Friday, December 30, 2011

Thinking about School Choice in the Context of the Lynn Public School System

Reading this guest commentary by Mary Levy posted on the blog All Things Education served as a catalyst for thought about the desire for school choice within the Lynn Public School  (LPS) system, a district which has been deemed to be under performing by the state of Massachusetts. While this particular topic locally has been sensationalized (and somewhat racialized), there is a real need for discussion about the  want for more educational choices in "low performing" Lynn and the factors that contribute to the burgeoning push for school choice among parents in the city. Most salient was the point by Levy that in the Washington, D.C. public schools there have been many determined parents who sought to improve their neighborhood schools, but were mostly "ignored or rebuffed." Perhaps, this is (a major) part of the problem in Lynn as well. As local education blogger Stanley Wotring notes, LPS, either through their actions, tone, or overall unresponsiveness (real or perceived), may actually discourage parents from actively being involved in their child(ren)'s education despite the school system's call for an increased parental presence.

More importantly, however, there may be a disconnect between how parents and community members view the Lynn public schools and how the school committee/superintendent/mayor view them. At the superintendent's evaluation on December 21, 2011, the majority of school committee members praised the superintendent and the current state of the Lynn public schools. One statistic that many of the school committee members keep reiterating is that, among similar districts in terms of size and demographics, Lynn is ranked first. This statement has been held up as a positive indicator of Lynn's academic quality given certain contextual factors (high poverty, substantial English Language Learner/Limited English Proficiency population) despite what some may call sub par standardized test (MCAS) scores  (51% of students proficient in English language arts, 41% in math in 2011). Additionally, the dropout rate in 2009-10 was indeed not the worst in the state at 5.4%. Though these numbers may be the best among urban districts, it is debatable whether or not the Lynn citizenry should accept this as adequate or "not that bad" as there is the potential for great improvement. The fact that even high performing communities like Marblehead and Weston are actively trying to improve their test scores further underscores the need for Lynn to follow suit in light of its much lower standardized test scores. It does, in fact, appear that many parents do not accept that Lynn's current academic performance as the best the city can produce. While some parents  are less critical and simply want the district to progress in a positive fashion, other parents/community members hold very negative opinions about the school system, regardless of where it stands in comparison to other districts. Unfavorable sentiments about LPS from a less than satisfied faction of the Lynn population have appeared on the message boards/comment sections of various blogs and media outlets.

One parent, whose son was placed in an out-of-district placement, remarked:
"Would I go back? Would I move him to a Lynn middle school? Not on your life. If I can help he'll never be in another Lynn school." [source: Lynn School Watch]
Another parent moved away from Lynn in order to avoid having to send her child to public school in the city: 
 "I own multiple properties in Lynn and the sole reason I moved...was because of the horrific schools in Lynn. It was a wake up call to me as a parent when I actually first hand toured schools in the city. There are no gyms and outdoor areas at many of the schools. The class sizes are large. Police even need to be present! I hope someday things change. Until then most people who can will send their kids elsewhere." [source: Lynn-Side Edition]
 Of one particular elementary school, another parent said that was
"No discipline where needed, no organization and appropriate supervision of students. There is no adequate communication between teachers and parents. In process of trying to move my child out of that environment."[source:]
While another said
"There is no communication directly with the parents - until it's too late to correct a problem. My personal experience with this school was very unpleasant and stressful and I will NEVER recommend this school to anyone. The tone used to communicate with parents is offensive. Not to mention it's an under achievement school-extremely under achievement [sic]." [source:]

