Bill Quirk Replies to the Guilford Board of Education
The numbered statements, appearing in italics, are from Bill Bloss's letter
"Response to Dr. Quirk."to Bill Quirk. Bill Quirk's comments
are indented in context.
Dear Dr. Quirk:
As you may recall, we briefly discussed your thoughts regarding
new middle school during a break at a recent Board of Education
meeting, before the
meeting reconvened. You invited me to review your suggestions in
more detail on your
web site, and gave me your web site’s address. I have done so, and
I would offer to you
these preliminary reactions. I would note that these are my personal
opinions and views,
and not necessarily the opinions of the Board as a whole, a majority
of the Board, or,
indeed, any other member of the Board.
Public education in Guilford works very well.
But your letter is posted at the BOE web site in such a way that it appears
to represent the majority view of the BOE.
To set the record straight, I first spoke to you at the October 28th public
hearing (aka public defense), where I gave you the index page to the March
2002 issue of School
Administrator. I emailed some questions on October 31st.
Not hearing from you, I attended the November 4th BOS meeting, where I
first spoke publicly about my concerns. Coincidentally, you
were also present for a non-education reason. Although you
seemed surprised to see me, you reached out to shake my hand, but later
left with no indication of any interest in further communication.
Following that meeting, and responding to a request from Janet Poss, I
published Report 1 at my
web site on November 7th, and I announced this publication with a letter
to the two local papers. After learning about this web publication
and my statements at BOS meeting, you developed your letter and presented
it to me as I was waiting to speak at the November 16th BOF meeting.
Thus, I never asked you to visit my web site on October 28th. There
was nothing to view at that time. Your lack of response prompted me to
act as I did, beginning on November 4th.
I was not on the Board in 1999 when Educational Consultants of Connecticut
(ECC) was retained to perform its study of the Adams school, and cannot
comment from personal knowledge on how or why it was chosen.
Not nearly as well as in Madison, and not as well as we should expect,
relative to our demographics. Click here
to see how Guilford ranked, relative to our demographic group, for the
math and science portions of the 2002 CAPT tests. See also
the "Report Cards" article in the January 4, 2003 issue of the Shore Line
I have read the report and am familiar with its recommendations.
Now that you are on the BOE you should learn how ECC was chosen and you
should learn about their qualifications. Given what I've said, you
should have found out by now about ECC's other work. On November
4th, I stated that there's no evidence of comparable work for another
school district. It's been over two months now, and there's
been no response to this challenge, so we must assume that this was
the first significant contract for ECC. Why were they chosen?
Real world consultants don't normally get high-priced contracts without
evidence of prior relevant accomplishments.
I am convinced that the Adams building simply cannot continue to be
used as a school with anything approaching the number of students who are
there now, much less the number who are likely to attend as a result of
increases in enrollment, without very major additions and renovations.
I've also read the ECC report By simply describing space
in 6 buildings, it fails to provide key information. We need
an analysis of how space is actually used in these buildings. I've
started with such an analysis for Adams [click here
and and scroll down to see Table 2], but much more should be done.
I'm trying to do more with the Adams analysis, but have yet to receive
a response to my December 8th request for information. At the December
16th BOF meeting, Adams Principal, Catherine Walker walked over to
me and told me that she was working on it.
You have offered your thoughts about creating K-5 schools, with two
6-8 schools . . . if we added 80 5 th grade students to each elementary
school, we would need to add four classrooms to each school or to increase
class sizes for the other grades by an amount that would likely be both
an unsound educational practice (which parents would rightly criticize)
and a violation of our contract with the teachers regarding class sizes.
There are no empty classrooms in any of our elementary schools. Therefore,
at a bare minimum we would need a major (and simultaneous) program of additions,
or we would need to build a new elementary school as well as add a larger
addition than currently planned onto the Baldwin school and significantly
renovate the existing Adams school. I have very real doubts that would
amount to any cost savings.
My analysis [click here and
scroll down to Table 2 and the following summary tables] shows that Adams
easily supports the current load of 640 students, and can reasonably support
up to 75 more students, if the CT DOE’s current worst-case enrollment projection
is valid. You have said that the CT DOE’s projections may be low
by 9%. Your logic is that the CT DOE expert, Dr. Peter Prowda, has
been low by this percent in the past. Current evidence does indicate
that Dr. Prowda may be wrong again, but this time he may be too high.
