In late January, we shared a draft of our community’s plan for our future schools and asked for your questions. Thank you to everyone who responded. Below you will find the questions we received and the answers. If you haven’t read the plan yet, it’s still on our homepage.

On Thursday, Feb. 20, we will present this plan to the Board of School Committee at 6 p.m. at Memorial High School. Join us and show the board how much community support there is for our schools, students, and city. Sign up at rsvp.manchesterproud.org.

Manchester Proud Responses to Community Questions on the Draft Plan

These questions were answered in partnership with the Manchester School District leadership team.

Leveling

    • How is de-leveling equitable?
  • National research, as well as the research done by EY-Parthenon on MSD leveling specifically, all point to leveling (the act of labeling and tracking students into specific courses) as a system that perpetuates racial and socioeconomic segregation and harms students assigned to lower levels. For example, research shows that if we take one group of students all showing similar achievement, and then we divide that group into two sections and place one section in a higher level and one in a lower level, the students assigned to the lower level end up with reduced achievement and increased gaps over time — even though they scored the same as the higher level beforehand. Leveling amounts to modern-day segregation for our diverse student populations.
    • Doesn’t de-leveling hurt the top students?
  • Research shows that when students are integrated and instruction is differentiated well, student performance is either maintained or increased across all student populations. In these settings, all students have access to a challenging curriculum, and the instructional methods, not the standards, are differentiated to meet students’ needs.
    • How will we support teachers in the continued transition to de-leveled classrooms?
  • As the district expands and continues its transition to de-leveling, targeted and aligned professional development is essential to support this transition, with a focus on differentiation and strategies for supporting higher need learners.
  • Project-based learning (PBL), which has already begun and which the plan calls for growing through more teacher supports, lends itself to de-leveling because it provides more investigative learning where learners explore real-life problems. This allows students in mixed ability groups to build strengths; PBL also provides a structure where small group teaching/re-teaching is possible within a heterogeneously grouped classroom.
    • Do you have examples of national data that support removal of leveling?
  • We suggest visiting this toolkit, which showcases several national districts who eliminated leveling in favor of more innovative and successful programs. We also highlight a few additional districts below:
  • High Tech High (San Diego, CA) succeeded in closing and erasing race-based gaps in honors enrollment by moving toward removal of leveling/tracking.
  • South Side HS (Rockville Center, NY)  — Of the students entering South Side High School in 1996, 32% of all African American or Hispanic and  88% of all White or Asian American graduates earned New York State Regents diplomas. Of those entering South Side in 2001,  just five years after de-leveling, 92% of all African American or Hispanic and 98% of all White or Asian American graduates earned Regents diplomas. In June of 2009, 95% of the school’s minority students graduated with Regents diplomas.
  • Here is a summary of relevant studies on leveling/tracking (see below for linked studies):
  • The  first  category  of studies,  which offered  a straightforward comparison of leveled and non-leveled classes with similar curriculum,  indicated that leveling does not affect achievement. As a group, those studies suggest that  leveling based on ability, without curriculum differentiation, has no effect on student learning.
  • The  second  group of  studies, comparing  high-track and low-track classrooms,  indicated that when the curriculum varies  with track, students in low-track classes learn  less than students in the higher tracks.
  • A  third  category  of studies  focused on the  impact of high-track  curriculum.   These studies   primarily measured   the effects of  accelerated  or enriched curriculum  on students of high, average, and  low achievement. High-achieving students  clearly benefited  from the enriched curriculum, and those few studies that measured the  effects  on average-  and low-achieving  students indicated that they benefited as well. That is, when more students were given the “high  track” curriculum, either by design or accident, their achievement rose regardless of the original level into which they were placed.
  • Should you wish to read additional studies or understand more about the examples above, we recommend the following:
  • MSD Presentation to the BOSC on Leveling, April 1, 2019.
  • Burris, C., Welner, K., and Bezoza, J. (2009). Universal Access to a Quality Education.
  • National Education Policy Center (2013). Moving Beyond Tracking.