So, in the context of Lynn, what is school choice really about? Certainly the want for more school choice in the city is partly due to low test scores, questions about academic rigor, a higher than average drop out rate and concerns about bullying/school safety. The other, potentially more important factor, however, is a system that does not seem to be responding in tangible ways to parental concerns about the school system; refer back to  two of comments included here which cite a lack of communication among the parent's criticisms. Thus, the combination of negative sentiment toward LPS and an administration/elected school committee who is thought to be failing to address the schools' "poor" academic achievement while simultaneously appearing to invalidate parental concerns has resulted in a growing push for easily accessible school choice.  Here I specifically mention 'easily accessible' school choice as those with means have long been able to send their children to private or parochial schools like Sacred Heart, North Shore Christian or St. Mary's while low income parents have historically been left with their local public school which may be of poor academic quality. At the national level, the growing movement for 'school choice' has come to specifically mean charter schools or sometimes publicly funded vouchers given in order for low income students to attend private schools. In Massachusetts, there are 79 charter schools with six charter applications currently being reviewed by the state. With the advent and increase in tuition free charter schools in Massachusetts some of which produce high test scores when compared to the local district, parents with less resources in cities like Lynn are now also able to seek alternative educational environments for their children like their more well-off counterparts. In Lynn, parents can enter their child(ren) into the lottery for placement at KIPP Academy Lynn which currently serves grades 5 - 9 or the Phoenix Charter School (Chelsea) which serves grades 9-12 (other charter schools in the area do accept Lynn students if there is space available). KIPP, in particular, fills a significant need as an educational alternative because of the grades it serves (middle school level) especially when one considers that two of Lynn's three middle schools are currently among the bottom 20% of schools serving common grades statewide.

Particularly with regard to the city's lowest performing schools, it seems as though the topic of Lynn's educational quality has long been discussed without any real positive change or publicly stated plan of action. How many unflattering articles have appeared in The Daily Item and the Lynn Journal about LPS and, yet, some in positions of power still claim to not know of any dissatisfaction with the school system. Therefore the issue of school choice in Lynn may actually stem the fact that many parents may feel ignored or rebuffed when it comes to their concerns as Levy notes in her piece about the DC public schools. A fundamental partnership or alliance between the schools and parents (generally speaking) does not appear to exist in LPS due to negative experiences some have had with teachers, principals, the school committee or the school administration. Moreover, if LPS was under performing, but people had faith in the schools' leadership and future trajectory and also felt as though their issues/concerns/criticisms were not falling upon deaf ears then the desire for choice would likely not be as strong as it currently appears to be. As commenter Victoria Young states "The single biggest issue we face in this the failure to listen to people." So while School Committee member Rick Starbard may hope to hold off another charter school in Lynn, in the current climate in which LPS does not appear to be progressing to the general public's satisfaction and parents do not feel heard, this may not be possible as parents continue to seek, and possibly demand, schools that will adequately respond to their needs.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This Day in History: December 20th

-The Virginia Company loads three ships with settlers and sets sail to establish Jamestown, VA, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, 1606

-National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam is formed, 1960

-Nato begins peacekeeping in Bosnia, 1995

-Macau is handed over to the People's Republic of China by Portugal, 1999

-Brittany Murphy, American actress, died, 2009

-Holiday: International Human Solidarity Day

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Massachusetts' Lowest Achieving and Least Improving Schools

In previous posts, I discussed Lawrence's designation as a Level 5 district which led to its state takeover and the Lynn Public schools own accountability ratings. Here we look at the Massachusetts schools that have been deemed a Level 4. Once again, a Level 4 rating occurs when a school is among the lowest acheiving and least improving Level 3 schools serving common grades statewide regardless of NCLB Accountability Status. There are currently 40 Level 4 schools in Massachusetts as of November 2011. A large number of these schools are concentrated in just a hand full of cities - Boston (11), Lawrence (5), and Springfield (10). Additionally, more than half of the Level 4 schools identified by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) are elementary schools. 

Elementary (22)

Elihu Greenwood
John F Kennedy
John P Holland
Paul A Dever
William Monroe Trotter
Fall River
John J Doran
Arlington Elementary
Charlotte M. Murkland
EJ Harrington
Wm P Connery
New Bedford
John Avery Parker
Elias Brookings
White Street
Chandler Elem Community
Union Hill School

K-8 (3)

Orchard Gardens
Alfred G Zanetti

Middle School (9)

Harbor School
Fall River
Henry Lord
Matthew J Kuss
South Lawrence East
James F Leonard
Chestnut Street
John F Kennedy
M Marcus Kiley

High School (6)

Jeremiah E Burke
The English High
WM J Dean Voc Tech
Business Mgmt & Finance
International High School
High School of Commerce


Saturday, December 10, 2011

There are Some Good People in the Lynn Public Schools

While many in Lynn have (valid) concerns about our public schools and the quality of education here, there are some good things going on and quality people working the LPS. There is room for improvement in terms of academic related outcomes like test scores, the graduation rate, and school attendance. In solely focusing on these areas in which we need to improve, however, I think that we lose sight of the positives that exist in the Lynn schools. 

