Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Cautionary Modern Day Tale: "The District's New Clothes"

At last Monday’s (9/9/13) Board Meeting, the Administration presented a “report” on the 2013 Spring ISAT data.  We would encourage you to all listen to the meeting podcast available on the D181 website because when we did, we were stunned to hear the administration and board of education members “celebrate” the ISAT (Illinois State Achievement Test) results, spin a web of excuses for why student performance had declined, justify them by essentially trashing past administrations, the past educational model and teaching methodology and proclaiming that the new “Learning For All Plan” is “the Answer.”

That meeting, and others that preceded it, remind us of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale  “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Well here in D181 Concerned Parent land, we think there is a similar tale to be told and we have called it “The District’s New Clothes. 

Once upon a time there was a high achieving school District. The District had everything going for it – great teachers, great students, supportive parents. The “clothes weaved” by the administration -- the programs and services offered to all students (including Special Education students) – were among the very best taxes could buy. People flocked from all around to move into the towns feeding into the District because they wanted their children to be educated in one of the very best districts.  Yes, the properties were expensive, and so were the property taxes.  Yes, teachers were amongst the highest paid in the state.  But all that was okay because everyone saw the fruits of their labors. Most students flourished and student performance excelled. The student performance in the District was ranked among the very best one could find in Illinois when evaluated by the standardized tests given to all districts.

But that was not enough for the new leader of the realm.  She wanted “new clothes sewn,” clothes that would shine brighter than any the District had worn before. She wanted clothes that would land the District in the national spotlight.  It wasn’t enough to be amongst the best in Illinois.  So she brought in a new tailor from another realm, who promised her and everyone in the community that he and his workers could sew garments so wonderful that when worn, every single student would be transformed into an “advanced” student who could eventually go to Harvard. 

After the new tailor made these declarations, he and his workers announced that they would be using a beautiful new material called “Social Justice” or “Learning for All” to sew the new clothes.  One or two of the leader’s advisors (the board of education) asked where this material had been crafted and whether the tailor could show them other realms similar to the District wearing clothing made with this new material.  They asked if they could see if the promised new clothes would really shine when worn in the District.  Yet their questions went unanswered.  All they were told was that the material existed and would result in a wonderful new wardrobe.

The leader of the realm and most of her advisors fell captive to the spell being weaved by the new tailor.  The promise of transforming all students into advanced learners and the promise of the very best elite college education for all students blinded them from recognizing that there was nothing concrete backing up these promises of future glory.

So, the tailor and his workers got to work and crafted garments that they promised were “the answer.”  They stripped off the old clothes, dismantling programs with past proven results, and “inverting” the very system that had proven so successful in the past.

The tailor and his workers spent months spinning and weaving and sewing the new clothes.  They ripped apart old seams, tattering well-worn clothes that still fit.  They created “designer apparel” that they claimed would be the perfect fit for all students.  In the process the tailor – a newcomer to the District’s community -- openly criticized the work of the past tailors and said that the old clothes had “eroded the general education classroom and curriculum,” and that the old “traditional” clothes had resulted in performance data “that had significant gaps.”  He made negative, offensive and damaging statements about how some of the underachieving students had not been provided adequate clothes in the past and had essentially been left out in the cold by the old tailors. 

During the “transition year,” the new tailor and his workers puffed out their chests and paraded out the clothes for the “first fitting” of samples of what the full clothing line would look like. The tailor and his workers proclaimed that the work was coming along and that the clothes were already emanating a brilliant shine on the district.  But some people who were in the crowd watching the parade began whispering.  “Where are the clothes we were promised?” “The district is being stripped naked.”

The people in the crowd looked upon the leader and her advisors and wondered, “Don’t they see what we see?  These clothes don’t fit our District.  These clothes are not going to make us shine brighter!!” 

Yet the leader and her advisors glorified the “first fittings.”  They “celebrated” and “commended” and “lauded” the new clothes.  Even when the performance data started rolling in showing that the new clothes were not resulting in the promised glory, the leaders and advisors kept repeating how wonderful the new clothes were and asked the tailors to keep sewing.   Even when the performance data showed that the old clothes had produced better results than the new clothes, the tailors kept repeating that the new clothes would produce better results.  “Just wait until we finish the clothes,” they kept saying.

