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Milford Teachers Reject Math-Science AP Recruitment, Training Program

Through a union vote, high school teachers have ended a program that included Milford in the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative.

Milford teachers have ended a program that focused on recruiting more high school students into Advanced Placement classes, a decision that took the administration by surprise and infuriated several School Committee members.

In a 68-14 vote, the high school faculty ended the agreement between Milford schools and the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative after its first year. The vote, taken May 25, prompted the executive committee of the Milford Teachers Association to immediately end participation in the intiative program.

The reason for teacher dissatisfaction with the program was not explained by union leaders, but the superintendent and program president said this week the concern centered around how students were recruited to participate in the Advanced Placement classes, and whether those efforts were too aggressive.

Under the agreement, as a partner, the union had the right to terminate the program. That it did so without publicly discussing its concerns about the initiative infuriated several School Committee members this week, who said they were stunned to learn of the decision.

Milford will continue to offer the AP classes, but the partnership with the statewide non-profit will end unless the faculty reconsider. Superintendent Robert Tremblay was asked to send a letter to the union officials, encouraging a meeting.

The Massachusetts Math, English and Science Initiative is primarily financed by private contributions, including from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It partners with 53 schools across the state, providing teacher training, financial support for students to take AP exams, access to curriculum experts, and financial incentives for teachers whose students reach passing scores on the AP exam.

The union decision pulled private funds from the school district, and lessens what the district can offer students, said Chairman Patrick Holland. "We had a program that wasn't perfect. But it was working. And now it's gone."

Other committee members said they couldn't understand the rationale behind the vote.

"I'm incredibly disappointed this is how it was handled by the union," said School Committee member Christine Boyle. "The people who get hurt are the students."

Said member Scott Harrison: "It perplexes me why we wouldn't choose to invest more in something that could help our students achieve."

William Gary, an Advanced Placement physics teacher, is president of the Milford Teachers Association. He declined to comment on the issue when contacted Friday.

In a series of letters over the summer, Tremblay asked the union leadership to delay the decision to terminate the relationship with MMSI until "all parties have had the opportunity to share these concerns directly with the president of MMSI." Tremblay said he made three attempts to reach a resolution.

Morton Orlov, president of the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative, came to Milford to meet with the teachers and Tremblay in August. But Tremblay and Orlov said, during the meeting, teachers indicated they had made their decision, and offered no specifics for the vote beyond general statements about student recruitment.

"They felt our outreach was too aggressive," Orlov said. "... There were voices saying that the expectations from MMSI were too high."

Under financial incentives offered through the program, teachers could earn between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on how many students achieved a 3 or better on the exams, the point at which colleges begin to extend credit for the course. Some school systems have incentives for students who pass the exam, but this was not a part of the Milford program, Orlov said.

The program did, however, cover half of the $87 fee for each AP exam taken by students. It also required Milford to provide the PSAT for all sophomores, and provided funds for that.

Participating schools are grouped into cohorts. For teachers, this provided professional development meetings with AP teachers across the state, who teach the same subject. For students, the program included Saturday morning study sessions through the year, which allowed students to meet with others enrolled statewide.

The program impacted AP classes in English, Math and Science The approach was to open these classes to students who might otherwise be overlooked.

The philosophy of MMSI is that screening tools — including teacher recommendations, grade point averages and requiring enrollment in honors level courses prior to entering an AP class — act as an artificial barrier to student enrollment, Orlov said. The organization has compiled data that indicates the number of students achieving passing scores on AP exams has increased in its member schools, even as the overall enrollment in the classes has expanded.

"Our philosophy is open access to Advanced Placement courses," Orlov said. "There shouldn't be artificial barriers."

At Milford High School, enrollment in AP courses rose dramatically last year, and two new Advanced Placement courses were created: AP Environmental Science and AP Statistics. Enrollment in AP courses in math, science and English climbed from 137 in 2008 to 275 in 2012.

At one of the organization's strongest performing schools, Orlov said, half of the junior and senior class are enrolled in AP English classes, and 170 of these 244 students achieved a 3 or better on the end-of-year AP exam, high enough to qualify for college credit.

"My point is, what I've learned, is that there's this huge group of students in the 'middle,' who can do this work."

Michelle September 23, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Its nice to know that our children will be limited in their college opportunities thanks to decisions like these. AP credits help students get into better colleges, and help them advance in college before they even get there. How this can happen without any school committee or taxpayer input, I just cannot understand. Now parents will be forced to look for other high schools, such as expensive private schools, in order to give their children the opportunities they should have had at MHS. It doesn't give me a good feeling to know that these teachers who made this vote are the ones teaching our children.
Milford Senior Man September 23, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Anyone know why the teachers voted to end the participation in the AP program?
Mary MacDonald (Editor) September 23, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Just to clarify, the AP classes are continuing; the partnership with the non-profit Mass Math and Science is not. The headline may be misleading readers, so I will adjust. The program that has ended is the supplementary help from the organization for the AP teachers and students.
JustMyOpinion September 23, 2012 at 03:02 PM
It seemed to me that the school was more concerned with the numbers of students taking the AP classes instead of the caliber of the students placed in them. Students should only be in the classes if they are able to handle the college level curriculum. Otherwise, all students lose out. I think the decision, although it may look bad in print, is probably the right one for all students.
Cheryl September 23, 2012 at 03:47 PM
So why not just explain their decision?
Ray Fellows September 23, 2012 at 05:49 PM
The union could care less about the kids, so I'm not surprised. There probably wasnt enough money in it for the union. This must have been a public vote, that can be the only explanation for so many yes votes. You will never get an honest answer about this so there is no reason to even ask.
Teacher's Pet September 23, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Anyone else find it funny that this was not brought to the school committee until the night Trembley gets his contract renewed? He knew in May but never mentioned it until after he got his raise? Something smells fishy here!
Ray Fellows September 23, 2012 at 06:30 PM
How can u possibly make this about the superintendent?
MSM September 23, 2012 at 06:34 PM
It looks like Tremblay tried to work with them to come to a better conclusion. How was he to know they would refuse to do so, nor would they provide any reason for it. After last year's -very public - sucker punch of a review, I doubt he would have any ulterior motives. I also didn't blamed him for trying to leave for Framingham.
Ray Fellows September 23, 2012 at 07:03 PM
The same reason Dave Cutler left.
Kathy October 19, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Many schools try to offer the most AP classes, as well as high numbers of students participating, to appear more prestigious. I do not think Milford HS has taken that path because the results numbers do not support it. I have relatives in Long Island, NY whose teens have had the choice of taking standard, honors or AP subjects, no pre-requisite courses required. They did very well in the AP courses with no prior subject knowledge. The curriculum for AP just covered the subject more in-depth, at a higher level of understanding. The option should be available to all students. The Parent knows how well their teen would perform based on past effort and performance. Whether considered as a gifted program or not, if a student wants to challenge him/herself and do the extra work required to take on such a commitment, more power to them. "For teachers, this provided professional development meetings with AP teachers across the state, who teach the same subject." Being that extra time was required, I think the vote should have been taken among the participating teachers in the program and not the entire Teachers' Union. It would be interesting to know how many of the participating AP teachers voted for or against the renewal of the initiative. One shining positive of all of this is that the participating teachers and students showed improvement and they gained skills that should apply to future courses. Well done!

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