Attention Seniors: The Election is November 8th!

You can check to see if you are registered to vote by visiting: The last day to register to vote is October 29th. Voting in Burlington happens at Burlington High School in the Gymnasium.

On the ballot November 8th

If you live in Burlington, you live in the 6th Massachusetts District (Federal House of Representatives), the Fourth Middlesex District (State Senate) 21st Middlesex District (State House of Representatives)

Elected Offices on the Ballot:

House of Representatives


Lt. Governor

Attorney General (MA)

Secretary of State (MA)

State Senator (Senator in General Court)

State Representative (Rep in General Court)

State Treasurer

State Auditor

County Sheriff

Four Ballot Initiatives 

Question 1: Proposed amendment to the state constitution: This proposed constitutional amendment would establish an additional 4% state income tax on that portion of annual taxable income in excess of $1 million. This income level would be adjusted annually, by the same method used for federal income-tax brackets, to reflect increases in the cost of living. Revenues from this tax would be used, subject to appropriation by the state Legislature, for public education, public colleges and universities; and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation. The proposed amendment would apply to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2023. 

Yes: You approve of this additional tax and the Constitution is changed. No: You don’t approve of this additional tax; the Constitution remains as it is.

Question 2: Law Proposed: This proposed law would direct the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Division of Insurance to approve or disapprove the rates of dental benefit plans and would require that a dental insurance carrier meet an annual aggregate medical loss ratio for its covered dental benefit plans of 83 percent. The medical loss ratio would measure the amount of premium dollars a dental insurance carrier spends on its members’ dental expenses and quality improvements, as opposed to administrative expenses. If a carrier’s annual aggregate medical loss ratio is less than 83 percent, the carrier would be required to refund the excess premiums to its covered individuals and groups. The proposed law would allow the Commissioner to waive or adjust the refunds only if it is determined that issuing refunds would result in financial impairment for the carrier.

Yes: You approve of having dental insurance companies be regulated to ensure they spend 83% of premiums on dental expenses.

No: You don’t approve of this, and dental insurance companies continue on as they have.

Question 3: Law Proposed: This proposed law would increase the statewide limits on the combined number of licenses for the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption (including licenses for “all alcoholic beverages” and for “wines and malt beverages”) that any one retailer could own or control: from 9 to 12 licenses in 2023; to 15 licenses in 2027; and to 18 licenses in 2031. Beginning in 2023, the proposed law would set a maximum number of “all alcoholic beverages” licenses that any one retailer could own or control at 7 licenses unless a retailer currently holds more than 7 such licenses.

Yes: The changes to liquor licensing above goes into effect. No: There are no changes to the licensing.

Question 4: Affirm/Repeal a law: Eligibility for Drivers’ Licenses: This law allows Massachusetts residents who cannot provide proof of lawful presence in the United States to obtain a standard driver’s license or learner’s permit if they meet all the other qualifications for a standard license or learner’s permit, including a road test and insurance, and provide proof of their identity, date of birth, and residency. The law provides that, when processing an application for such a license or learner’s permit or motor vehicle registration, the registrar of motor vehicles may not ask about or create a record of the citizenship or immigration status of the applicant, except as otherwise required by law. This law does not allow people who cannot provide proof of lawful presence in the United States to obtain a REAL ID.

Yes: You approve of the law above and it remains in place (the legislature has already approved it)

No: The law above is repealed.

You can see more about each candidate for office, each initiative, plus arguments for and against at:

Information for incoming 9th graders.

All incoming 9th grade students will be enrolled in the course United States History I: 1800-1919. The choice is whether or not the students take the course at the Honors or College Prep level. Students will be recommended for the appropriate level by their 8th grade teachers, and those recommendations are based on the following areas:

  • Students should typically not be absent more than three (3) times a semester. (Successful Honors students are those who are absent three (3) times a semester or less.)
  • Students should complete homework at a 95% rate or higher without urging/prompting from parents and/or teachers.
  • Students should be active participants in class discussion.
  • Students should be able to articulate an opinion and then support it with evidence both in writing and orally.
  • Students should be curious about the world. They should be knowledgeable about current events and take in news sources regularly and independently.
  • Students should read for pleasure.
  • Students should be internally motivated: 
    • by a desire to master the material; 
    • to work hard every day; 
    • to find success in a classroom setting.
  • Students should: 
    • enter the class knowing how to prepare for tests and quizzes; 
    • enter the class having a solid organizational skill base and be able to take organized, thorough notes in class.
  • Students, on the whole, should welcome a challenge, and be resilient in the face of failure. Honors is a hard curriculum for all of our students, and a big part of the process is learning from mistakes and improving after recognizing what caused their initial performance. 

