it is “unavoidable”.  Our readers are clearly as committed to small, local quality and cost-effective education as the leadership is to dismantling it.

Small schools around the state that serve their children, taxpayers and communities very well cast doubt over claims that our decline is “unavoidable”.  I would like to share with you a passage from a letter I received from a parent in Stockton Springs:

“…Searsport High School has worked hard at coming back from losing their accreditation in the 90’s and has been working towards becoming a STEM school. The program is so popular and successful here that schools in Maine, New England and beyond have visited our campus and talked with teachers and students for advice and direction. The superintendent said more schools needed to close and he had Searsport High School on the chopping block even though our test scores were higher than Belfast and even though we are so close to becoming a STEM school. He wanted to move us into a school that is too small and falling apart, while our school is newer with modern improvements and state of the art lab, etc. If we moved to Belfast, we would have had to use modular classrooms as the school isn’t big enough to accommodate us. That was Belfast’s way of being able to say to the state they need a new school sooner rather than later. Basically it boils down to our communities wanting local control of our school tax dollars and control over keeping the momentum going with creating a STEM school..”

MDOE reports enrollment figures of 156 for Searsport District H.S.  Have any of our Board members gone to Searsport?  Perhaps Easton, with an enrollment of 100?

Claims that a larger, consolidated school would maximize opportunity are unfounded both anecdotally, and in the research.

“researchers have found that “it takes a lot of bigness to add a little variety”—that is, “on the average a 100% increase in enrolment yields only a 17% increase in variety of offerings” (Pittman and Haughwout, 1997)” ~https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/education-on-a-human-scale/

“Ted Sizer said no school — elementary, middle, or secondary — should have more than 200 students.” ~http://www.schoolreport.com/schoolreport/articles/schoolsize_9_98.htm

“Even the smallest schools (100-200 students) are able to offer core curricula comparable to schools of more than 1,200…” ~https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/jack-and-the-giant-school/

“The percentage of student participation has been shown to peak in high schools with 61 to 150 students.” ~http://www.schoolreport.com/schoolreport/articles/schoolsize_9_98.htm

 

More recommended reading, excerpts:

“Given that educational administrators have, in many cases and situations, held considerable power, school consolidation has often been achieved by over-riding public opinion on the basis of claims about the educational and financial benefits of larger schools. These alleged benefits are not supported by any significant evidence, and the more researchers have looked at the question of school size, the more clear it becomes that small schools are actually superior” ~Education on a Human Scale

 

“… Impoverished places, in particular, often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….” ~ Beware the Oversimplifiers

“Busing is expensive and affects students and their families in many negative ways. An alternate, beneficial strategy for using an existing large building is to reconfigure the grade span in the facility to include students from kindergarten through 12th grade. In rural areas, drawing students from a wider age range will increase the pool, narrow the geographic area in which they live, and cut their transportation time to and from school. In any area, there are many social and pedagogical benefits to bringing students of all ages together, as well as benefits from making the school more accessible to the community. The best SWaS will serve elementary, middle, and high school students within the same facility….” ~Dollars & Sense – The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools

 

Children are not “regional units”, and are not scaleable.  Not only do they stubbornly resist our attempts to align childhood with how we think, but they cost dearly.  The research and community aspirations are clear, that Pre-K – 12 on either side of this district is warranted.

Fin

What’s “On The Table”? School Divestment and Closure…

rearrange-deckchairs-and-ignore-sinking-1Here, we offer up the Futures Task Force’s own analysis of the scenarios purportedly being considered.  “Purportedly” as the recent public forum revealed a fierce resolve toward further consolidation, and bussing of children — regardless of the cost, against which the research (none of which is cited by this committee) and our own experience with RSU “growing pains” so clearly warn us.

Read the draft analysis, as released by the FTF itself RSU50Scenarios

In the coming days, we will examine them further, so watch this space!

They are your children, your tax dollars and your schools …and YOU are integral to these decisions.