Other population experts predict that Guilford will experience a gradual
decrease in school age population over the next 12 years, and they aren't
even considering the fact that parents will choose Madison over Guilford.
See later discussion under item 23 below.
Another reason why we are not likely to change grade alignments is that
those who have been entrusted with setting Guilford’s educational policies
believe that the current model for grade spans is, for this town
at this time, in the best interests of our children.
On page IV-8 of their Final Report, ECC stated that the four elementary
buildings could support 1,884 students and stay within the BOE's class
size guidelines. Current CT DOE
10-year enrollment projections predict worst-case total of 1,823 for grades
K-5. Additionally, these four buildings handled 1,854 as K-5 schools
in 1978, and we've added capacity since that time.
However, based on our experience in Guilford, it appears that the current
grade spans weigh the competing concerns reasonably well.
Such beliefs are not consistent with research
findings. Research shows that each school building transition disrupts
the social structure in which learning takes place, thereby lowering achievement
and participation for many students. The first transition is
particularly difficult. By returning to the more traditional
(pre-1988 Guilford) grade-span model (four K-5 and two 6-8 schools), we
eliminate one building transition and wisely delay the first transition
by one year. If we choose to return to his model, we should avoid
additional transitions by redistricting gradually over six years,
as we work to balance the load for the four elementary school buildings.
of Building Change on Indicators of Student Academic Growth
as an example of high quality education research related to school building
transitions. Here are some excerpts:
The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) is a statistical process
that was developed to provide unbiased estimates of the influences that
school systems, schools, and teachers have on the academic gains of students.
All students in Tennessee grades 2-8 are tested annually via the Tennessee
Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP).
TVAAS uses student scale scores derived from the norm-referenced component
of the TCAP as input into a statistical mixed model process to produce
these estimates (for a more thorough discussion see Sanders and Horn,
1993 in press). Presently, the master database contains 1.7 million
records merged longitudinally for all students who have been tested during
the past four years.
When the first TVAAS reports of school system effects on student academic
growth were being developed in late 1992, it was observed that certain
systems had a noticeable drop in gain for all subjects at certain grades.
However, the point of retarded gains varied from system to system. After
further examination at the system level, it was hypothesized that the entry
point into the receiving school could be causing the retardation in growth.
Subsequently, an analysis to test this hypothesis using all of the 1.7
million student records was initiated. Students' records are matched and
merged over all systems in the state; thus, school change patters are known.
School configurations across the state vary enormously representing nearly
all possible combinations of grades 2-8.
The mean gain for students who transfer to the lowest grade of their new
school is measurably lower in all 25 subject-grade combinations than students
who stayed in the same school.
Severe retardation in gains was most pronounced in grades six and seven,
the grades at which many school systems routinely transfer students en
masse to middle school or junior high.
These findings indicate that there may be major disruption in a child's
academic progress associated with school change. For many children, building
change occurs when they leave primary school, intermediate school, and
middle or junior high school, so the opportunity for a collective
impairment to their overall academic progress is most likely.
With all due respect, I think that you overstate the case when you write
that the “consensus” view is that K-8 schools, or at least K-6 schools,
offer significant educational benefits compared with schools with smaller
grade spans. To the contrary, the American Association of School Administrators
(AASA) magazine articles that you cited make it clear that there is no
I've heard from Guilford parents who strongly disagree, but that's irrelevant.
We should use the best available objective research, not subjective opinion.
First, here's what I actually said: The March 2002 issue of School
was devoted to issues related to grade level configurations. The
consensus views found there center around two ideas: broad grade
spans are preferable and it's best to delay the first building transition
for as long as possible, ideally to the beginning of the 9th grade,
or at least until the beginning of the 7th grade. K-8 schools and
K-6 schools offer several benefits that serve to improve both academic
achievement and social adjustment:
They keep the student close to home where "everyone knows your name."
In particular, the school principal knows the student and the family,
beginning with the first day of school.
A higher percentage of parents tend to remain involved with the first school
attended by their children.
There is an increased probability of siblings in the same building.
There is an increase in teacher to teacher accountability.
The older children look out for the younger children in their family.
The stress of the first building transition is delayed.
I believe that this is the emerging majority view, but It's certainly not
a unanimous view. It's a great threat to many. School
Administrator is an establishment journal. The fact that they
devoted an entire issue to grade span configurations is quite amazing.
Putting aside the "consensus" distraction, are you really willing to argue
that 3 building transitions is better than 2? Are you really willing
to argue that delaying the first transition for one year is a bad idea?