The Electoral College and how it works

By Todd Whitten, Department Chair

You can listen to this blog post here.

WE the people are going to be hearing a lot about the Electoral College in the coming days, weeks and possibly months, so I thought it would be helpful to do a quick explanation of what this is and how it works so you can impress your friends and family and drop a few facts on Election Night.

The Electoral College exists because the Founders didn’t trust the American people. It is that simple. WE the people are, to their minds, a mob of passion-driven, uneducated, and not-too-bright rabble, and there needs to be a check on our ability to put anyone into the highest offices of the land. Doubt me? In the Constitution, the House of Representatives is the only government body where the people directly elect the members. And they only serve 2 years! Senators were originally selected by the state legislatures (This was undone in April 1913 by the 17th Amendment, so now we vote for them), Supreme Court justices are appointed and confirmed, and the President is elected by the Electoral College. So, yeah, the Founders didn’t trust us all that much.

The Electoral College was instituted to be a brake on the passions of the populace, and is described in three places in the Constitution: Article II, section 1, Paragraph 2; the 12th Amendment; and the 20th Amendment. What follows is a mash up of the info in all three places.

Every state in the union is a member of the Electoral College and thus gets to have Electors. The number of Electors is equal to the total number of officials that the state sends to Congress; every state has 2 Senators, and the House of Representatives is determined by the state’s population, which is counted every 10 years in the Census. Massachusetts has 2 Senators and 9 Members of the House, so our state gets 11 Electors.

There are a total of 538 Electors in the country. The Constitution says that a simple majority of Electoral votes are needed to win, so the magic number to win the office is 270.

WE the people will vote November 3, 2020. The votes by the Electors are cast on December 14, 2020. They are called “Certificates.” Those Certificates are delivered either by hand or by registered US Mail by December 23, 2020, to the President of the Senate or the Congressional Archivist. On January 6, 2021 at 1 pm, a joint session (that’s both Houses of Congress) will be called. The certificates are opened at that time and in that place by the President of the Senate, and the votes are counted in front of all of Congress. When 270 is reached, a winner is declared and counting stops.

The Certificates can be challenged for legitimacy and accuracy. The challenge has to be in writing and signed by one Representative and one Senator. If that happens, the count is suspended, the two Houses return to their chambers, and the objection is debated for up to 2 hours. A vote is taken to uphold or overturn the objection to the Certificate. If both Houses uphold the objection, the Certificates are discarded and the counting resumes. If they disagree, the Certificates stand and the counting resumes. If there is no majority of votes (no candidate gets to 270), then the winner is determined by a vote in the House of Representatives, where each state’s delegation gets one vote. The majority winner of that vote becomes President/Vice President. We’ve never done this…

So who gets to be Electors?

Here’s where it gets messy. The Constitution states that “Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors…” Yes, that means that each state’s legislature has said “Here’s how to be an Elector.” The only requirement is that Electors can’t be “members of Congress or hold any office of Trust or Profit under the United States.”

So I could be an Elector. You could be an Elector. The state legislature has to determine who can be an Elector. Initially, the writers of the Constitution thought that an Elector should be a person of “Continental Character;” the idea was that it would be someone who is educated and informed about current events, and who would have a sense of the type of leader the country needed. That Elector would then be empowered to vote their conscience for the best choice, regardless of what the popular vote was. Then things started to change.

The big change was the creation of political parties, a rather huge blind spot in the Constitution’s text. As parties rose, most, if not all, the states, ceded their power to appoint electors to the party apparatus. So it became common practice, if not actual law in some cases, that the party whose candidate won the popular vote got to control that state’s Electors. So rather than “Continental Character,” party loyalty became the quality most sought after. The idea behind this is that a party loyalist wouldn’t cast a ballot against their candidate. So if Massachusetts went for a Democrat, the Electors would be Democrats. If it went Republican, the Electors would be Republicans.

In many cases, though, this isn’t enshrined in law, it is just a norm. Constitutionally, state legislatures still have control of Electors and can select them as they see fit.

In some cases as well, there are no penalties for being what’s called a “faithless Elector,” and casting a vote that runs contrary to the popular vote winner. That was, after all, the exact intent of the Founders. Several states have enacted legal penalties for faithless Electors, and in July of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that such penalties are constitutional, and more states are enacting them to bring the Electoral College in line with the popular vote.

All this means that this year it is even less likely than other years we will know who has been elected President. Technically we’ve never known the results of the election on election night; we’ve known what the media’s exit polling and what state’s reporting says the popular vote was. (Side note: We never should have gotten used to the media “calling” a state with 1% of the vote being counted!)

