, Salem, MA


July 1, 2013

Column: Saltonstall vote was about results

This newspaper recently ran an editorial that both reflected and added to the confusion and misinformation that exists in regard to the School Committee’s recent discussion and pending vote on the issue of the appropriate number of school days for Salem’s school children.

The editorial writer focused entirely on the issue of equity and then proceeded to defend one side of the discussion. If you read the editorial, you would come away believing that the sole issue is equitability of services. Equity is indeed an issue to me, as it should be to all School Committee members and elected officials in a representative democracy. It was not and is not my major reason for reducing the amount of money spent on Saltonstall.

My rationale is quite simple. If something is not worth what you’re paying for it, stop paying. Saltonstall has not shown itself to be any more effective than a like school, according to the hard data we have on hand. At this point, it should be noted that testing experts agree that family income and parental education levels are usually closely related and that this combination is the single most powerful determinant of test scores.

Much of what has been said, printed and shouted from the rooftops is, essentially, anecdotal evidence provided by one side of an argument. It is my experience that defenders of any school/program can produce anecdotal evidence supporting their position. Unfortunately, the value of anecdotal evidence is in the eye of the beholder.

Evidence based on data is somewhat less biased. That evidence indicates that there has been virtually no performance difference between the Saltonstall and Witchcraft Heights schools. These two schools are compared because they have very similar populations. Saltonstall is in session 250 hours a year more than Witchcraft. One would expect there to be some difference in performance stemming from the extra 250 hours. Unfortunately, the difference is just not there and has not been there for some time. Indeed, it appears to be a “little-known fact” that Saltonstall slipped to Level 3 status in the last MCAS round. That has been either blithely ignored or explained as a “glitch.” Maybe. Maybe not.

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