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:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Are Lynn Students Prepared for the SAT?

Previous posts looked at Lynn's test scores in terms the MCAS and AP exams. Here we look at how Lynn high school students taking the SAT fare on the oft used college entrance exam. 

Below are the average 2009-10 SAT scores for Lynn along with eight other similar districts (in terms of demographics).

New Bedford449436457

Out of a possible 800 on each section of the exam, Lynn students tend to score in the mid-400 range. This is consistent with scores achieved by students in similar districts. It should be noted that approximately 412 students took the SAT during the 2009-10 school year with 45% of the test taking population being male and 55% female. Further demographic analysis reveals that the majority of students taking the SAT that year were either Caucasian (38.3%) or Hispanic (32%). 

In terms of SAT participation, of the 412 students taking the exam 166 were from Lynn Classical, 210 from Lynn English and 36 from Lynn Tech. Scores at individual scores varied such that the average scores at each high school were as follows:

Lynn Classical 
Reading: 453
Writing:  432
Math: 470

Lynn English
Reading: 437
Writing: 428
Math: 449

Lynn Tech
Reading: 385
Writing: 356
Math: 392

See below for a comparison with other communities on the North Shore.


From this we see that while Lynn's SAT scores are consistent with similar communities, they are much lower than surrounding communities particularly Marblehead. A major contributing factor to this difference is likely a difference in resources - students in towns like Marblehead and Swampscott not only attend schools that are better funded than the Lynn schools, but are also more likely to be able to afford SAT tutors and/or test prep guides. Additionally, students in wealthier communities often have the opportunity to take the exam more than once which results in higher test scores the second or third time around. 

Again, while test scores are the most important indicator of academic success, exams like the SAT can serve as the gateway to college acceptances. It is important to know these numbers so we can better understand the ways in which Lynn can better prepare and aid its high school students in getting that coveted college acceptance letter to the school(s) of their choice.

*All Data Taken From:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This Day in History: November 22

-Denver, Colorado is founded, 1858

-Charles de Gaulle, French military general and statesman, is born, 1890

-Lebanon gains independence from France, 1943

-U.S. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, TX, 1963

-Juan Carlos is declared King of Spain following the death of Francisco Franco, 1975

-Angela Merkel becomes the first female Chancellor of Germany, 2005

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lynn School Committee Election Results Survey

A relatively small number of people responded to the LSC Election Results Survey posted here. Still the responses were interesting. The question was:

How do you feel about the results of the Lynn School Committee Election?

Extremely Satisfied: 16.7%
Satisfied: 50%
Ambivalent: 0%
Dissatisfied: 33.2%
Extremely Dissatisfied: 0%

Science: The Forgotten MCAS Subject Test

A recently released study completed in California found that the state is failing to provide high quality science instruction to its elementary school students.

After surveying teachers, principals and district administrators in 300 public schools, the study found that only 10% of elementary students regularly experienced hands-on science practices. Additionally, it found that elementary school teachers in California spent 60 minutes or less each week (compared to the recommended 90 to 135 minutes) teaching science. Reasons cited for the poor quality of elementary science programs included a lack of funds for supplies, inadequate teacher training in this particular subject area, and the intense focus on improving math and English Language Arts (ELA) scores.

California is not the only state in which public schools seem to be focusing on math and English language almost to the exclusion of other subjects like science and social studies. There are some elementary schools in Lynn, MA where students only engage in social studies related activities for approximately 100 minutes per week and science for 180 minutes but math for 425 minutes and ELA for 450 minutes. Some may blame teachers while others focus on the testing mandates put in place by the No Child Left Behind legislation. Either way, there are whole subject areas in which our youngest students are not receiving adequate instruction time. 