We got into this dimension of the debate because the Guilford BOE and School
Administration argued that the current Guilford (narrow grade span) model
is "developmentally appropriate" and better than the old model. But
to argue this way is a misrepresentation of developmentalism. This
progressive philosophy seeks to maximize the nurturing environment and
minimize stress. Surely one more year in elementary school
is more nurturing for the child, and surely one less building transition
is less stressful for the child.
Further, Hooper writes that “student performance can be attributed less
to the building shape or grade-level configuration than simply to effective
teaching and leadership,” and “the truth is almost any building or grade
configuration can be used to create success for students.” I agree.
Teachers in earlier grades are under pressure to meet the expectations
of teachers in the later grades. They see them every day.
If there is in fact a significant advantage to keeping children in Guilford
in one school through grade 6, I would expect to see a significant change
in performance on the CMT from grade 4 to grade 6 in Guilford. In other
words, if under our circumstances, the grade 4 to grade 5 transition really
hurt achievement in Guilford, I might expect to see CMT results lower from
grade 4 to grade 6 to a statistically significant degree. In fact, in 2001
the percentage of 6 th grade students testing at or above the state goal
in the CMT was higher than the percentage of 4 th grade students at the
state goal on their CMT for mathematics (77% to 75%) and reading (91% to
82%). The number was, however lower for writing in 2001 (76% to 85%), although
in 2000 it was higher in writing for 6 th graders (83% to 81%). I will
concede, as I must, that we cannot know whether the results would be even
higher in 6 th grade if we had K-6 or K-8 schools. However, it seems to
me difficult to prove with our CMT results that the grade 4-5 transition
in Guilford has had a material negative impact on student performance by
I also agree. Good teachers, not small class size, is the key
to improved educational outcomes. Additionally, good school administrators
are aware of research findings, and they implement strategies to
minimize the negative effects of less than optimal grade band configurations.
Prior to 1988, the first Guilford building transition occurred in the 6th
grade. The unusual solution to transition difficulties was to create
our current grade-span model, with the first transition moved in the wrong
direction, to the beginning of the 5th grade. It appears that
the real problem wasn't understood. It was viewed as a conflict between
the newly arrived 6th graders and the established students in grades 7
I would also add that in my three years on the board, no parent or teacher
has ever said anything to me that suggests that the current grade alignment
either is not working or that performance could be improved by a different
The relevant transition problem isn't in the 6th grade. It occurs for the
first half of the 5th grade.
We shouldn't be pleased about Guilford test results relative to state goals.
We shouldn't be pleased, if were doing better than Hartford or Bridgeport.
Let's talk about how we're doing relative to other school districts that
share our demographics. Let's talk about how we're doing relative
to Madison, Glastonbury, and Farmington.
This may be due in part to the suggestion in some of the studies cited
that K-8 schools are much more valuable for students in lower socioeconomic
Parents have told me that they now understand the problems that their children
experienced in grades 5, 7, and 9. It was a revelation to them.
But this is more hearsay, and should be ignored by the reader.
The studies that you cite offer some reasons why K-6 or K-8 schools
might have advantages over narrower grade ranges. One is team teaching,
which Pardini concludes based on her review of one paper is “more likely
to be found in K-8 schools than in middle schools.” Perhaps that is true
elsewhere, but in Guilford we have team teaching in each of our middle
schools. Indeed, one of the strongest arguments in favor of the new 7-8
building is its intentional creation of smaller learning areas where teachers
can team teach groups of 100 students, all within a reasonably compact
area. Teachers will be able to – and will be expected to – communicate
and work with each other about student goals and performance.
Once again I refer you to the TVASS study [ Effects
of Building Change on Indicators of Student Academic Growth
] It offers the definitive relevant research. They
don't mention significant differences relative to the social context.
Once again I must ask if you're willing to argue that more building transitions
are better? Are you really willing to argue that delaying the
first transition for one year is a bad idea? Or are you simply saying
that, in your opinion, building transitions isn't an issue for Guilford?
There are, to be sure, some apparent advantages of schools with broader
grade ranges. As the Pardini paper notes, schools with many grade levels
have more opportunities for cross-age activities such as tutoring activities,
and they may be able to sustain greater parental involvement. It doesn’t
really seem likely that changing our elementary schools from K-4 to K-5
would make much of a difference in that respect, and changing them to K-6
or K-8 would simply not be possible.
