CRLS Register Forum News Clippings
Student voices are important. The CRLS Register Forum is the oldest student newspaper in the nation and provides some of those voices.
This is my set of clippings from the Register Forum. I thought I’d share it in case others found it helpful. Please note the summaries are not proof-read and likely contains typos, errors, misreads, exaggerated claims, mistypes, and similar issues. Please treat this page as a resource to the extent it is helpful, but not as a statement of my opinions or my platform. Indeed, I’d go as far to say as I’d suggest thinking of this more as an index or table of contents (click on links for primary sources) than as a summary.
This goes without saying, but the views on this page don’t always represent my own both since they came from students and since it’s really hard to not give the wrong implications in writing without extensive proofreading, especially on the occasional loaded topics.
The Register Forum ran a number of surveys providing data which may help guide policy decisions. These generally did not follow research methodology, so I’d presume large errors, but even data with large errors can be helpful for qualitative guidance (for example, pointing out significant problems):
- Most CRLS students speak another language fluently, and find that it helps in their day-to-day lives.
- CRLS is quite religiously diverse, with atheists/agnostics at 46%, Christians at 31%, Jewish at 12%, and Muslim at 7%. More than 70% support separation of church and state in schools.
- However, there is little political diversity. 80% of the student supported Clinton, followed by Sanders. Under 3% of students supported Trump. Likewise, the student body is split between ‘liberal’ and ‘very liberal,’ with a few moderates. The conservative minority is often threatened and stereotyped.
- Only about half of students find homework useful. Curiously, the article cited research literature which showed a correlation between how much homework students did and test scores (rather than research literature which showed no correlation between how much homework was assigned and test scores). A second survey did note the research consensus, and found 70% of CRLS students found homework to be a source of stress, and 60% a source of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Qualitatively, students didn’t like homework over break. Of course, reducing or removing homework isn’t a question of simply not assigning it; homework-free classes are based on a pretty significant restructuring so much more learning happens in classrooms. Some of the above is tied back to student happiness and possibly depression.
- The vast majority – 82% – of CRLS students find classes to be rigorous enough. Only 7% thought they should be more challenging.
- Students overwhelmingly recognize that suspension doesn’t work. Suspended students get a mini-vacation, and fall further behind. What was striking was how prevalent suspension was – 40 out of 88 students surveyed had been suspended.
- Students were split as to who was responsible for solving the achievement gap – the federal government, state government, city government, school committee, or the school. Curiously, neither students, parents, communities, nor teachers were even listed as an option.
- Most students feel their friends, homeroom, classes, and after-school activities are at least somewhat diverse, or at least felt this way in 2013 (many people I’ve spoken to have observed that we see more in-school segregation today than in 2013).
- Overall, students thought that better teachers should be paid more, with a bit of a discussion about tests and student feedback as a means of evaluating teachers (missing were peer or administrator evaluations). An article a few years later looked at what students valued in teachers. Top was “caring about the topic”, followed by “being available to students.”
- There was an overwhelming correlation between unplugging digital devices and school performance. 95% of kids who had GPAs below 90 used digital devices at least three hours per day, while only 14% of those with GPAs above 90 did so. This result is strong enough and important enough to be publication-worthy and calls into question the structure of some of the digital initiatives.
- Surprisingly, in a 2014 survey, 56% of students didn’t know the term gender-binary. In recent years, topics of diversity formed the plurality of articles in the Register Forum, so this result might be different today (note to older readers: If you don’t know what this means, don’t feel ignorant. These are part of a jargon which was popularized around the time of the millenials. Most people I know over the age of 35 do not know any of this jargon, whereas almost all people I know under 25 do).
- A striking 54% of students feel they have more stress they can manage, with 62% considering school to be the greatest stressor. Students have a number of coping strategies, mostly negative (pg 1 pg 2). One of the key questions is whether school is fundamentally too stressful, or whether we do not do enough to develop resilience and coping strategies.
- Unsurprisingly, most students felt stereotyped at some point in their lives.
- In 2014, two-thirds of students believed classes were too large. At the time, 48% of classes had over 20 students, while 53% of AP/Honors classes had over 25 students. Absent from the discussion were what should be traded off to reduce class size (teacher salary, number of teachers per classroom, support/admin staff, etc.). Absent from the broader discussion is also the format of classes. Classes often have drastically different staffing requirements based on use of lecture versus group-work versus technology versus other modes.