I'd like to draw your attention to a blog written by Lynn Woods teacher, Mrs. Kennedy called "Reading is Thinking" ( It's an interesting look at the quality reading/writing instruction currently going on at Lynn Woods. Contrary to popular belief, there are good teachers and positives aspects to the LPS!

Lynn Innovation School Set to Open Fall 2012

At the Lynn School Committee meeting on December 8th, Superintendent Latham described the new Innovation School set to open at the Washington Elementary School in September 2012 (the formal presentation by Julie Ierardi was cancelled last minute). Latham stated that the Innovation school would have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) focus/theme with partnerships with GE, MIT  and Gordon College opening with just grades K-3 to start. The reason behind this, according to Latham, is that 4th and 5th graders are probably well integrated into their current schools and the overcrowding problem is mostly concentrated in the lower grades. Thus, the goal in opening the Innovation school really is to reduce the overcrowding issue. As the presentation regarding the school did not occur as previously scheduled, there were many questions left unanswered.

  • Who will be running the new school? How will teachers for this school be hired?
  • What does a STEM focused school at the elementary school level look like? What exactly will the curriculum be?
  • How will the curriculum at the school differ or be similar to that of the other Lynn Public elementary schools?
  • How will students be assigned to this school?
  • Will there be an enrollment/class size cap?
  • What if students in this new school's zone/district want to remain at their current school or have a sibling in the 4th or 5th grade?
  • Will students outside the preferred school zone which appears to be Cobbett/Connery/Harrington be allowed to transfer in?
  • Will the school run on a longer school day/year similar to the Paul Revere Innovation School?

Only time will tell what form the Washington Innovation School (will it called that?) will actually take. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lynn School Committee Meeting: 12/8/11

Important issues to be discussed at this Thursday's (12/8) School Committee Meeting include:

  • Unfinished Business: Deputy Superintendent Position (Tabled by S.C. on 4/28/11)
  • A Vitamin D study which will hopefully take place at the Ford School
  • School Enrollment as of December 1, 2011
  • Superintendent's Evaluation
  • A Prospectus for Innovation Schools (presented by Juli Ierardi)

The SC meeting will take at 90 Commercial Street at 7:00pm. SC meetings can also be viewed via television, Channels 3/16 (Comcast) or Channels 37/38 (Verizon).

**For the full agenda regarding this week's meeting, see:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Levels 1, 2, 3,& 4: Lynn Schools & their Accountability Designations

As previously posted, the Lawrence Public System was labeled a 'Level 5,' or chronically  under-performing  district. It may be quite apparent that  Level 5 is a terrible distinction, but many may not know what this means in an official capacity. The Massachusetts School and District Accountability System, which ranks both schools and districts, was designed in order to gauge progress toward the ultimate goal of having all students in the state achieve proficiency in both English language arts (ELA) and math by 2014 as mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Depending on how well their students perform on the MCAS exam each spring, schools and districts are graded either a Level 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. As a district, Lynn is considered 'Level 4' because the most serious designation of any school in the district is Level 4. However, proficiency rates in ELA and math at individual schools in Lynn vary such that the districts currently has schools designated at each of the Levels 1 - 4. See below for a further explanation of each ranking as well as the schools in Lynn that fall under that category.

Level 1 occurs when
  • a school has no NCLB Accountability Status at all
  • is identified for Improvement Year 1 or Improvement Year 2 under NCLB (Aggregate or Subgroups)
Schools that have been deemed a 'Level 1' are as follows:

Lynn English
Fecteau Leary Jr/Sr High

*No Status - ELA
**No Status - Math
***No Status - All Subjects

Level 2 occurs when:
  • a school is identified for corrective action or restructuring under NCLB (Aggregate or Subgroups)
Planning requirements include revising the school improvement plan to reflect the implementation of one or more corrective actions or restructuring steps based on NCLB Accountability Status. 