The BOE proposal is fundamentally about an
imagined ideal environment for the latest fad, isolating a team of 5 teachers
and 100 (or less) students in a “pod” of 5 classrooms. We’ve already
isolated students in narrow 2-year grade spans, with Baldwin for grades
5-6 and Adams for grades 7-8. Now we are to believe that it’s
a good idea to isolate students of the same age in classroom pods, further
removing then from the orienting social context. But
there’s no research showing that team teaching in pods leads to an improvement
in educational outcomes. There may be associated negative results,
because weak teachers benefit the most from such maximum isolation.
As currently structured, a sixth grade math teacher doesn’t have to face
the 8th grade math teacher who wants to know why students don’t know how
to add fractions.
Two-grade schools do, according to Pardini, “present the challenge of
how to preserve a sense of continuity and stability when . . . half of
the student population turns over every year.”
I favor teaching by qualified teachers, not
by other students.
I'm not claiming a major difference, just
that K-5 is better than K-4. As I've discussed elsewhere, returning
to the pre-1988 Guilford model does look like a very good solution to the
purported overcrowding problem.
Pardini also notes, however, that schools with wide grade spans may
offer “fewer opportunities for elective or exploratory courses,” and fewer
classrooms per grade “means fewer opportunities to match students to teachers
according to learning and teaching styles, to place students with others
with whom they work well, or to separate students who don’t get along.”
Thanks for making my point.
Schools with small grade spans “may offer the opportunity for a special
focus on problems particular to that grade level,” she notes.
Are we doing these things with our current
team teaching approach? Probably not, but that's fine with me.
The underlying progressive philosophy isn't moving us in the direction
of improving educational outcomes.
Other factors that may affect grade configuration and which supply support
for the grade 5-8 “campus” that the administration is proposing include
lower transportation costs, the arguable potential for increased parent
involvement, and the reduction of one point of transition – although Baldwin
and Adams would still be separate schools, the transition could not help
but be reduced since the two schools would be in the same location and
some interaction between grade levels would likely occur.
A vague, general statement, don't you think?
The desire for team teaching is the real underlying
motivation for narrow-grade span configurations.
If you have 300 7th graders in one building, that nicely allows for 3 teams.
But if you split into 2 buildings, that requires an average team size of
75 students. This in turn leads to 15 as the average class
size, since each teacher teaches for 5 periods. But that's
well below the BOE's minimum class size of 19 (for grade 7).
The solution will be to go to 4 teaching periods. Then average class size
will be 19.
There are many ways to deliver a quality education to students in Guilford.
I have little doubt that if we had three or four K-8 schools, we would
still deliver excellent educational services, although at the cost of some
classes and programs at the upper grades.
You've increased the average distance from
school for both students and parents. You've increased the average
time spent riding in a school bus. You've increased the average school
to home commute time for parents.
“[A]lthough grade organization has some important connections to particular
programs and practices, on average, grade span need not be the determinant
of responsive education.”
If you were actually delivering "excellent
educational services," it's unlikely that we would be having this communication.
CMT and CAPT test results show that we are doing poorly, relative to the
other school districts in our demographic group, Educational Reference
Therefore, while I appreciate your thoughtful comments about the future
of Guilford’s schools and respect your participation in what ought to be
a healthy debate, I continue to believe that the Administration’s proposals
are reasonable and a new school ought to be built.
Agreed. It's not the key issue.
But it simply can't be argued that our current grade-span model is superior
to the one we left behind in 1988.
I am, quite frankly, skeptical about the state’s projected enrollment
figures – I am afraid that they may be far too low. There are about 8000
housing units in Guilford, and roughly 4000 students – an average of 0.5
student per household. Last year I looked at the students per household
in a couple of our newer subdivisions. Some streets had between 1.0 and
1.5 students per household, far in excess of the town average. That seems
consistent with what one would believe is the case: the new developments
The opportunity to speak for 3 minutes, followed
by the requirement to silently witness 15 minutes of rebuttal, hardly qualifies
as healthy debate. The January 6, 2003 Town Meeting continued
this unfair balance. BOE, BOS, and BOF members were allowed
to speak until they were exhausted. But the public was limited to
larger houses, and larger houses often are built for families with
children. The town's recent “build out” study suggests that if an additional
1000 acres are committed to open space, then we may have an additional
2000 dwelling units within the next 10-20 years. Does that mean that we
will have an additional 1000-2000 students in our schools? I can't say
yes or no with any confidence; that's certainly not what the state is predicting.