Among my favorite articles we saw the reasons many students ran for student council. As with the school committee, diversity and the achievement gap were the plurality reason for running, followed by dress code, but otherwise, choice quotes from the 2015 candidate profiles and the 2016 ones (pg 2):
- “‘Trust.’ There are students who don’t trust their teachers, but students should trust that their teachers have their back.”
- “The AVF policy is problematic”
- “The stigma surrounding CP and Honors classes … Honors students are automatically the ‘smart kids’”
- “Students are not given enough of a role in making the decisions that affect them. While student complaints are listened to, they are rarely addressed”
On the other hand, actual student government efforts have been more focused on fund-raising and events.
And, of course, there are efforts to reform the school elections.
The Register Forum recently started reporting more on school committee meetings, and did a very nice job summarizing them:
- The June 2017 school committee meeting article discussed the extension school and why it was helpful to many students, sexual assault plans, and the process around hiring a coach
- The May 2017 discussed equality in athletics, strategic initiatives, and recognized student reps
- The March 2017 discussed union contract negotiations, 9th grade leveling up, lack of space and teachers for science classes, and expanding mediation
- The January 2017 discussed PAUS performing in the 14th percentile of Massachusetts schools, student government data collection on demographics of extracurricular, and an update from the superintendent
- At December 6, 2016 meeting discussed menstrual hygiene products in bathrooms (something students pushed hard on and won (article 1 (pg 1)/(pg 2) and article 2), the Cambridge fire, and athletics coach evaluation
- The November 2016 discussed leveling up, crew funding, CPAC, the achievement gap, and a report from the superintendent.
- The October 2016 talked about special needs students, student government activities, failing algebra programs, and no-cut sports teams
- The September 2016 discussed dress code, junior kindergarten, overcrowding, chronic absenteeism, and the student government’s work on the achievement gap
- The June 2016 focused on issues of race, with much empathy, but little specific action
- Many people raised issues of recruitment of faculty of color at the May 2016 session pg 1 pg 2
- The major issues addressed by the committee in 2016 were leveling-up, dress code revisions, school climate, teacher diversity, sexual assault, and creating safe spaces.
There was also some coverage of the past two elections:
- In 2015, there were two pages of candidate profiles, and non-incumbents Emily Dexter and Manikka Bowman were elected as new members. Issues identified were perception of the school system, lack of inclusiveness, and lack of diversity in honors classes.
- In 2013, we non-incumbents Fran Cronin and Kathleen Kelly were elected to the school committee. Will MacArthur expressed skepticism about the results.
Curiously, the CRLS Mission Statement was developed by teachers, a parent (Emily Dexter, pre-election) and a student.
Curriculum was discussed quite a bit.
There was a series of articles on the Common Core and the change from MCAS to PARCC as it pertains to CRLS. The Oct 2013 issue explained the overall change (pg 1, pg 2). There was a critique of how such common standards sometimes failed to meet the individual needs of different students, and some notes about how it moves algebra to later grades and testing online. In 2015, an article (pg 1 pg 2) discussed how the district flip-flopped, and decided not to adopt PARCC. The rationale, as presented in the article, felt rock-solid. Patty Nolan pointed out that the PARCC “is being developed and run by a for-profit company, which may lead to greater costs and less transparency.” We already spend far too much on testing, and the whole point of such testing is increased transparency. Later, Common Core was confused with No Child Left Behind. This was disentangled in another article which pointed out that teachers were universally in favor of Common Core, but opposed to the high-stakes testing which went with it. Despite the coverage, most students knew fairly little about Common Core.
The most major curriculum change the school has been involved in for years now is the move from tracked education to kids in the same classroom receiving differentiated instruction. The level up program moved all freshman English and history kids into the same “honors” classroom. The goal of leveling up is to “decrease the biased, at times capricious, leveling of students,” which is a goal I agree with. The means of accomplishing this goal – teaching all kids the same thing regardless of level or background – seems biased and at times capricious. Students come in with different backgrounds, and some are served better than others. Uniform tracks without proper adaptation of class format mean some kids will get bored (and develop behavioral problems), while others will get left behind. Differentiated instruction works very well, but requires much more than just putting kids in the same classrooms. An English Student in a Math World talks about the issues with this, and how little support is given to kids who want to excel in English. As expected, without a means to do that, the author developed other problems – she concluded that she was “not as smart as [her] peers.”
