Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mount Holly community

To the Editor,

I am concerned with the level of vitriol that I have observed in the Mount Holly community over the upcoming May 30th vote on the future of our schools. There are rational arguments to be made for each choice and we should respect each other’s opinions. I have complete confidence that the teachers at Mill River and Black River are equally passionate and committed educators who will do anything to help their students achieve their goals.

However, I am deeply disturbed by the lack of recognition and empathy for the dedicated people in our community who are devastated by the prospect of losing their jobs and their students, and for the young adults who may be losing their school. I understand that change may need to happen and that a school may need to close but please, let us not celebrate this as if we had just won the “big game”. To do this diminishes all of us and is disrespectful to those who have focused their careers on helping our children.

There is one other issue that I find deeply disturbing; the “informational” flier, Educational and Cost Comparisons of Area Schools. This has been circulated and quoted at meetings and in letters to various outlets. As it is unattributed, I am unclear about who the authors are but I can say that they are either extremely naive or intentionally disingenuous, cherry-picking only the information that supports their position. The data used does not consider all the different variables that affect both reliability and validity. Some considerations should have been given to sample size; were these random samples, are there demographic breakdowns examining poverty, gender, etc.?

I encourage you to go to the primary sites for this data.

On The Niche site you will find that The Black River students had a higher rating on Reading than the Mill River students (57% to 52%) even though it had a much higher poverty count (52% to 35%). Why did the authors chose to leave this fact out? The highly discussed Average SAT score for Black River relied on self-reporting and had a sample size of only 7. There can be no statistical comparisons based on these numbers yet again the authors chose to use them. Finally on the VTDIGGER site the authors chose to highlight that Mill River’s 11th grade math students scored the second highest in Rutland County, yet inexplicably the authors failed to inform us that the same cohort had the second lowest scores in Rutland County on the English Language Arts exam. I point this out not to denigrate any school but simply to point out the seemingly intentional misuse of data. I firmly believe that both schools are making strong progress helping each student succeed. In our small schools, each data point is not merely a statistic; it is a young adult in our town with his/her own set of aspirations and needs. Students in poverty do best when classes are small and adult interactions are rich. I do not pretend to know the exact class-size parameters that are the most effective for our populations but please keep our at-risk populations in mind when you vote and please verify the information that folks share with you.

Thank you,
Dan Connor

Mount Holly

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