Data Collection

    • What tools are being used to show growth in proficiency rates?
  • This is at the discretion of the district leadership to determine the right tools.  We would encourage an array of formative and summative assessments to give a more balanced and equitable picture of learners. (Formative assessment seeks to understand how a student is learning to improve the learning process in real time, while summative assessment looks to evaluate student learning at a specific point in time.)
    • What other ideas besides school climate surveys do you have for gathering student input?
  • While also at the discretion of the district to decide additional methods, student-led conferencing and self-assessments (as part of portfolio defenses) at the classroom level are another helpful way to gather student input, especially with a focus on their perspective on their learning, their growth, etc.
    • The plan talks about increasing data collection, but no mention of increasing current data analyst position from part to full time?
  • Rather than siloing data analysis to one position, the Action Plans intend to build capacity across the district team to understand the metrics they are aiming at (aligned with the pathway indicators), work in service of meeting them, and as a whole become a more data-savvy organization. 
  • A core focus of the revived network strategy, which will be staffed to support leaders and teachers, will focus on data collection, analysis, and interpretation of our goal metrics/pathway indicators, and subsequently how to support learners based on the needs that emerge.
  • Another core focus of the plan is establishing a Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) system across all schools, which aims to provide support to all students according to their needs. This also provides additional capacity and will focus on data analysis as well.

Organizational Structures 

    • Can you share a model of the Three Vertical Networks vs. the Current Four Feeder Patterns so we can better understand how these vertical networks will work?
  • This is a priority of the Superintendent to better organize the system in order to better support leaders with dedicated principal coaching, more intentional teacher supports through a more disciplined approach to Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) across the system, and MTSS coaching.
    • Is there a map/list/glossary of all the new jobs that are mentioned in this document?
  • There is not a map of new jobs, however, the district is currently working on developing an updated organizational chart that reflects the capacity that is needed to best realize the overall plan. District leadership will prioritize those needs. The new needs-based organizational chart will seek to provide clearer roles, responsibilities and evaluation criteria aligned with competencies needed for those roles.

Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs)

    • ELO’s are mentioned in the plan. Does the plan include training and support for the current ELO coordinators?
  • Yes.
    • The plan talks about increasing dual enrollment, however to be consistent with our current work should we continue to refer to them as HLO’s and include all of the opportunities we want to increase?
  • We are happy to adjust the language to reflect existing terminology.
    • Is it the intention of this plan to hire full-time ELO Coordinators at every high school as early as the upcoming school year (2020-2021)?
  • Please see the Action Plans for more detail. An additional ELO high school coordinator is recommended for hire in 2021 and a middle school coordinator in 2022.  Both are contingent upon leadership prioritization and funding.

Alternative Programs

    • How does the plan support Alternative Programs?
  • Alternative Programs are considered as an option under Magnet Schools and in conversations with community and district leadership, there is interest in better meeting the needs of a group of students for whom traditional school is a mismatch. 

Courses, Class Sizes, and Graduation Requirements

    • The plan included the work on the High School Program of Studies (POS), however I did not see any information about the Middle School POS?
  • At this time MSD has an approved and consistent POS that covers all 4 middle schools and was approved by the BOSC last year. While we have one POS for the middle schools, each school has a tailored cover and intro to capture any school specific info.
    • The section following “Improve District Course Catalogue” is quite vague. It sounds like options for students will be severely limited. How will this result in “content that reflects the backgrounds and lived experiences of our students” when we have such great diversity in our large student population?
  • Course content should absolutely reflect the diversity of the student population. Through culturally responsive trainings and other professional development focused on student-centered instruction and assessment, educators will be supported to help all students succeed in any content area. 
  • Manchester currently offers more courses than the Boston Public Schools (which has 50,000 more students than MSD). We do not assert that options for students will be severely limited, but a thorough review of existing offerings is necessary to ensure economic feasibility given the realities of Manchester’s budget and to optimize the allocation of district resources.  
  • Additionally, part of the plan is designed to increase student awareness of an array of extended learning opportunities (i.e., dual credit, VLACS, etc.) that collectively enhance student learning based on interest.
    • Why is there a maximum number of students listed as 20 for elementary school classes but only a minimum listed for high school? Will high school classes still be allowed to have class sizes of 30 or even more?
  • By state law, no high school class can have more than 30 students. Many districts in New Hampshire, such as Concord, also implement class size minimums of 15 students per high school course to be cost effective. There is a focus on lower class sizes in elementary school in particular due to community demand and potential for higher impact.  
    • How is raising grad requirements to 4 years of math and 4 years of science going to raise the graduation rate?
  • By raising graduation requirements, we are looking to help build a culture of high expectations and greater rigor for every learner.
    • If reducing class size is a goal, will reducing class size come first and hiring more people to tell us how to run our schools comes second?
      • The goals of this plan focus on increasing excellence and equity, within budget constraints.  Early grade class size limits are a research-based strategy to support excellence and equity. Reducing class size is not the goal, but rather a strategy to realize those goals.
    • Doesn’t Manchester have a teacher shortage?
  • This is a common misconception- MSD has roughly the same number of educators today as it did in 2013, when the student enrollment was nearly 17% higher.   
  • With a focus on a more holistic view of the system’s overall needs, analysis has illustrated a teacher shortage (and larger class sizes) in some schools, but a teacher surplus and very small class sizes in other schools. In order to combat this, we recommend teachers be placed more equitably throughout the district so that every child has access to the same class size opportunities. We invite you to review the data presentation at this link, where you can see teacher-student staffing ratios by school and grade level. 
  • The objective here is to ensure equity and excellence for all learners, while being conscious of fiscal sustainability.