But as I’m sure you can appreciate even a small annual underestimate
would lead to a very large increase over time. I have been told that when
the high school was built it was criticized by some as being too big and
too expensive for planned growth, and that Guilford would never need that
much capacity. That was two additions ago. I understand that the proposed
new school is expensive. Indeed, I was somewhat reserved about the project
in the beginning, and decisions about it have not been easy, at least not
for me. I respect any reasoned decision that anyone makes on
We're interested in school-age population
change (growth or decline). This is a complex function of many
variables. Available building lots is obviously not a key variable,
because we've actually had a decline of approximately 300 in this age group,
The Town of Guilford Build Out Study simply
says that there are 2,286 potential house building lots, and these lots
will all be used in 20 years, if we assume that 116 new homes will be
built per year. That's a huge if! Actual
build out, over the next 20 years, is another complex function of many
variables. Migration trends are key, but there are other factors.
For example, as lots continue to be used, the remaining available lots
become less and less desirable. The Build Out Study made no attempt
to predict actual build out! It never mentions anticipated population
As new homes are built, who will buy them?
The Build Out Study offers no information about the type of home buyer
we should expect over the next 20 years. It is expected that
we will have a slight overall increase in Guilford's population over the
next 15 years, but this is because of a projected increase in senior citizens.
A slight population decrease is actually expected for the age 5 to 19 group.
The most recent population projections, from
the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, predict a Guilford
population decrease of 686 for the age 5 to 19 age range for the period
2000 to 2015. The projected decrease for the 10 to 14 age range
is 313 for the same15 year period.
According to a major study by Northeastern
University's Center for Labor Market Studies, Connecticut experienced
a significant out-migration during the decade of the 1990's.
This out-migration reduced the supply of young and well-educated workers.
New foreign immigration accounted for all of the population growth in Connecticut.
A high fraction of these new foreign immigrants are undocumented and not
likely to settle in Guilford.
Finally, it's likely that parents of
school age children will choose Madison over Guilford. My wife
is in a key leadership position at Yale. She's regularly asked about
where to live. She always says Madison, if school age children
Although I do believe that this proposal is in the town’s interests.
I voted for the proposal as a Board member, and I intend to vote for it
at referendum. Any remedy is going to have a cost, and the marginal cost
of a new school compared to the marginal cost of even minimal additions
to Adams is reasonable – about 1.2 mills, or around $200 annually for a
typical Guilford house at its peak, declining slowly over the life of the
bonds. (The median sale price of a home in Guilford in 1999 was $222,000.
If we assume that the median fair market value of homes in Guilford at
the time would be the same – a reasonable assumption – the assessed value
of the home would be 70% of $222,000. A 1.2 mill increase for a house assessed
at $150,000 would be, roughly, $200.) And this does not factor in the savings
from avoiding the need to obtain new town office space (and possibly a
new elementary school, which could be placed at the old Adams building
if needed) if the old Adams building is not available for that use. It
is simply not fair to compare the cost of a new school to doing nothing;
doing nothing would be irresponsible and it simply is not an option.
We should be guided by the best available
objective evidence, not subjective opinion.
This is a uniquely favorable time to build: bonding rates have not been
lower in my lifetime; construction costs have not been lower since the
late 1980’s; and, very importantly, the state’s reimbursement rate for
new schools will almost certainly decline during the upcoming legislative
session. The state will now pay for about one-third of our new school.
I have no doubt that if we delay this project, the rate will be lower –
the state faces an unprecedented budget deficit of $1.5 billion next year,
and revenue sharing with towns like Guilford seems unlikely to be a strong
priority for the General Assembly in this economic climate. In short, delay
is likely to cost Guilford’s taxpayers, and I am afraid that I cannot support
any further delay. To do so would be, in my view, reckless.
First, I believe you have significantly underestimated
the cost to the average taxpayer. Others project a project-related
mil rate increase that's 3 times your estimate, and that doesn't include
the future costs related to maintenance and renovation of Adams.
Next, I have not suggested that we do nothing.
But before resorting to new construction, we should carefully explore all
ideas for the more efficient use of space in 6 buildings. I have
found no compelling evidence for such a massive expense.
As former first selectman, Mr. Larkins,
recently pointed out at a BOS meeting, we won't bond now.
Next, it's not likely that we'll get reimbursed one-third by the State
Copyright 2003 William G. Quirk, Ph.D.
The reader is invited to print and/or copy this paper.