People in the crowd began shouting to the leader and her advisors, “Are you blind?” “Don’t you see that the tailors haven’t spun beautiful new clothes for our District to wear?”  “Don’t you see that these new clothes will hurt our District, our students and teachers?”  “Don’t you see that the old clothes worked, and while some may have needed a few repairs over the years, that they weren’t so bad that they needed to be thrown out?”  “Don’t you see that cloaking students with new clothes will not magically transform them into Harvard eligible students?”

Yet the parade continued down the street…

At the end of the original fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” an innocent child was the only person willing to point out that the emperor was parading around wearing nothing at all.  Despite this,

“The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that.  He thought it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn't see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent.  And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.”  (Source of quote:

Why are the D181 “advisors” and community acting like that page, placing blind undeserving trust in the leader and her tailor that have yet to produce results or back up their promises with data? Our Pluralistic Ignorance is appalling.   It is time members of this community start talking to one another about what they really "see" happening in our schools and to our students and demand accountability, not more stories, from our Board Members and the Administrators they blindly support.


Anonymous said...

We are the parents of elementary school aged children. My husband and I are completely appalled by what is going on in this school district. As parents, we have a responsibility to protect our children. Our children do not have a voice in what is going on right now, so what are WE going to do about it? Parents have to speak up!

Anonymous said...

How could the previous board approve the Advanced Learning Plan without proof that this approach has worked in other high performing school districts? We have no evidence. We have no clothes.

Anonymous said...

We loved the clever allegory! Thanks for finally bringing some laughter to this terrible situation.
Fellow parents, your child's education is worth standing up for. If you think asking your administrators questions in front of people is disrepectful or embarrassing, wait until you realize our taxes will rise even higher to fund the imaginary improvements, while the police department and public services department shrinks. Pretty soon, your taxes will go up because the Royal Court will be convinced that we need more "tools" or clothes made out of magical, invisible cloth. They are already sending the new tailors to magical conferences, where, the knowlege they are granted is so "top secret" that they couldn't possibly SHARE it with the rest of us peasants. Besides hiring additional "magical employees/tailors" to help make the clothes, did you know that we can now order magical furniture, too? The new tailors have convinced the kingdom that providing new furniture for our school libraries, and calling it "the leaning commons" instead of library will grant mystical powers to our children's brains! Silly ME. to think that my children would actually have to learn to read, write, or do math calculations!! Why should our children actually have to think when an Apple computer could be doing it for them?

Anonymous said...

Great post. Here’s another story worth telling, with apologies to "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie," by Laura Numeroff.

If you give a superintendent a pension, she will go get another job in another state.

When she gets the job in the other state, she will have to spend the excess money and build a house in a third state.

If she builds a house in the third state, she will have to spend a lot of time there.

If she spends a lot of time there, she will want to hire administrators to cover for her.

If she hires administrators to cover for her, they will not be hired for their qualifications.

If she hires administrators without qualifications, they will make decisions without any empirical foundation.

If the administrators make decisions about our children without empirical foundation, they will resort to broad ideological claims.

If they make broad ideological claims, they will become defensive when challenged and huff and puff in righteous indignation.

If they spend their time in righteous indignation, the children will suffer.

Moral of the story, change the leadership.

Anonymous said...

When you try to build a house of cards on thin air, what will happen?

Anonymous said...

This was a sadly but true analogy of our situation. I as a parent are tired of the patting of the backs of our board and its leader and making us educated parents seem like we are stupid. The story could not be more fitting. We are not stupid we want answers, a plan and results not to be an experiment.... Our children deserve better I deserve better for my family after working 60 hours a week to afford to live in this district and give my children what was the best and now is sadly just a joke right now on us the taxpayer, students and the teachers of District 181

Leslie Gray said...

Dear D181 parents,

I would like to inform you about an important board of education meeting that will occur on Monday October 7 at 7:00pm at Walker School. At this meeting, the administration will be urging the board of education to establish two task forces - one to lower the current class size limits, and the other to make recommendations on instituting full day kindergarten in our district. I believe that both initiatives are of paramount importance to this district (I will outline my reasons below), and I urge everyone to attend the board meeting to show their support. Also, please send an email of support to the board addressed to Both initiatives will obviously require monetary allocations from the budget, and therefore the board needs to be aware that there is strong community support for both initiatives.