Magnet Schools

    • Will the magnet schools have the same testing as regular schools? Will the magnet schools have to follow the same discipline procedures as regular schools?
  • Magnet schools will be held to the same level of accountability as the other schools in the district. The intent is to provide greater options for families and kids based on needs and interests- all policies related to rigor and discipline would be the same as other Manchester schools.

Facilities

    • Why does the plan not address the aging school buildings in MHT and the need for replacement/renewal?
  • This plan has been focused on equity and excellence; with that, the priority was to focus on assets and barriers surfaced in the research.  Teaching and learning, organizational effectiveness, governance, finances, and community partnerships were core places of focus. All goals and strategies in the plan are designed to support a transformational learning experience. 
  • Facilities are certainly an important component of the district, but this plan is focused on organizational structures, cultures and practices to enable transformation. MSD is currently working on a plan that follows the results of the previously commissioned facilities study and how they can further achieve our community’s aspirations. 

General Initiatives

    • Many of the initiatives listed are already in place in individual schools. One example is MTSS in grades K-2. Are you re-inventing the wheel?
  • It is our intention not to reinvent but to support and scale existing promising programming. This is why several initiatives throughout the plan are in fact already happening in the district – but they are happening in pockets rather than at scale. Our objective is that all students have the same opportunities and access.  
    • Manchester has STEAM programs across the schools at all multiple grade levels – what is the vision for these programs in this plan?
  • With STE(A)M as a core part of the graduate profile – created by the community at large – the objective is to integrate and support alignment of STEAM programming into teaching and learning more effectively and seamlessly. 

Other

    • Is this plan similar to others that you have written for other school districts? Or is this only for us?
  • This plan is completely customized for Manchester and is based entirely on the results of the large-scale community engagement efforts and additional MSD research and interviews, while leveraging the national expertise of our partners. 
    • Can you provide national examples of districts that have benefited from smaller boards and students with voting rights?
  • More than 80% of school boards nationally have just five to eight members in total (NSBA, 2014). For a district of this size especially, we recommend a smaller BOSC for greater efficiency. 
  • Nationally, districts and states vary in their approach to student representatives on school (and state) boards of education. Electing a student to the board with full voting rights isn’t yet a broadly popular idea nationally, but there have been early efforts in Maryland, where all school district boards elect a student with full voting rights through an application process, as well as some county districts in Georgia and Virginia. These early efforts have proved promising, with superintendents citing the value of student engagement on the board as a unique opportunity to not only increase students’ civic education, but promote greater student agency and voice in the governance  process.
    • New Hampshire law allows for students on school boards, but prohibits students from having voting rights. Why is this proposal in the plan?
  • While we understand this is not currently possible under existing policy, this proposal is in the plan as a long-term goal focused on lobbying the state for shifting its policy to encompass students with voting rights, to better reflect emerging national practice and prioritize the value of student voice in decisions affecting their well-being and education.