Letters to the Editor, Feb. 6
Attacks on social media hurt school district
Your excellent Jan. 30 report on Montclair's achievement gap (“Inside the Gap,” page 1) laments the high turnover in leadership in the school district and its impact on sustaining a program to close the opportunity gap. You need to look no further than your page 2 story, “Controversy,” [about parents accusing the interim schools superintendent of racism] for a cause.
It seems to be impossible to serve in a paid, volunteer, or political position in Montclair without being savaged, sometime frequently, on social media. The attacks are shared and amplified in the social media echo chamber, often by people with no direct knowledge of the “crime.”
Why, then, are we surprised that we cycle through multiple school superintendents? Why are we surprised when school board members (volunteers) resign to protect their families from abuse? Why, given our track record, would any talented sane person want to serve here?
Third-grade math achievement is predictive
The Jan. 30 article on the achievement gap ("Inside the gap," page 1) raises many important points. Alas, it mentions math only once, and doesn’t discuss the need for improvement in the first three grades. The 85-page Achievement Panel Advisory Report mentioned in the article also did not mention K-3 math although it did observe that the long-term achievement of students can be predicted by their achievement in third grade.
The change in math achievement of students whose K-3 math education has improved is often dramatic, but Montclair has refused to address this issue, as has New Jersey. When I asked 75 New Jersey African American mathematicians in the 1980’s what could be done to increase African American participation in mathematics, the response was uniform and emphatic. “Teach mathematics better in elementary school. The way it is now, if you aren’t taught it at home, you don’t learn it at all, so any ethnic group that is underrepresented will remain so until elementary schools change.”
I then won grants for helping third grade teachers learn more mathematics. The results were dramatic. Classes that had had medians of 20th percentile in math on standardized tests were quickly getting 60th percentile averages.
Montclair has been shameful. It refused to support teachers participating in my programs. Two participated anyway, but afterward one was switched against her will to teach social studies full time.
What can be done? I am no longer active in this, but our township has some excellent math teachers in the middle and high schools who with released time probably would enjoy performing miracles that would make their lives easier in the long run.