 

Quote

“School consoli…

“School consolidation thus involves a great expense of time and money that might be better spent in the education and upbringing of children.”
~Wendell Berry

berry

NOT a Business… Rethinking Schools Online

p6_educationfactory_2aWhen I hear admonitions, to “run schools like a business”, it’s hard not to scream.  (I will try, but I’m not making any promises.)  This is a wonderful essay, for the teaching profession…

“We have to remember, education is education, a humane and human process. It is not competition or production. It is not a business, and business leaders really don’t know much about it. Education is not their area of expertise….

…As educators, we need to shed our subordinate status and sense of inferiority. We should assert that schools work best when educators,in dialogue with parents and other citizens?are recognized as far more competent to design educational experiences than corporate officials.”

Rethinking Schools Online.

Anything But Research-based: State Initiatives to Consolidate Schools and Districts: Rural School & Community Trust

tumblr_mxmm5mTJUX1snh17co1_1280“The consolidation of schools and school districts is an ongoing issue in most of rural America. Each year hundreds of communities face the closure of their local school or the loss of their local school district-and the school governance positions associated with the district. State policies promoting consolidation have existed for most of the 20th and now 21st centuries. Indeed, the numbers of schools and districts in this country have been drastically reduced, despite burgeoning school populations. The research evidence supporting this widely implemented policy, however, is virtually non-existent. In fact, research on the effects of school size on student achievement and well-being is extensive, spans the political spectrum, and is unusually consistent in its findings that small size benefits students, especially students who are at risk for educational difficulties. Why then do so many states continue to develop consolidation policies that are anything but research-based?…”

The Rural School and Community Trust answers this, and other questions surrounding school consolidation in a truly research-based manner, and is a wonderful resource for policymakers.  Read the entire article here:  via Anything But Research-based: State Initiatives to Consolidate Schools and Districts: Rural School & Community Trust.

Dollars & Sense – The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools

l-All-my-ducks-in-a-rowThe research here, in this document published by the Rural School and Community Trust, speaks especially well to the discussion that took place at the recent public forum.  The Futures Task Force will be making recommendations to the Board about school closure very soon.   Make no mistake, minds have clearly been made up here, to pursue policies that are anything but research-based.  Our hope is, that the community will start here, at Timbered Classrooms, for research to shape their own positions, but not stop here.  Keep learning.  They are our children, after all…

Get the full pdf here: Dollars & Sense  …or keep scrolling for excerpts.

“Even though people may appreciate the benefits of small schools, too many think that the cost of such schools is prohibitive. To answer their concerns, Dollars & Sense summarizes research on the educational and social benefits of small schools and the negative effects of large schools on students, teachers, and members of the community, as well as the “diseconomies of scale” inherent in large schools. As the research shows, measuring the cost of education by graduates rather than by all students who go through the system suggests that small schools are a wise investment. In addition, Dollars & Sense answers two fundamental questions: can small schools be built cost effectively, and has anyone done so? Using data drawn from 489 schools submitted to design competitions in 1990-2001, Dollars & Sense answers both questions with a resounding yes, demonstrating that small schools are not prohibitively expensive. Investing tax dollars in small schools does make sense.”

“…They (School Boards) may think that renovation is a poor investment, because they don’t recognize the value of the existing structure and infrastructure and they don’t accurately estimate the costs of new construction. “Hidden costs” for new buildings may include significant expenses such as “water and sewer line extensions, student transportation, and road work” (Beaumont & Pianca, 2000, p. 18). Savings that could be gained by continuing to use existing services (and the value of even the shell of a facility) are often omitted from the equation when school boards consider renovation versus new construction. The benefits of renovating a school instead of building a new one go beyond the purely economic….”

“….Don’t Confuse Small Schools with “Schools Within a School” Many people realize that large schools are far from ideal places in which to teach and learn. Creating schools-within-a-school (SWaS) is one strategy for reducing school size. It is appropriate only to make use of an existing large high school building; it is not advisable to build a new facility so that it can be turned into SWaS. In more sparsely populated rural areas, a SWaS still draws students from a wide geographic area, so that many of them travel long distances to and from school. Busing is expensive and affects students and their families in many negative ways. An alternate, beneficial strategy for using an existing large building is to reconfigure the grade span in the facility to include students from kindergarten through 12th grade. In rural areas, drawing students from a wider age range will increase the pool, narrow the geographic area in which they live, and cut their transportation time to and from school. In any area, there are many social and pedagogical benefits to bringing students of all ages together, as well as benefits from making the school more accessible to the community. The best SWaS will serve elementary, middle, and high school students within the same facility….”