Of the proposed changes to curriculum, one which came up several times was a required civics course (and there were several similar arguments for philosophy, as well as a range of diversity-related classes, especially in regards to moving history to be less focused on Europe). Another article which jumped out at me, not so much for the proposed course but for the language used to describe it, was on a course on gender theory.
Otherwise, students were saddened by the loss of some courses, spoke of importance of history, twice and its impact, described many of their favorite courses (AP English Language, Foundations of Art, AP Statistics, and AP US History), and encourage others to learn about issues related to Cambridge values.
Of course, adding more to the curriculum may require restructuring the school day. There were discussions about a longer school day, as was debated in 2013, but shot down due to lack of specificity. It was brought up again in 2015, with students generally opposed. Other structural discussions included restructuring vacation breaks, as well as the block schedule.
The school has a lead teacher for social-emotional learning, although many educators in CRLS don’t see the value of that.
The Register Forum reported on Mr. Rubin running an illegal class on entrepreneurship at CPSD, with students Nur, Ngo, Scalzi, Watson, Jean-Babtiste, and many others violating CPSD policies against commercial activity (see, for example, page 41 of the Guide to Policies). Indeed, posting this issue of the Register Forum on the school web site (or creating it on school computers) violated this policy since it promoted those illicit businesses.
And one of my favorite articles compared the Chinese and US education systems. It’s helpful to look at such articles with a very open mind; they’re designed to shock, but most school systems have positive and negative aspects. It’s good to tease those apart and learn from each other rather than merely discounting something as being too different. Coincidentally, having taught in China and interacted with entrepreneurs there, I have seen no support for the statement that the Chinese “lack creativity,” although I have seen this result from similarly test-centered school systems in other nations (for example, India).
CRLS is monitored by 45 cameras. Of the 69% of students even aware of this surveillance, most seem okay with it. 8% have had their possessions searched on campus. Indeed, most students would rather have more security rather than more privacy, despite reporting already feeling safe.
The Register Forum is in favor of free speech, except in school. An editorial disagreed, and said we shouldn’t have free speech anywhere where such speech might be offensive. Another piece said we should have free speech, although without commenting on that right in the context of school. Fortunately, a 2017 article describes how devastating such mental censorship is in schools, and how without being able to discuss offensive views, it’s impossible to learn to reason critically.
The school adopted Chromebooks in 2013. Overall, 70% of students were satisfied. Most of the rationale was around work-flow improvements. Curiously, there was no discussion about putting in a consumption technology in education – a process fundamentally about construction. There was also little discussion about how these devices impacted student outcomes. The school filters the internet, something students are overwhelmingly supportive of. For the most part, students considered cyberbullying bad, but did not hold social media sites responsible. Students are starting to notice technology can be harmful.
There was a long series on the policy on punishing students for missed attendance. The first of these found that 78% of students thought the policy was unfair, and 19% had a violation. Official school statistics were that 80 students reach AVF each term. There was a belief that the policy disadvantaged students who live far from the school. Finally, the school committee removed even the option to buy back attendance violations, so they resulted in an automatic 10% grade penalty. In 2017, the school committee is toning down this policy, but it still feels unnecessarily punitive.
Much of the push for the new dress code came from a series of a long student drive, including no fewer than five articles in the Register, including a balanced 2014 introduction of the issue which pointed out 2-3x as many girls were effected as boys, an opposing piece in 2015, a scathing 2015 piece, a piece expressing that the dress code “sets a precedent that sexual assault is unavoidable and victims are completely responsible”, and a final piece expressing the dress code is among other things, racist.
Curiously, I saw no arguments for a dress code, or about the purposes of a dress code. In many schools, rich kids can buy nicer clothing which directly translates to higher social status. Given RF’s focus on the achievement gap, social justice, and racism, I was surprised no one discussed this issue. Other articles indicated that race and money did correlate with popularity, although I don’t have a feel for the extent to which that’s about clothing, cars, or digital devices. I also saw no substantive discussions on how what is considered appropriate and offensive dress varies between cultures or how that should fit into considerations of designing an inclusive dress code.
Programs and organizations
- Upperclassmen mentor freshman. pg 1 pg 2
- Friends of CRLS funds many programs and links to HSBA 1 2.1/2.2
- The school has 511 plans for students with disabilities.
