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Dad, 51, with 2 at Ottoson becomes 7th potential School Committee candidate

Andrew O'BrienO'Brien

The crowded field of potential School Committee candidates has added another: Andrew E. O'Brien of 109 Hillside Ave. took out papers Monday, Feb. 6, the eighth to do so since October.

Two three-year committee seats are up for grabs, held by Cindy Starks and Jeff Thielman, both of whom seek reelection. Joseph Curro is running for selectman and has vowed to stay on the School Committee through Election Day, April 10. Seven potential candidates remain.

O'Brien, 51, a stay-at-home dad with two children at Ottoson, ran for state representative in 2008, but lost in the primary to Sean Garballey. He provided a lengthy explanation about why he is running for School Committee:

"The main reason ... is that I am deeply concerned the about math and language arts curriculum.

"The final catalyst for my decision to run is the current decision by the sixth grade to experiment with a growing national trend of giving no written homework.

"My understanding of the reasoning behind this trend is that students are going to school unmotivated and uninterested. They would prefer to do school work at home rather than at school. Many folks also believe that intelligent children who refuse to write are being penalized.

"My opinion is that this sends the wrong message to children. I believe it gives the message that natural talents and test taking rather than hard work is more important.

"This decision also puts students at a competitive disadvantage for college admissions. College admission puts a greater emphasis on grades than on standardized test scores because grades are a better indicator of a hard work ethic. Colleges know that hard workers perform better with demanding workloads than the academically gifted."

Concerns include MCAS math scores

Asked what challenges the committee faces and how he would address them, O'Brien wrote:

"In math, students are overly reliant on step-counting and are choosing not to learn multiplication skills. This is the mental equivalent of choosing to ride around on scooters than bicycles. The bicycle maybe harder to learn but is clearly a more efficient mode of transportation.

"The choice is fine when it comes to riding around the block, but riding from one end of Mass. Ave. to the other would be quite exhausting.

"Similarly, students are OK with simple multiplication problems, but they become quite exhausted when it comes to long division or multiplication. The recent dismal MCAS 7th-grade scores do not come as surprise to me. The curriculum from elementary school has not prepared them for middle school. At minimum every child should be required to know their multiplication tables.

He described the choice of books in language arts as "overly dark," writing that they "constantly deal with mature content. My oldest daughter found The Hunger Games to be quite disturbing and required frequent parental counseling.

"While students need to know about oppression and violence, I believe students also should be exposed to books that that inspire them to be better citizens and to be enthusiastic about what life and this world have to offer. Perhaps students are not inspired to perform in school because the content of the curriculum is uninspiring and does not ask them to aspire to do great things.

"I also do not believe in the decision not to teach grammar in isolation. While grammar education may not improve a student's writing, formal grammar education enhances a person's understanding of the framework of our language. A logical understanding of the framework of our language can translate into learning other languages as well as computer code and languages.

A "Moynihan moment"

"I am believer in a progressive approach to education but the recent written homework experiment is my Daniel Patrick Moynihan moment.

"We have gone beyond what is reasonable in what we can do for the child's mental well-being and comfort. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we should be sending the message of ask not what can your community do for you but instead what you can do for the community.

"A reasonable amount of homework and school is hard, but it builds character. Let's also hold the schools' curriculum accountable for results. Let's get parent and teacher feedback on what is working and what isn't. Let's assess the curriculum's failures and make the appropriate changes systemwide."

O'Brien has a master's in education from UMass/Boston. In the recent past, he was a substitute teacher in the Arlington public schools and had been in classrooms from preschool to high school.

Those whose papers were certified by Feb. 7 are James J. Flanagan, A. Matthew Pallett, Starks and Thielman. Those whose papers were not certified by Feb. 7 are Sean Harrington and Ian T. Jackson. Gregory D. Brogan has withdrawn.

Nomination papers for town and school offices may be taken out until 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16. Papers must have 50 certified signatures.

2012 Town Election information | YourArlington election information

This story was first published Wednesday, Feb. 8.

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