“…the idea persists that however beneficial small schools may be, they are prohibitively expensive. This report finds a contrary result by looking more closely at the supposed economies of large schools. Adding up the costs and weighing them against the benefits shows that small schools not only are better places in which to educate children, but that large schools themselves actually create significant diseconomies…”

 

 

Research on School Consolidation: A Snapshot

The research on School Consolidation is clear, yet so counterintuitive and surprising  and, subsequently, not readily accepted — in spite of the stellar credentials of those who conduct it.  Sadly, it isn’t what you don’t know, but what you know for sure; “going with your gut” so to speak,  that leads to so many disastrous decisions especially for rural kids.  Here, Timbered Classrooms offers an overview of the research we have compiled on the  topic,  to be read, (or, apparently, ignored!) at a glance… Link to the original post, or continue to link to the research behind it — it is all here for you.

research

“…A growing body of North American education research on the “dollars and sense” of school sizeis exploding the myth and now suggest that smaller scale schools are not only better for students but, more surprisingly, more cost effective for school boards…”  https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/how-big-is-too-big/

“…Smaller schools are more successful with difficult-to-teach kids and with social and citizenship development. Bigger schools aren’t as good at those things…”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/umaine-prof-says-school-reorganization-law-proving-more-negative-than-positive-consolidation-effort-based-on-false-premise-not-backed-by-research/

“Few aspects of education have been more thoroughly researched than school size; few findings have been more consistent; and few have been more consistently ignored….”

“…Those who say small schools are not “efficient,” or effective, need to cite the evidence, not just the rhetoric. … The nation’s 25,000 nonpublic schools have an average enrollment of only 200. The average size of Pennsylvania’s nonpublic schools is fewer than 160. That of the new charter schools is only about 200, and many have fewer than 100. 

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/size-matters/

“The Sinclair Act may have worked in some ways, but we don’t know what those are,” Donaldson told the Small Maine High School Coalition which met on the UM campus. “We do know it raised costs and reduced community and parental involvement.”

“And there’s no evidence it increased quality.”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/lessons-from-our-history-old-study-weighs-school-consolidation-costs/

“A wave of research from around the country shows that consolidation does not improve schools or lead to better academic results…”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/maine-school-consolidation-a-reorganization-report-card-and-food-for-thought-in-rsu-50/

“I have always been opposed to school consolidation although the fact that it costs more money was not my initial reason…” 

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/i-have-always/

“School administrative districts were no more than a scam and a few people have finally figured out that it would be nice to keep the control and the tax dollars in town. Oh, it would also be nice to keep the kids in town….”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/humble-on-the-rsu-law/

“Thousands of Maine people have seen the results of consolidation and are working to extricate themselves from the mess. Not only did taxes go up to pay for the mess, small towns lost their sense of community, lost their voice in the educational process and were continually steamrolled…”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/a-humble-opinion-2/

“The public school, separated from the community by busing, (for whatever reason), government control, consolidation and other “advances”, has become a no-man’s land, a place existing only in reference to itself and to a theoretical “tomorrow’s world”.”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/wendell-berry-on-school-consolidation-2/

“…all this bus travel was damaging to the lives of my children both at school and at home. Moreover, the grade school that my children attended was nine miles, and their middle and high schools twelve miles, from home, well beyond the range of close or easy parental involvement. School consolidation thus involves a great expense of time and money that might be better spent in the education and upbringing of children.”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/wendell-berry-on-school-consolidation/

“…contemporary research does not support claims about the widespread benefits of consolidation. The assumptions behind such claims are most often dangerous oversimplifications. … Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/beware-the-oversimplifiers-2/

“…The research of the last thirty years clearly justifies educational policies that support the creation of new small schools and, more importantly for rural areas, sustaining and supporting existing small community schools. There is little if any justification for closing small schools as a matter of policy. All fair minded people have to wonder given this research base:
Why do so many states [and provinces] continue to develop consolidation policies that are anything but research-based? Why is this irrational and failed approach to educational improvement forced upon rural communities, despite their widespread and often vehement opposition? (Rural School and Community Trust, 2006)…
To continue to pursue a policy of closure and consolidation in the face of the research evidence is to put the education of rural children and youth at risk…”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/education-on-a-human-scale/