In Massachusetts, in addition to taking math and ELA MCAS tests in grades 3 - 8 and 10, students also take a science subject test in grades 5, 8 and 10. Making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), however, is solely dependent on a school or district's math and ELA scores. As a result, there seems to be less focus on the science MCAS when test results are released in September. In fact, increases or decreases in test scores are almost exclusively discussed in terms of how schools performed on the two "major" subject areas. This article about the Lynn Public Schools' performance on the 2011 MCAS tests only briefly mentions the science tests that students are required to take:

So how are elementary students in Lynn faring on the science MCAS test? Overall, 27% of 5th graders in Lynn scored proficient or better on the science MCAS while 47% scored in the "Needs Improvement" range and 26% in the "Warning/Failing" range. For a comparison, these numbers for Massachusetts as a whole were: 50% proficient or advanced, 36% "Needs Improvement," and 14% "Warning/Failing." Below is the percentage of students who scored proficient or better on the 2011 science exam by individual elementary school.

Lynn Woods
Sewell Anderson

Here we see that proficiency rates vary across the Lynn school district. Some schools like Connery and Lynn Woods seem to be struggling in science education while others like Lincoln-Thomson, which uses a very specific science curriculum, are performing much better. Science-related test scores at the middle school and secondary levels are not much better as only 18% of 8th graders scored proficient of better on the 2011 MCAS while less than half (47%) of 10th graders were proficient in science in 2011.

While math and ELA are important subjects, students also need to learn social studies and science, among other subjects, as well. It is also important to note that literacy, writing, and math can and should be incorporated into all subject areas such that students learn to utilize certain skills in a variety of ways. For example, math could be taught as an individual subject but could also be taught in science class in terms of using calculations for experiments. Writing and reading comprehension skills can be taught and/or reinforced during a history lesson. So, while ELA and math are important, coming up with creative ways to incorporate skills and lessons taught in these subjects into other areas may be important to ensure that Lynn (and other) students are receiving a well-rounded education.

[Editor's Note 11/22]: Lynn Woods teacher Mrs. Kennedy noted that when looking at these scores one should consider the schools demographics in terms of general education and special education classes. She explained that Lynn Woods has one special ed and one general ed class in the 4th and 5th grades while Lincoln-Thomson has all general ed classes in both grades. So while both schools (LW and L-T) use the same science curriculum, Lincoln-Thomson seems more apt to perform better overall on these standardized tests. While I still assert that Lynn students need a well-rounded education that includes science, children in the city may not be receiving "inadequate" science instruction as indicated by the test scores above. In addition to quality instruction time, there are certainly other factors at play (learning disabilities, psychological factors, motivation, etc.) which ultimately affect students' test scores.

*All Data Taken From:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

America's Poorest Cities

After reading this wonderfully uplifting (-__-) article about the financial troubles that Detroit is facing, I wondered what other U.S. cities are facing similar rates of extreme poverty.

Per the New York Times, these are the 10 cities with the highest poverty rates in 2010.

1. Reading, PA
Percentage below poverty line: 41.3%

2. Flint, MI
Percentage below poverty line: 41.2%

3. Bloomington, IN
Percentage below poverty line: 39.9%

3. Albany, GA
Percentage below poverty line: 39.9%

5. Kalamazoo, MI
Percentage below poverty line: 38.8%

6. Brownsville, TX
Percentage below poverty line: 38.6%

7. Gary, IN
Percentage below poverty line: 38.3%

8. Detroit, MI
Percentage below poverty line: 37.6%

9. College Station, TX
Percentage below poverty line: 37.3%

10. Pharr, TX
Percentage below poverty line: 37.1%

Cities with some of the highest unemployment rates in the country include El Centro, CA (29.6%), Yuma, AZ (27%), Yuba City, CA (16.5%) and Merced, CA (16%) (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

While publications like the Wall Street Journal are reporting that the US recession scare has passed, there still seems to be many Americans across the country who are struggling to survive financially.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Vocational School Enrollment: Declining Numbers Across the Board?

In a previous post about the dropout rate in Lynn, I noticed something interesting about Lynn Vocational Technical Institute's (LVTI) enrollment over the last five years - it has declined substantially from where it was just 5 or 6 years ago. See below:

LVTI Total Population1,1531,1181,1651,066882

During the 2005-06 school year, Lynn Tech had an enrollment of over 1,100 students; by 2009-10, it had decreased to 882 students; Lynn Tech's enrollment in 2010-11 had further decreased to just 809 students.