The popular vote has been adhered to by the vast majority of Electors in this country’s history, so in modern history there has never been much reason to doubt the outcome of the counting of Elector’s Certificates in January. In 2000, however, that process was thrown into doubt when the state of Florida’s Electors were in limbo due to a popular vote that was highly contested between Al Gore (D) and George W. Bush (R). Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no longer enough time to continue recounting the popular vote ballots in Florida and give Electors time to vote and deliver the Certificates to Washington DC, and so the ballot counting was suspended and George W. Bush gained control of Florida’s Electors and thus won the White House. (Side note: Again, the national popular vote doesn’t matter at all, it is the popular vote at the state level that matters. So despite Hillary Clinton getting more popular votes overall in 2016, that didn’t impact the number of electors she got. For instance, once she won California, she got their Electors. It didn’t matter if she won California by 1 vote or 10 million votes to the distribution of Electors.) Under the Constitution, though, if Florida couldn’t get its Certificates to Washington DC in time, then they just wouldn’t get counted, and the number to win would drop because there would be fewer Electoral Certificates to count.

During a pandemic where the US Postal Service has had mail sorting machines taken out of service, where states have had to cope with a flood of mail in ballots, where it looks like a record number of people are voting, and where some states are prohibited from counting ballots except within a strict window of time and other states have large windows in which to count, it seems probable that we will have a number of delays in knowing the outcome of the popular vote.

It also is possible (though how probable is uncertain), that some states could step away from their norms surrounding the Electoral College and who gets control of the Electors. If that should happen, it is also possible (though again, how probable is unclear) that there could be challenges to the Certificates on January 6.

All in all, we should be prepared for the possibility (note: not the probability, the possibility) of not knowing a winner of the Presidency until the wee small hours of the morning of January 7.

I’ll close with the wisdom of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which says on it in comforting letters:

“Don’t Panic.”

If you want even more details about this, you can visit the Congressional Research Service and the US Constitution and read about it on your own!

Honors in Social Studies at BHS

It’s this time of year when students and parents turn their thoughts to next year’s classes.  A common question we get is whether or not to pursue Honors level work in those classes.  The Department has spent a lot of time pondering this question, and we’d like to offer some basic guidelines to help families to make these decisions.

Qualities of an Honors student include:

  1. Being in school. Our analysis tells us that students who find success at the Honors level are absent no more than 3 times per semester at the most.
  2. Doing homework independently. Successful Honors students complete 95% or more of their homework without being nagged by parents or teachers to do so.
  3. Being an active participant. Successful Honors students contribute to class discussion regularly and without the teacher prompting them to do so.
  4. Being opinionated but with evidence. Successful Honors students are able to form and articulate an opinion and back it up with evidence. They can do this both orally and in writing.
  5. Being curious about the world. Successful Honors students are interested in the world around them. They follow current events, consume news items on their own and are interested in talking about them. They have an ambition to see the places they hear and read about.
  6. Being a reader. Successful Honors students see reading as enjoyable, not as a burden or a chore. They regularly spend time with books, magazines, newspapers, web articles, etc.
  7. Being motivated for their own success. Successful Honors students are self-motivated to: master material; improve their performance; and to work hard every day.
  8. Being resilient. Successful Honors students are able to bounce back from set-backs. They have a growth mindset about improving themselves and their performance. They believe in their ability to improve, and they take feedback constructively.
  9. Being strong students. Successful Honors students know how to be a student.  They are adept at note-taking, test preparation and organization.
  10. Being passionate about the social sciences. If there isn’t an interest in the subject matter, why bother taking Honors? Successful Honors students want to know more about the subject and are passionate about the topics the course covers. Of course, not all topics will inspire the same level of passion, but Honors requires a higher level of interest overall.

We’d expect to see an Honors student demonstrate a high level of achievement in his or her classes, but we don’t make our recommendations solely on the basis of the grade the student earned in our classes.  So if you or your child is contemplating Honors work in the Social Studies, go through the above 10 items and have an honest conversation about them.  If you can answer yes to all 10, coupled with strong marks this year, then this seems like an easy choice.  If the answer is no to some and yes to others, then include the teacher in the conversation and ask his or her opinion!  And if the answer is no to the majority, then Honors is not going to be the path to take next year.

Executive Orders, Memorandum, and Proclamations

There has already been much made of President Trump’s use of Executive Orders in the opening days of his administration. As we have seen, in week one, he issued six Executive Orders, 10 Executive Memoranda, and one Proclamation. That is according to the White House’s website:, as of this publication.

So what exactly are these things? How do they differ from each other, and how do they work? We’d like to offer this information as a way to help members of the BHS community better talk about them from an informed point of view.