‘What if you lose your school?’ they say, ‘We lose our identity.’” Some of this concern is economically related, in that the loss of a school can cause people to move and businesses to shut down.”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/the-myths-of-rural-school-consolidation/

“For 50 years, America has been consolidating school districts, and the main effect has been to replace educators with bureaucrats and wardens.”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/a-pocket-paradigm/

“…small schools are not necessarily weak schools. In fact, it seems to me, now, that rural schools are some of our finest American educational institutions. Instead of being unfortunate institutions in regions too isolated to be harvested by the consolidation combine, small, rural schools are often places where educational excellence flows naturally. Instead of being weeds in the educational landscape, rural schools are often vines that bear rich fruit and healthy nourishment for young people. ”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/great-things-come-in-small-packages/

“No wonder local communities are frustrated and angry, They are paying more than ever and their schools are still being forced to cut school programs.”

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/cost-shifting-threatens-local-education-2/

According to our recent survey, 44 out of 49 respondants (with three abstentions) support the RSU Withdrawal initiative spearheaded by the communities of former MSAD #25. A whopping 89.8%!

But to those who want our communities to remain connected? Take heart! 21 out of 51 polled (41.2%) were open to re-connecting once the withdrawal process is complete by establishing an Alternative Organizational Structure, or AOS. Certainly, as more people become aware of the opportunity therein, support will increase.

https://atimberedchoir.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/divorce-not-necessarily-rsu-aos-compared/#more-150

 

As School Budgeting Season Heats Up Remember the Crucial Middle School Years | Rethinking Education

Kathreen Harrison’s advice for Board members is pure gold, especially as they contemplate (or march toward!) school closure… Our gratitude to Kathreen Harrison for sharing her wisdom in “Rethinking Education”, and, YOU! …our readers for sharing, and discussing it with your Board representative….

“…Student achievement at the eighth grade level in higher poverty schools is better statewide in K – 8 schools than in middle schools. This is particularly true of K – 8 schools with a sizable percentage of teachers holding master’s degrees.

The data about K – 8 schools should impact school board discussions about merging, closing, and consolidating schools. Before school boards move to close any community schools they should be prepared to explain to their stakeholders why student achievement in the case of their particular schools will not suffer….”

Timbered Classrooms...

frenchgirlbyrichardvanek “…high poverty K – 8 schools seem to be doing a better job of educating their older students than high poverty middle schools. Student achievement at the eighth grade level in higher poverty schools is better statewide in K – 8 schools than in middle schools. This is particularly true of K – 8 schools with a sizable percentage of teachers holding master’s degrees.

The data about K – 8 schools should impact school board discussions about merging, closing, and consolidating schools. Before school boards move to close any community schools they should be prepared to explain to their stakeholders why student achievement in the case of their particular schools will not suffer.

Overall in Maine the trend is for achievement in students in higher poverty schools to begin to decline after the elementary school years. The middle school years, in other words, are the vulnerable point in our system.

View original post 133 more words

School Board Candidates Should Show Serious Engagement With Current Topics in Education | Rethinking Education

This should be required reading for School Board members, and those considering a seat!  ….as should Kathreen Harrison’s blog, “Rethinking Education”, featured on the Bangor Daily News’ Blogroll.

How might her suggestions help us improve education in RSU #50?

image“‘…an understanding of history, civics, geography, mathematics, and science, so they may comprehend unforeseen events and act wisely; the ability to speak, write, and read English well; mastery of a foreign language; engagement in the arts, to enrich their lives; close encounters with great literature, to gain insight into timeless dilemmas and the human condition; a love of learning, so they continue to develop their minds when their formal schooling ends; self-discipline, to pursue their goals to completion; ethical and moral character; the social skills to collaborate fruitfully with others; the ability to use technology wisely; the ability to make and repair useful objects, for personal independence; and the ability to play a musical instrument, for personal satisfaction.’~Diane Ravitch

“Many Maine school districts mention 21st century skills in their mission statements and strategic plans – yet most of our plans of study, and classrooms, remain essentially as they were half a century ago. We have adopted the rhetoric of school change while remaining fundamentally unchanged.

