“Haverhill Plans for the Student Opportunity Act” Workshop Summary

The Student Opportunity Act (SOA) passed in 2019 will provide additional funds for Massachusetts cities that submit a three-year evidence-based plan to reduce achievement gaps among student groups.

On February 29th 2020 the Haverhill Education Coalition held a workshop, “Haverhill Plans for the Student Opportunity Act. The workshop for city, school, and community leaders considered the SOA financing for and identified evidence-based interventions that could be used to help close achievement gaps among Haverhill students.

The workshop was not intended to advocate for any one position or approach, but rather to help make city leaders aware of educational reforms that have been shown by research to produce good outcomes for students.

We Invited all Haverhill School Committee Members and City Councilors. Attending were School Committee members Mayor Fiorentini, Gail Sullivan Rich Rosa, Paul Magliocchetti and City Councilors Melinda Barrett, John Michitson, Joe Bevilacqua, Colin LePage, and Tim Jordan. Superintendent Margaret Marotta, Assistant Superintendent Michael Pfifferling and Tilton Upper and Lower Principal Bonnie Antkowiak were speakers at the workshop.

The workshop ran for nearly three hours on Saturday morning. This post contains a summary of the main points. I have also posted here the HEC SOA Workshop Slides and the HEC SOA Workshop Resources Document distributed to participants.

SOA authorizes more funds for Haverhill schools

This mostly comes as additional state funding targeted to districts with many low-income students. We expect $6.9 million more in Chapter 70 aid for FY 21 (the 2020-21 school year) and smaller additional increases each year over the following six years. In total the expected funds are enough to increase real school resources per student.  This funding depends on money being appropriated by the state legislature

Haverhill has gaps to fill

Where are Haverhill’s Gaps? Here are some indications of where Haverhill could close gaps among student groups:

  • Among 20-17-18 graduates of Haverhill High School by race ethnicity, 56 percent white went on to attend 4-year colleges; but only 16 percent of Latino students did.
  • The percentage of Haverhill’s third grade students meeting or exceeding expectations on MCAS ELA (reading) tests for economically disadvantaged and Latino student are only two-third that of not economically disadvantaged and white students.
  •   2018-19, prior to the recent Right-Size Plan, resources, particularly the number of teachers per 100 students varied widely among Haverhill schools.
  • Funding from the SOA could be used to make sure opportunities are more equally available among schools and student groups.

Haverhill can build on previous successes at Tilton and other schools

The experience at Tilton is particularly instructive. Tilton has seen improved performance measures including attendance, test scores, and state percentile ranking. Principal Bonnie Antkowiak reported on efforts at the school that made this possible including creating leadership team, coaching support in the classroom, data and conversations about data, and extended-day tutoring. All these things require time and/or resources. SOA funds could be used to support replicating recent local successes in other Haverhill schools.

Maximizing Teacher Impacts

A straightforward way to affect student outcomes is to add teachers to reduce class sizes. The research shows that the largest effects of reducing class size on student achievement are found when reducing class size in lower grades, for students from less advantaged families and for less well prepared teachers. We note that the Tilton success involved having more teachers relative to the number of students.

For many years research failed to show much measurable benefit from teacher professional development (often conferences and courses). Recent studies, however, have shown that instructional coaching, works to improve both teacher skills in the classroom and student achievement. Note that Coaching was part of the transformation intervention at Tilton Elementary School.

Enhancing the Educational Experience

The workshop looked at ways to change the content of education. Participants watched two short videos that are linked here. One shows E.D. Hirsch, who argues that students reading comprehension improves when the have more contextual knowledge to understand the text. Providing all students exposure to defined set of core knowledge allows teachers in upper grades to build on a foundation shared by all students.   

A second video on Expeditionary Learning showed an example of a school that adopted a project-based approach to developing students’ collaborative problem solving skills. The approach is designed to better prepare students for college and careers by focusing on skills that won’t be replaced by computers.

Extending learning time is another way to enrich student learning. A 2016 study of extend learning in 46 Boston public schools reported  favorable results for ELA and math, especially for black and Hispanic students. Haverhill’s Mayor noted an article in the Atlantic that    The Superintendent noted the many types of extended learning already in place in Haverhill schools.

Summary of Evidence

This workshop was not a comprehensive review of education research, but with our targeted effort we did find evidence to support several types of initiatives that could be consistent with the Student Opportunity Act goals and could help address achievement gaps within Haverhill Public Schools. We note:

  • Evidence reviewed at the workshop supports:
    • Local multifaceted transformation with added resources
    • More teachers (smaller class sizes)
    • Instructional coaching over other forms of professional development
    • Expanded learning time for minority and economically disadvantaged students
    • More diverse staff that matches student race/ethnicity
  • Evidence may support:
    • Project-based learning
    • Content-rich curriculum

Next Steps

Haverhill Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Margaret Marotta, plans for obtaining input form teachers and the community and presenting Haverhill’s Three-Year plan to the School Committee before the April 1st due date as requires by the Student Opportunity Act