I hope you’re enjoying the summer warmth!
It’s unusual to have a five-and-a-half-hour School Committee meeting in August, but there were two controversial topics on the agenda last week, namely elementary school schedules and Algebra instruction. Here are summaries of the latest developments (and a few photos of uplifting summer student showcases).
Elementary School Schedules
For context, Superintendent Greer informed the Committee months ago that her team was engaging in an independent audit of how CPS schools use their time. In the last couple of months, through conversations with educators and families, we became aware that the administration had issued new scheduling guidelines for elementary schools. As I stated at last week’s meeting, I am troubled that the Committee and the broader community (teachers especially) were not engaged in conversation about these districtwide changes earlier.
At the meeting, we learned that there was a wide variation in how much time students in our elementary schools were spending on individual subjects such as Social Studies, Science, and Math. I agree with the Superintendent that all our students should receive roughly the same amount of time on core subject instruction, and appreciate that this is a problem her team is trying to address. I was further reassured that the guidelines will allow for interdisciplinary curricula, as well as teachers adjusting schedules in real-time to meet the social-emotional needs of their students.
Photo caption: North Cambridge Courageous Conversations guided ten Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program students in identifying issues and possible solutions through photography.
My sense is that these guidelines have been received as a detailed mandate rather than a guide. At this point, I want to know that our educators understand they have flexibility – including flexibility about whether to pull students from "specials" (e.g. art, music) for interventions. I also still have questions about ensuring that our students, particularly our youngest learners, have sufficient time to run around, as well as to rest and digest all they have experienced in the day up to that point. I have requested further written communication from the Superintendent to educators, families, and the School Committee.
Algebra I in Eighth Grade
From many conversations with educators, alums, and families, I’ve come to recognize that requiring Algebra I in eighth-grade math classes throughout the city is a more complicated topic than it might seem. On one hand, we want all students to have the opportunity to take Algebra in time to take the more advanced, high school math courses that would show colleges they are prepared for college-level STEM programs. On the other hand, we’ve heard important cautions about how students who are struggling now might fall further behind. CPS Math leaders and other educators have highlighted the fact that Math is taught differently from Math pre-2010: now, students are introduced to deeper learning concepts, including algebraic equations, in earlier years, without a specific course title related to algebra.
Makeda was one of the photographers in Not Just Screenagers.
For at least two years, I have been asking questions behind-the-scenes and at some meetings about this equity issue. It got to the point where Members David Weinstein (no relation), Caroline Hunter, and I crafted a motion that would offer opt-in Algebra I immediately to all interested students and make eighth grade Algebra a citywide mandate in 2025.
A public School Committee roundtable meeting on this issue will take place in the fall with participation from Math education experts.
Photo caption: Betsy Bard, Micaela Leon Perdormo, and Allison MacLaury worked with another team of Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program students to create the moving We Were Here play about Polish women working at The Foundry in 1911.
I hope that implementing the Illustrative Math curriculum across grades K-12 will mean that all Cambridge students receive the rigorous Math instruction they deserve and we no longer can tell which feeder school a sixth grader attended by their Math proficiency. Certainly, CPS needs to provide training and support for teachers as they adopt this new curriculum and to use it in heterogeneous math classes.
This election cycle promises to shake up both the City Council and School Committee, with multiple incumbents deciding not to run again. There are eleven(!) candidates vying for six seats on the School Committee. While I love proportional representation for its democratic nature, it is dangerous for incumbents, as voters assume we’re safe and give their number 1 votes to new candidates. I still need your #1 vote to be reelected! If you have time to canvass voters, write to your friends, and/or donate, I would be grateful for your help.