School boards, administrators, and teachers all contribute to setting the direction of a school district, however a district’s school board is the final decision-maker. If we want the less forward-thinking of our schools in Maine to catch up to those many years ahead of us in the direction of positive school change, we need school board members who are familiar with the educational landscape outside their own towns.

I suggest that potential candidates for school board should be required to visit exemplary schools in Maine and elsewhere before announcing their candidacy. They should be asked to share with the electorate their vision of excellent schools and their ideas for how to help schools achieve that vision. They should be required to demonstrate an informed engagement with topics in the national educational dialogue.

Decisions made by school boards impact the lives of students in their care. Those decisions should be based on knowledge about education. I urge school boards to adopt policies that will guarantee rigorous debate and informed decision-making.”

via School Board Candidates Should Show Serious Engagement With Current Topics in Education | Rethinking Education.

Letter From The Superintendent – BUDGET WORKSHOP APRIL 14, KATAHDIN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 6:30pm

monopoly“…it is becoming apparent that any significant savings to the towns, or increased opportunities for students will only come from the elimination of duplication of services….”

~Larry Malone, RSU #50 Superintendent

Read the pdf of Superintendent Malone’s letter to Municipal officials, et. al.:

Letter From The Superintendent of RSU #50

 

 

How Big is Too Big?

Image“The century-old trend towards school consolidation and ever bigger schools is driven by a peculiar logic. School consolidators, posing as modernizers and progressives, tend to rely upon a few standard lines.

“Student enrollment has dropped, so we cannot afford to keep your small school open. Now don’t get emotional on us. It simply comes down to a matter of dollars and cents.”

What’s wrong with this conventional school planning and design logic?  A growing body of North American education research on the “dollars and sense” of school sizeis exploding the myth and now suggest that smaller scale schools are not only better for students but, more surprisingly, more cost effective for school boards.  Whereas school consolidation and “economies-of-scale” were once merely accepted truths, supported by little evidence, newer studies are demonstrating that true small schools also deliver better results in academic achievement, high school completion rates, student safety and social connectedness….”

http://educhatter.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/school-size-and-consolidation-how-big-is-too-big/

Is School Consolidation a Good Idea?

“In her review of more than 100 studies on school size, Mary Anne Raywid of Hofstra Universtiy writes that the relationship between small schools and positive education outcomes has been  “confirmed with a clarity and at a level of confidence rare in the annals of education research.””

Peruse this compelling collection of evidence here:  Is Consolidation a Good Idea?

Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, s

Maine Consolidation Worked…

…..just not for rural children, taxpayers and communities.  Perhaps not, for YOU…

4167789427_0f84eaba69_z

“…So Maine consolidation has become what state mandated consolidation usually becomes — something the rich force on the poor for the sake of cutting their state aid….”
Read the entire article from the Rural Trust here:  Maine Consolidation Fight Twists Again

Column: Beware What School Consolidation Means

image“In Maine, protests from larger and wealthier towns won them exemptions from the state’s consolidation law. Fifty-five percent of the students in the state were in districts that were ultimately exempt from reorganization. Those districts forced to consolidate are mostly Down East, in the far north of the state, or in the “rural rim” between the interstate corridor and the Northern Territories. The anger was so profound that the Legislature amended the law to allow towns to back out of their consolidated district.”

Lesson 1:  You don’t save money, but you change who gets it.

Lesson 2: Consolidation is about closing schools, not districts.

Lesson 3: Consolidation is something the wealthy and powerful force on the less wealthy and less powerful.

Lesson 4:  Consolidation increases children’s time on buses and crimps participation.  

For more lessons, and a thorough explanation for each of these, read the entire piece by Marty Strange here:

What School Consolidation REALLY Means

UMaine Prof Says School Reorganization Law Proving More Negative Than Positive; Consolidation Effort Based on False Premise, Not Backed by Research

Image

Donaldson, who holds three degrees from Harvard University, said the greatest impact on educational attainment comes from the classroom itself and it is the classroom, not consolidation, where the emphasis should be placed.