Standardized tests, accreditation, rankings
- CRLS was accredited by NEASC, which holds a standard higher than state/federal. It went on probation in 2014 (pg 1 pg 2)
- A 2014 article talks about how curriculum standards and tests scare off good teachers and discourage risk taking. Not mentioned is the abundant evidence for how such risk taking is essential to good education systems.
- The SAT was redesigned to make it more meaningful in 2014, with more changes coming in 2016. It still drew a harsh critique.
- CRLS did poorly in the Boston Magazine ranking, for reasons which were suspect and which highlighted some of the issues with over-reliance on simple measures such as test scores and student:teacher ratios.
- In contrast, Massachusetts as a whole did very well on the PISA exam. PISA is a little better than the MCAS since there’s a bit less teaching-to-the-test and tends to be used a little more sensibly since there is no associated loss of school funding.
- The AP program doubled from 2012 to 2016, and students passed at high rates. On the other hand, an editorial writer bring up some excellent criticisms of the AP program (albeit without a clear expression of good alternatives)
Many articles talk about the well-explored racial/gender/LGBTQ divides, but other divides are raised as well.
Articles talk about freshman-senior divides, issues facing foreign students in 2014 (pg 1 pg 2) and again in 2017 (which suggest need for better on-boarding and expectation-setting, as well as better support for ESL students), rivalries based on wards and part of the city kids live in. Of course, people talk about stereotyping and superficial diversity as well. The three lunches introduce a different kind of division.
On the race/gender/LGBTQ/ethnic divides, we see them in extracurricular, sports and classes. We have calls for addressing sexism, transgender issues, cultural appropriation, female-dominance of the feminist movement, keeping affirmative action, and so on.
An article pointed out the Cambridge Bubble makes people unfit to operate outside of Cambridge. The sentiment around needing to “have to teach my beliefs” is almost identical to that expressed by some Christians I’ve interacted with in the south, albeit with a very different set of values which must be taught.
There was a fair bit of coverage of the 2014 walk-out (pg 1 pg 2). An article points out that protests work, but not on their own. Missing from the article is that for protests to work, they must be visible to people who don’t already agree with you, and visible in a positive way. My take on many protests is summarized in this video.
Physical school environment
Cambridge Education Association
What is clear is that the CEA, and Cambridge Teachers, operate differently from most unions. This is backed by data. The majority of CRLS teachers have reservations about the professional tenure system. The linked article was one of the strongest articles I’ve read in the Register Forum, and well worth reading beyond the soundbite summary.
- In a 2016 interview, superintendent Salim said actually very little beyond expressing empathy with CPSD values.
- In a later interview, superintendent Salim said a bit more. At this point, he had visited all eighteen schools, and was able to accurately identify issues and start to prioritize. I’d summarize, but there’s a bit too much – it’s worth a read.
- In a 2016 interview, superintendent Young said equally little, although I found it interesting he perceived a tension between “academic excellence and social justice”
- Police Officer Daniliuk was a bit more forthcoming, and spoke about the loss of the middle class, some of the professional development in the CPD, and similar
- Mazen spoke about connections of students to industry, although I’m not quite sure everything he said we’ve seen work in schools was backed by evidence.
- And, former Register Forum editor Will MacArthur was interviewed when he announced his candidacy
Hellos, farewells, and similar
These give a bit of idea of student sentiment, but aside from the first one, little substance:
- From the student body president on the November election. It’s a good article. Choice quotes: “Another fear that I have seen debilitate our entire community is the fear to speak one’s truth. For me, I have been afraid to tell my black friends that I disagree with them on certain issues for fear that I’ll be ostracized or deemed an Uncle Tom. … Others might be afraid that speaking their mind will result in being deemed ratchet or even a silencer of free speech.” “And for students, I challenge you to engage in conversation with fearlessness.”
- Quotes from students and others end-of-school 2015
- ‘16-‘17 class president reflects on their time here. Points of note included: (1) realizing how deeply teachers and administrators cared. (2) how students who don’t advocate for themselves may end up marginalized. (3) a strong, constant pull from the community to be complacent
- A class of 2019 welcome to new students talks about some of the adjustments freshman face.
State and national school politics
There was much discussion about national politics, most unrelated to education, but there were some discussions about declining rates of voting among students, unfortunately, without a survey of CRLS, voter registration, and similar. In addition, there was an editorial against charter schools. And, I am extremely sorry to have missed what appears to have been an exceptionally fascinating show.