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."