As the emphasis in education these days seems to solely be placed on attending college and increasing the number of college graduates in the U.S., it makes sense that the enrollment at a vocational school would decline. Lynn Tech's declining numbers may not, however, be indicative of a larger trend away from vocational education. That leaves us to wonder what's happening in other vocational/technical schools across the state and how similar or dissimilar Lynn Tech's enrollment situation is when compared to other vocational schools.

Below is a table tracking the total enrollment for vocational/technical schools in Massachusetts from 2005-06 to 2009-10. Vocational schools in Massachusetts whose numbers decreased considerably over this 5 year period are highlighted in yellow.

Assabet Regional Vocational Tech916925930933963
Blackstone Valley Regional Voc Tech9239931,0451,1031,136
Blue Hills Regional Vocational Tech826851851844842
Bristol County Agricultural 430435429429441
Bristol Plymouth Regional Voc Tech1,0791,1191,1631,1951,206
Cape Cod Regional Voc Tech721686723702683
Essex Agricultural Technical 420439449442462
Franklin County Regional Voc Tech543526525517511
Greater Fall River Regional Voc Tech1,3111,3511,3541,3541,352
Greater Lawrence Regional Voc Tech1,4851,4621,2611,1701,195
Greater Lowell Regional Voc Tech 1,9351,9191,9441,9061,993
Greater New Bedford Regional Voc Tech 1,9942,0112,0222,0642,106
Lynn Voc Tech 1,1531,1181,1651,066882
Medford Voc Tech 262257252255232
Minuteman Regional Voc Tech 703653638625583
Montachusett Regional Voc Tech 1,2691,3011,3231,3411,355
Nashoba Valley Regional Voc Tech 561601619642662
Norfolk County Agricultural 457468459454470
North Shore Regional Voc Tech 457465443447451
Northampton-Smith Vocational Agricultural 457484453460464
Northeast Metropolitan Regional Voc Tech 1,2091,2581,2441,2451,249
Northern Berkshire Regional Voc Tech491516511500500
Old Colony Regional Voc Tech558582569572583
Pathfinder Regional Voc Tech657652649615645
Putnam Voc Tech 1,1631,3281,4711,5861,626
Shawsheen Valley Regional Voc Tech1,2261,2461,2581,2681,300
South Middlesex Regional Voc Tech715708638632642
South Shore Regional Voc Tech592592592548595
Southeastern Regional Voc Tech 1,2191,2021,2331,2511,257
Southern Worcester Regional Voc Tech1,0611,1061,1051,0971,115
Tri County Regional Voc Tech851896916916964
Upper Cape Cod Regional627629653648672
Westfield Voc Tech516499499482468
Whittier Regional Voc Tech1,1451,1021,0911,1781,206
Worcester Technical1,0631,1991,2681,3441,391
Wm J Dean Voc Tech 718771750663652

From this we see that vocational school enrollment is not necessarily declining at all schools. There are really only six vocational schools that showed a steep decline in students from 2005-06 to 2009-10. It is interesting to note that three of the six schools whose enrollment decreased are not regional vocational schools (Westfield Tech, Dean Tech-Holyoke, Lynn Tech). Perhaps being a city vocational school as opposed to a regional one contributes to this particular issue; because non-regional vocational schools only take students from one city, changes in the educational climate or attitude may resulting in a smaller number of students seeking a more technically oriented education. Regional vocational schools, on the hand, like North Shore Tech sometimes use an admissions process, so a decline in interest for this type of education can be off set by simply enrolling more of the students who do apply. On the flip side, some of the schools listed here actually saw huge increases in their student populations (ex. Assabet, Worcester, Putnam- Springfield). Thus, overall, there may not be a total lack of interest in vocational education in Massachusetts like we are seeing in Lynn. An important step for the administration at Tech and the school committee would be to pinpoint why students are choosing not to go to Tech (stigma, lack of knowledge about school, transportation). Highlighting the benefits of a technical education especially for those who do not enjoy more "academic" subjects could not only be one potential avenue toward reducing the dropout rate in Lynn, but would also ensure the existence of a school with a hands-on approach to learning for future Lynn youth.