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Taxpaying Public Needs To Hear Proposals That Are Research, Evidence-Based

Jamestown’s superintendent of schools released his three-part plan addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE): aligning high school courses with business needs; utilizing the now vacant Rogers School, relabeled as Success Academy, for traumatized students; and operating a K-5 summer literacy program.

On a positive note, Apthorpe released his plan prior to, we hope, any fiscal expenditures. This gives time to analyze what he proposed as his plan raises a number of issues. Yes, adverse childhood experiences can be traumatic for children. We wonder, however, if the numbers are sufficient to warrant opening an entire building populated with numerous and expensive multi-disciplinary staff ? Additionally, we wonder if his plan is validated by any research?

It would take a lot of children utilizing these services and flowing daily through Rogers School to warrant the cost of heat, electricity, maintenance, and custodial services. Jamestown residents already pay proportionately among the highest taxes in the nation. Undoubtedly, the superintendent’s plan will add to the taxpayers’ bill, perhaps substantially. Grants are merely temporary ventures.

Moreover, human nature being what it is, we can see that the availability of such a facility will guarantee that the ACE population grows. “Adversity” is a word that is ripe and broad in meaning. Just as occurs with special education, teachers will over-identify children whose complaints fall under the rubric of pest, troublemaker, disciplinary problem, you name it.

There is no stronger hold on a child than his immediate family and home environment. It is very difficult to break the cycle when the child remains in the same environment. Parenting skills and home environment need to be developed, but that’s not the job of schools. It is the realm of social services and county mental health.

Yes, our district has a high poverty rate, but many families also receive generous welfare benefits, far greater than other states. It’s a truism that many adults grew up poor but didn’t know it; generally, childhood isn’t aware of poverty unless it’s truly deep. Most people on welfare have cell phones, computers, TVs, and other luxuries. It is erroneous to label poverty as an ACE. Stated emphatically, poverty does not cause school failure.

If Mr. Apthorpe’s thinking prevailed, nearly three-quarters of district students would be stuffed into Rogers School receiving services from a “school that loves kids,” a very trite and meaningless phrase! By eliminating poverty as an ACE, the problem immediately is reduced to far more manageable numbers whereby students can be referred to county services. Unrealistic focus upon a 72 percent poverty rate leads to impractical thinking, as we are observing. I

To his credit, Apthorpe expressed alarm over the district’s “staggering” state test results with many failing children and a very low graduation rate. But he goes on to say, “Something’s got to be different because we’re not getting the results…that we need.” Here is “something different,” Mr. Apthorpe; it is research-based, and it works. Citing E.D. Hirsch, Daniel Willingham, and Robert Marzano, Jason Caros wrote in “The Missing Link in Reading Comprehension & Academic Achievement”: “Research from cognitive science reveals a powerful correlation between academic achievement and general knowledge (r = .81).” Marzano said that this “should be at the top of any list of interventions intended to enhance student achievement.”

Again, Mr. Apthorpe is referred to research in the document sent to Secretary DeVos with copy delivered to him (see pages 33-42) where Nelson wrote about the very same thing. It entails effective decoding, reading fluently, developing broad vocabulary from many domains, reading sufficient high quality literature, building a broad knowledge base, even memorizing. Reading comprehension is domain specific. That means reading in many different areas of knowledge must be developed systematically.

Further, Mr. Apthorpe is urged to re-read Nelson’s opinion article, “Failure in Jamestown’s Schools Largely Owes to Curriculum” (Mar. 4, 2018), where Robert Pondiscio describes the latest meta-analysis for this very effective curriculum described in the DeVos document. It works especially well for low-SES students. If the superintendent wants better results for district children, he must implement far stronger curricula. It is poor curricula and inadequate teaching that are causative factors in low literacy and mathematics attainment.

Eliminate the dastardly Common Core; it doesn’t work! The state education department and Board of Regents are holding our students hostage with garbage standards, inadequate curricula, and faulty tests. Instead, implement grade-level reading tests; these will provide teachers with quick and relevant information in identifying problem areas. End-of-year state testing is useless for this purpose.

Apthorpe calls for aligning the high school curriculum with business. But that’s not educating! We’ve been down that road: a weak curriculum with no research validation was propagandized to make children “college and career ready.” Did the superintendent learn nothing from this disaster? Apthorpe called the testing evidence “staggering,” but his proposal contains much that is similar to Common Core.

Educating means “leading forth.” It is the acquisition of knowledge and development of the inner life, preparation for leading one’s life. Currently, many students leave high school reading on a grade 8 level. The majority who enter college never complete a degree. We need more people entering the trades, not into leftist indoctrination college courses.

Research from three meta-analyses on summer school demonstrates that summer school makes almost no difference in literacy performance, especially for children of low socio-economic status (SES).

The effect size for low achievers (Apthorpe’s target group) is only (d = 0.12). With an effect size so low, no demonstrable change will be seen. With such limited results, will taxpayers find the cost of summer transportation and teacher employment a worthy expenditure?

The taxpaying public needs to hear proposals that are research- and evidence-based. Mr. Apthorpe’s proposal is weak and represents only more of the same: a recipe for continuing high failure rates. It should not be implemented, especially when powerful, effective alternatives are available.

Deann Nelson is a Jamestown resident.

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