Firstly, it is important to note that all Presidents issue Orders, Memoranda and Proclamations. Put simply, these are the most immediate tools at a President’s disposal to direct the Executive Branch to work on his agenda and to make public statements of desires and policies.

Secondly, it is important to note that none of these tools appear in the Constitution of the United States as a power granted to the President. They have evolved over time as convenient tools that allow the President to direct the attention and efforts of his Cabinet officers and their respective bureaucracies. While not exactly a Constitutional power, the Congressional Research Service considers them to be an inherent, albeit hazy, power of the President.

An Executive Order is, according to Merriam Webster’s Law Dictionary, “an order issued by a government’s executive on the basis of authority specifically granted to the executive branch (as by the U.S. Constitution or a congressional act).” This Order does not enter into force until it is printed in the Federal Register. If the Order is within the scope of the powers granted to the Executive Branch under the Constitution, then the Order has the force of law.  If it does not, or if it comes into conflict with pre-existing legislation or Constitutional authority, then it will be challenged, and the Supreme Court will have to make a ruling on its applicability. Until such time as this happens, however, the offices of the Executive Branch must comply with the contents of the Order as though it were a law.

The Federal Register can be viewed here and in the above link. You will notice, should you click the link, that Executive Orders are numbered sequentially. You will also notice that (as of this writing) the Federal Register has yet to create a Distribution Table for President Trump. As a result, there is a question as to the efficacy of these Orders until such time as they are entered and numbered. This is no doubt a function of time and bureaucracy, however, and will likely be rectified soon.

An Executive Memorandum is very similar to the Executive Order, and some have argued that they should both be lumped together and be called “Executive Actions.” However, a Memorandum does not carry the same force of a law, is not sequentially numbered, and is not entered into the Federal Register. In fact, a Memorandum does not even have to be public. It is similar to an Order in that the Memorandum directs members of the Executive Branch to do something in a certain way, or not do something in a certain way.  Different Presidents have treated Memoranda in different ways, with some viewing them as equivalent to an Order and others not. The Obama Administration began the practice of making Memoranda publicly available.

Lastly, an Executive Proclamation (or Presidential Proclamation as it is commonly known) is a mostly ceremonial statement directed at those outside of the Executive Branch. It does not necessarily carry any force of law, depending upon the content, and whether or not there is Congressional authorization behind it. The President may proclaim a day of mourning, a day of celebration of a person or group or event, for instance. According to the Yale Law Library, Proclamations also encompass Presidential Pardons, which do have the force of law. Proclamations may also make statements of policy, but like the others, are subject to challenge and review should they prove to be unconstitutional.

We hope that this is helpful as you go forward and discuss the actions taken by whomever occupies the White House at whatever point in history you feel like arguing about.

Welcome Back!

We in the Social Studies Department would like to welcome our students back to school, and extend a warm welcome to all the new students here at BHS! We are excited to meet you and begin our time together. For those of you who are new, our course progression is as follows:

9th Grade: US History I: 1700 – 1900

10th Grade: US History II: 1900 – Present

11th Grade: World History II: 1600 – Present

12th Grade: Electives.

Our Electives are generally open to all 11th and 12th grade students. 10th grade students may petition the department chair for permission if their schedules allow it.

Welcome Back!



There is an on-going kerfuffle over the depiction of slavery in a textbook published by McGraw-Hill and used in Texas high school classrooms, in which slaves are depicted as “workers” whose lives weren’t so bad. An interesting point about how textbooks are written was recently made in the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times. The article is linked up below, but the larger point about why grammar matters to how we talk about the tough topics in history is one well worth considering for both students and teachers.

Keys to Literacy

The Social Studies Department is pleased to announce our new partnership with the Keys to Literacy Program. During the 2015-2016 school year, teachers in the Department will be working with the staff at Keys to Literacy to develop and implement strategies in conjunction with the BHS English Department, and eventually all of Burlington High School. From the Keys book:

The Key Comprehension Routine is a combination of comprehension, writing and study strategies that helps students understand and learn content information. The routine helps teachers provide effective comprehension instruction using existing subject-area material.”

Snow Day Work

Burlington High School is participating in a pilot program with the DESE to see if the loss of days to snowfall in the winter can be made up.  To that end, the Social Studies Department has created a series of projects that students can complete in order to be granted two days worth of snow day relief.  These projects all revolve around participation in a civic society at the state and local level. To access these projects, please click the link entitled: Snow Day Work in the banner above.  Please note that in order to see the documents describing the project, you will need to be signed into the Burlington Public Schools’ domain.  Requests to share the project outside of that domain will not be granted.

Students and parents should contact teachers directly with any questions or concerns they may have as they arise.