“Teachers are our most precious educational resource next to students,” said Donaldson. “Teachers make the biggest difference in how much and how well kids learn. Smaller schools are more successful with difficult-to-teach kids and with social and citizenship development. Bigger schools aren’t as good at those things. The school’s leadership can make a difference, and the most powerful differences between schools are the school’s ability to challenge and support teachers’ ability to constantly improve. Bottom line: Schools, if poorly led and supported, can be obstacles to superb teaching and learning. It doesn’t automatically assure a school of raising achievement levels if they’re well led, because in the end, it’s the quality of the teachers that makes the difference.”

Read the full article by Will Tuell here:  Tuell: UMaine Prof Says School Reorganization Law Proving More Negative Than Positive

“Humble” Classrooms

th“I am one of many who believes that it is time for the state-mandated consolidation of school districts to be dissolved.

My reasons are many, the school bus that went by my home at 6 this morning being only one of them. If kids are going to spend much of their school day just getting there and back, conduct some classes on the bus.”

~the humble farmer

“Humbled” Policy….

th-1“….thousands of Maine people can now tell you that busing kids 20 miles to school “to save money” has nothing to do with improving education but does cause small towns to lose their identities and their sense of community.”

~The humble Farmer

 

The Value of Everything; The Price of ….

20140309-134023.jpg“…In small towns that still have a school, community members recognize it as the hub of local activities and a major resource to the town (Nachtigal, 1994). However, people often overlook the reverse–the important role the community plays in education. An example of this lack of recognition was evident in testimony given during a recent school consolidation hearing. One observer commented that no one mentioned the potential loss of family involvement in school affairs. Several writers have addressed the role of a healthy local culture in the nurturing of healthy people.

First, consider what is meant by a healthy community. Wendell Berry (1993) offered this definition:

“Such a community is (among other things) a set of arrangements between men and women. These arrangements include marriage, family structure, divisions of work and authority, and responsibility for the instruction of children and young people (119, 120).”

Read the article, in its entirety, here:  School and Community

Size Matters

the-truth-behind-in-like-a-lion-out-like-a-lamb-2867“Few aspects of education have been more thoroughly researched than school size; few findings have been more consistent; and few have been more consistently ignored….”

Read the full report here:

School Report – School Size

“…Those who say small schools are not “efficient,” or effective, need to cite the evidence, not just the rhetoric. …”

Pearls of Wisdom from our Coastal Cousins….

owlsljm“There are two provisions within the statute governing education in Maine, which if authorized by the governing RSU give communities increased influence in local schools – not local control, but choice over adding, funding and/or replacing courses and programs. These two provisions are MRSA 20-A 1478 and 1481-A. They allow you, the RSU Board, to establish and empower local school committees. They also permit municipalities to raise and direct funds for use in local schools over and above what is contained in the RSU budget. If you haven’t read them, I’d recommend you do. They represent a significant tool for the board to reach and substantively involve communities in the education of their children.”

Read the entire article here:

St. George Withdrawal RSU

Read the document containing MRSA 20-A  1478 and 1481-A here:

The Sinclair Act at 50: What History Tells Us about the Consequences of Consolidation | The Maine Heritage Policy Center

snowybus22“How much of the following sounds familiar? Maine people were told by the “powers that be” that the state’s schools were too costly. The problem, it was said, was that the educational system supported too many different schools and school districts, which resulted in wasted resources. It was argued that the solution was to create larger school districts and larger educational bureaucracies. Legislators in Augusta enacted laws eliminating countless community-led school boards across the state and handing over more power and influence to bureaucrats in Augusta. Though many people across the state protested this move, it went ahead anyway, despite few solid predictions about what might result.

This sounds very much like current efforts to consolidate Maine’s many school districts into fewer, larger ones, but it is actually what happened 50 years ago, when Maine last undertook a dramatic restructuring of its educational system with passage of the Sinclair Act. Though the 1957 law has often been heralded as a great step forward for Maine’s educational system, the Sinclair Act had many negative, long-term consequences that should throw a dose of cold water on the current debate about whether continued consolidation of our schools and school districts is right for Maine’s schoolchildren.