Level 2 schools in Lynn are:

Lynn Woods
Sewell Anderson
Lynn Classical

**No Status - Math

Level 3 occurs when:
  • a school is among the lowest achieving and least improving 20% of schools statewide serving common grades, regardless of NCLB Accountability Status.
Lynn currently has seven Level 3 schools:

Lynn Tech

Level 4 occurs when:
  • a school is among the lowest achieving and least improving Level 3 schools statewide serving common grades regardless of NCLB Accountability Status.
Level 4 schools must implement a redesign plan that fulfills the requirements of the state Turnaround Plan that address the implementation of the Conditions for School Effectiveness. Some of the conditions include effective leadership, tiered instruction and adequate learning time, family-school engagement, and aligned curriculum.

Two elementary schools in Lynn have been labeled 'Level 4:'


Level 5:
  • a school is declared by the Board as requiring "Joint District-ESE Governance"

*For specific information regarding the 2011 MCAS scores for the Lynn Public schools, see

Lynn & the MCAS Part II - Elementary schools
Lynn & the MCAS Part III- Middle schools

[Editor's Note 12/5:] Callahan and Sewell Anderson, both Level 2 schools, were inadvertently left out of the original version of this post. They have since been added to the list of Level 2 schools.


Friday, December 2, 2011

This Day in History: December 2nd

-New York City's La Guardia Airport opens, 1939

-Fidel Castro becomes President of Cuba, 1976

-Enron files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, 2001

-Holiday: International Day for the Abolition of Slavery (International)

-Birthdays: Britney Spears, American singer (30); Nelly Furtado, Canadian singer (33); Cassie Steele, Canadian actress (22); Monica Seles, Yugoslavian tennis player (38); Carol Shea-Porter, former American Congresswoman (59); Aaron Rodgers, American football player (28)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

DESE Votes to Put Lawrence Public Schools Under State Receivership

On November 29, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) voted 10-1 to designate the Lawrence Public schools a Level 5, or chronically under-performing, district. This vote allows DESE Commissioner Mitchell Chester to appoint a receiver who would have all of the powers of both the superintendent and the school committee and would report directly to the commissioner. The receiver can be either an individual or a non-profit group with a proven record of success in improving the academic achievement of schools or districts deemed to be low-performing and/or in improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged students.The receiver is expected to be named within the next two weeks and will assume authority over the Lawrence Public Schools beginning in January 2012 with a Level 5 Plan to be implemented during the 2012-13 school year.

This decision comes after many years of poor performance in Lawrence, a district with five Level 4 schools, on ed-related indicators like  attendance rates, MCAS exam results and the dropout and graduation rates. In 2009-10, the dropout rate in Lawrence was 9.4% which translated into approximately 311 dropouts that year; the graduation rate for the same school year was 46.7% which is the lowest among any non-charter district in Massachusetts. The graduation rate at some Lawrence high schools is far worse than the average at the district level; the graduation rate for the High School Learning Center is 2009-10 was 2.5%. Below is a table listing the dropout rates for Lawrence from 2004-05 through 2008-09.


Another contributing factor to the poor academic performance in Lawrence may include attendance. Health and Human Services High School, for instance, has an average daily attendance rate of just 87.9% (compared to 92.8% for the district and 94.6% for the state). Students at the Humanities and Leadership Development High School averaged an astonishing 17.2 school absences in 2009-10 (the average for the state of Massachusetts was 9.3). Performance on standardized tests (MCAS) were also salient in the state's decision to intervene in Lawrence. At Arlington Middle School, for example, only 2% of 8th grade students achieved proficient or higher on the 2011 math MCAS while 68% received a "Warning/Failing" mark.

Below is a table listing the percentage of students achieving proficient or above on the 2011 MCAS results by grade for the Lawrence Public Schools.


Lawrence was voted into receivership not only based on this year's test results, but also based on the school district's test results (among other factors) over time.

Here are the percentage of students achieving proficiency or better on the math portion of the MCAS from 2008-2011.


Below are the same results for Reading/English Language Arts portion of the exam.


See here for student and teacher reaction to the state takeover of Lawrence schools.

*All Data Taken From: