By Scott Parks
On Thursday, Jan. 24, I'll stand before the Fairfax County School Board to testify against planned quick-fix changes to the county's Advanced Academic Program, because they, in fact, represent a rush to mediocrity.
Here is my written testimony to the board:
Chairman Moon, Ladies and Gentlemen of the School Board.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this important topic. Expanding access to Advanced Academic Programs is one of the most important initiatives we can undertake in Fairfax County. It saddens me, then, that I cannot in good conscience support this Proposal, as reflected in the motions of Members Strauss, Hynes and Storck. In the interest of brevity, I will summarize my concerns; I urge you to read the full testimony before you.
Advocates of these motions assert both the need to move quickly and the viability of their plan, based on predictions of dramatic changes in enrollment at both existing Center schools and the proposed new ones. These enrollment predictions are flawed. They are the product of a model that has repeatedly failed to predict individual school and class populations, appears to lack formal, statistical validation at the individual school level, and is even now planned for complete redesign or replacement (FCPS Enrollment Projections – Process and Accuracy, slide 8, http://www.fcps.edu/fts/planning/fpac/enrollmentprojections.pdf ).
I call your attention to Figure 1 in my testimony (Enrollment Projections for Cooper MS Feeder Schools). The dotted lines represent a simple regression analysis of historical populations at four Cooper feeder schools; the color bars are the corresponding FCPS predictions. The differences between them clearly show that these FCPS enrollment projections are wildly understated. In fact, this analysis, based on actual historical data, indicates the likelihood that the FCPS 2014 predictions are correct is statistically ZERO. This means that Cooper, without a significant addition, WILL be overcrowded, and we will have to install trailers to accommodate all the students – but that won’t address the strain on the rest of the school’s infrastructure.
This assessment has even been echoed by Carol Horn, the AAP Coordinator, to Sloan Presidio, the Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services. When the AAP Coordinator questions the validity of the predictions, it is time to validate the model.
I am proud that Fairfax County provides an education recognized nationally for its quality, an education that is free, public, and available to all – or should be. But I believe that expanding the AAP program in name only, without ensuring its quality and improving access to those most in need, is disingenuous at best. In the absence of clear and binding guidance on the Board’s expectations on teacher qualifications; AAP, Honors and General Education course assignments; minimum AAP populations for effective education; facility repurposing and the like, tonight's motions would create AAP programs to “check a box,” to the detriment of all our children. For example:
Current plans would staff the Cooper Center with teachers who have neither the state gifted endorsement nor the FCPS AAP endorsement, exploiting a loophole in FCPS regulations.
We don’t know what is planned to ensure equal access to advanced classes, should the number of prepared students fall below a full class size, or where the funds would come from.
Work Order DC407 repurposes Cooper MS resources, to the detriment of many General Education students. If anyone wonders about the impact of the new AAP Center on Cooper General Education, this clarifies the situation. Shop will be lost. Art will be reduced. ESOL will be impacted. And General Education Science resources will be diverted to AAP.
Additionally, losses to established language and music programs at Kilmer and Longfellow will affect all students there, and be poorly offset by the possible creation of new programs at Cooper.
Finally, how does creating new Centers at Cooper and Thoreau, in areas already well-served by existing Centers, ensure equal access and opportunity, regardless of where a student lives?
These are not just abstract concerns. There are very real impacts on the quality of our children’s education.
I strongly urge each and every one of you to stop, take a breath, and support the motion put forward by Ms. Kaufax. Let’s stop this rush to failure.