Here are the results of the Sinclair Act:

• The number of schools in Maine dropped by 40 percent, and the average size of each school doubled.

• As larger districts were put in place, the number of local community school boards making decisions about local schools plunged, halving in number between 1950 and 1975.

• As professional administrators and bureaucrats replaced community school boards, administrative costs increased. Per pupil spending on administration grew 406 percent, in 2002 dollars, from 1950 to 1980. Over that same period, the number of people working for the Maine Department of Education tripled.

• Though sold as a means of controlling spending, total per-pupil expenditures on K-12 schools continued to rise dramatically, increasing 353 percent, in 2002 dollars, between 1950 and 1975.

Unfortunately, the state has set on the path of greater consolidation despite the evidence that it will not lead to significant budget savings. Instead, policymakers should revisit The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s plan, based on Education Service Districts, that would produce budget savings without the merging of school districts and creating of larger school bureaucracies”

See the full report here:

What-History-Tells-Us-About-the-Consequences-of-Consolidation

The Sinclair Act at 50: What History Tells Us about the Consequences of Consolidation | The Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Reel, Humble Wisdom…

SONY DSC“We will save you money.”

That’s the bait that trolls in the suckers.

We grow old too soon. Smart too late.”

~The humble Farmer, on School Consolidation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons From Our History – Old study weighs school consolidation costs

school-bus-steven-michaelA 1957 law intended to improve academic opportunity and reduce spending by consolidating Maine schools instead resulted in an increase in the cost of education”, a University of Maine professor said Friday. “By 1980, more than 20 years after passage of the Sinclair Act, both the number of administrators and the average per pupil expenditures had increased, even accounting for inflation”, said Gordon Donaldson, professor of education.

The Sinclair Act may have worked in some ways, but we don’t know what those are,” Donaldson told the Small Maine High School Coalition which met on the UM campus. “We do know it raised costs and reduced community and parental involvement.”

And there’s no evidence it increased quality.”

Citing statistics that he said haven’t been issued before, Donaldson pointed out that between 1940 and 1960, the average per pupil cost rose almost 90 percent, from $934 to $1,767, adjusted for inflation.

By 1980, however, a span of 20 years, per pupil spending increased to $3,908, or more than doubled.

The statistics were compiled by graduate students he taught as part of a history of education class, the professor said in an interview after his presentation.

“There’s no way of telling what education costs would have looked like without the law”, Donaldson acknowledged, “But we can say that the rate of expenditures per pupil increased a lot faster than it had been.”

Read the entire article here:

Old study weighs school consolidation costs – Three Rivers Community.

Video

Teachers Are Like Gardeners

 

 

 

As we settle in, pen in hand, piles of dog-eared, crinkled seed catalogues at our feet…. Enjoy two apt analogies for the teaching profession:

 

 

….and another, originally written for NCLB and adapted to the CCSSI…

A teacher is the best person to evaluate a student, period. They know them, they know the character of each incoming class– and they ARE different, just as each individual is different. Some classes go very smooth, others struggle. Even as the year progresses you find that certain topics engage them more, or are better or not so better understood.

My analogy is the teacher as a gardener. You start out with a solid plan to grow tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, etc. Each with an allotted space and anticipated production. So many variables out of your control are already in place: the weather (which changes every year), the soil makeup with yearly variances, pests of all sorts, new diseases, hail, and freezing, but you have the motivation and determination to do the best with what you have.

However as the season progresses, you notice that the tomatoes are coming along very nicely, but the carrots are a little sub-par. So after intimate examination along with your experience, you tweak the soil so you can at least get some reasonable carrot harvest. At the end of the season, you have some good crops, and some so-so. But what you have done is maximized the potential for each crop in a very dynamic system through your OWN daily interaction, one in which you don’t just “set it and forget it”. (The next season you start all over again, but you can’t just repeat what you did this year, because the variables will again change.)

So now you have all of your produce in a neat pile, and proud of yourself for all of the hard work, but already you reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and you start getting prepared for next year.

Now comes along some tool in a suit and clipboard and she says “I’m the (Common Core)!, …your carrots are 12.3 pounds short! and those tomatoes aren’t perfectly spherical and 3 inches in diameter. What? There’s no pineapples? Wrong Wrong Wrong! You are supposed to produce exactly 40 pounds of each product we specify, no more, no less, and you can’t grow anything from seeds not sold by us. So we are going to pay you less than the market rate. Also we are going to reduce the size of your plot because you can’t produce; obviously it’s your fault.” Then she sends you a bill for assessing you.

The (Common Core) is a Trojan horse. The intent is to break one of the last bastions of union organization by forcing a rigid system on something that needs flexibility and freedom. The setup for failure is obvious. With failure you can impose punishment. The mindset behind the Common Core is identical production, like in a factory. All work should be done by unquestioning and unpaid robots, doing the same motion repeatedly, making unliving plastic items of no use. The classroom is an organic system, which needs constant care and attention, best left to the gardener.

 

 

Visions and Values; Pondering the Public Forum…

6a00e5509ea6a1883401901d26bffd970bMany thanks to everyone who came out to the Visions Committee’s Public Forum last night, and sharing your core values with those who will be making some very serious decisions, and soon.

If you were there — read on!  I welcome additions/corrections in the “Comments” section; if not — read on!  It is not too late to let the Committee know how YOU envision the future of education here.

Table discussions revolved around changes in the community and the economy in addition to schools, and a gallery of post-it notes illustrated the feelings; the values of the people present.  Just before adjourning, we were given copies of draft Vision Statement, Mission Statement and Core Beliefs on which to scribble suggestions.  Here they are!  Any suggestions YOU make to revise them will be shared with the committee…..

RSU 50 Vision Statement (The Schools We Strive For)

“Provide an equitable, challenging, and personalized student education system, which fosters an excitement for learning that prepares each student for college, careers and global citizenship.”

RSU 50 Mission Statement (What We Do To Get There)

“Develop and advocate for sustainable educational policies, effective school leadership, challenging curriculum, proven instructional practices, and diverse student-centered learning models provided in a safe, healthy, and respectful environment built on strong community partnerships.”

RSU 50 Core Beliefs (What We Act Upon)

1)  “We believe student success is our top priority, and their voices will be heard.”

2)  “We believe each school provides a safe, caring, and supportive learning environment that fosters innovation, creativity, wellness, teamwork, and self-expression for everyone through diverse experiences.  This is achieved by celebrating the preserving the unique character of our communities, where families and schools are in partnership.

3)  “We believe success is attainable for all students, holding them to high expectations.  This is achieved by providing instruction by high-quality teachers who will provide students with skills, behaviors and knowledge to be productive citizens by modeling civic responsibility, social justice and multicultural understanding.”

“*Core beliefs will be reviewed based on the work provided tonight.  Please feel free to add comments as well.”

The emphasis on that last bit is my own.  The Committee will be revising the above statements based on what they hear from YOU.  The next meeting date is, as yet, unavailable, but when I find out I’ll post it.  It doesn’t matter how you choose to contact the Committee — either directly, or, of course, if you want to post here I will see that they have it….  But please, get in touch.  Have your say.

From MSAD #25 to RSU #50 — Where are the Savings?

ImageSeriously?  Where are they?  Let’s don some green eye-shades and look over the numbers.  I know — not my idea of a great time either, but with so much at stake, here…..

I am posting the “Before” and “After” budgets sans analysis because, well, many heads are better than one.  …..and, I confess, all of them are better than mine.

So, without further ado…!

2010-2011 School Budgets Compared

Please share your thoughts and expertise with us in the Comments section!

“Humble” Wisdom…

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” – H. L. Mencken
School Consolidation plays into our clear, simple assumptions…..

Timbered Classrooms...

Please come to a public forum and share your vision for education in the region:  Monday, February 10th @6:00pm at Katahdin Elementary School

“Lose your school. Lose your community.

School administrative districts were no more than a scam and a few people have finally figured out that it would be nice to keep the control and the tax dollars in town. Oh, it would also be nice to keep the kids in town. But getting the control and the money back is the main thing. You will not get your schools back in town without a fight. There’s too much money at stake. And it’s fun to spend other people’s money.”

~Robert Karl Skoglund, “The Humble Farmer”

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