I met with Doug Eccarious today and he provided me with some informative background on the whole class size issue. It turns out that in 2009 the board of education established a task force to look into lowering class size limits. The task force came back with the following recommendations: Grades K-2 maximum of 22 per class; Grades 3-5 maximum 24 in homerooms; Grades 6-8 maximum 27 in most core sections and 24 in science preferred. It was estimated that the net cost of the additional staffing would be $280,000 for one school year - less than 1% of the district budget. There was strong support for the recommendations and it was widely believed that the board would approve them. However, the task force presented their recommendations at a board meeting that took place on January 26, 2009 - otherwise known as black Monday. Due to the economic events that had transpired that day, the board voted against the recommendations.

It is now time to revisit the class size issue. We have made a lot of changes in this district and we are asking a tremendous amount of our teachers and our students. Yet we have not changed our class size guidelines. We have compacted math, introduced common core, and added differentiation. As a result, our students and teachers are more stressed than ever. This new way of teaching does not work with large classes and it is asking too much of our wonderful teachers. Moreover, this district has experienced poor spring MAP test scores and declining ISAT scores. Small class sizes would give our students and teachers a fighting chance.

It is not fair that a fourth grader at Monroe is in a class of 22 but a fourth grader at Madison is in a class of 27. It is not fair that a fifth grader at Oak, Elm and Madison is in a class of 27 but a fifth grader at the Lane is in a class of 21. We cannot have these inequities in a resource rich district such as ours. Aids are no substitute for the relationship between a full time teacher and a student. It is time to put teachers and students first in the budget!

In addition, I believe that this district needs to institute full day Kindergarten. With the implementation of common core and the compacting of math, we are asking a tremendous amount of students in the upper grades. In order for our students to succeed, we need to push the curriculum down. Students cannot be expected to learn everything in one year.

I urge you to let other D181 parents know about this issue. Also please attend the board meeting on October 7 and email your support to

Leslie Gray said...

I forgot to add in my earlier post that Doug Eccarious is also going to ask the Board to change when he can do his hiring. He would like to start hiring in February so that he can attract a better pool of applicants who can hit the ground running on the first day of school. Also, he would like the authority to hire when a "hot spot" in close to reaching a magic cut off enrollment number, and not wait until mid summer when that enrollment number is reached. I support these measures as well.

Anonymous said...

Would you please add a link to your site for contacting you?

Anonymous said...

I do agree that the class sizes are too large. My daughter's Kindergarten class has 23 students in it. I also agree that Kindergarten should be full day. That being said, the poor performance of spring MAP scores has nothing to do with class size. The poor performance is directly related to the fact that this district decided to teach 2 years of math in one school year to 8 and 9 year olds. The Learning For All has already failed. Every day my 4th grader loses valuable learning time in math. He is finishing the 4th grade curriculum and getting ready to start 5th grade math. How absurd! He might as well stay home and not even bother. The concepts are way above his level of comprehension. And he is not alone. That he is not allowed to work on grade level is unheard of. What is happening in this district should be illegal!!

The Parents said...

In response to the request for a link to contact us, if you meant The Parents, you can submit a comment on any post. If you have a comment that you do not want published, you can simply indicate that in your comment and we will not publish it.

If you meant Leslie Gray, the author of the last two comments, please submit a second comment asking her for her contact information. We will publish it and perhaps she will submit additional contact information for us to publish.

Anonymous said...

To the person who said the administrators treat us like we are stupid. You are correct. Yes, it is insulting and disrepectful when they can not show you any information about how they will "differentiate" for your child, or why they chose certain books or programs over others. They can't explain why some children get to work with the differentiation specialist , but yours doesn't. The poor differentiation specialist is overwhelmed, because, even though she knows what she is doing, there are not enough opportunites to train the teachers in it. The administration blames the teacher's union for not supporting more professional development time. Rather than renegotiate with the teacher's union, our superintendent tried to take more school time away from our children with 1/2 days so that she wouldn't have to step on the teachers union's toes. It is much easier to step on the toes of children. Too bad there is not a parent's or children's union. Oh wait, isn't that what we have a Board of Education for?

Dawn Benaitis (a new administrator) was quoted in the paper today as saying, "Many parents who graduated from District 181 themselves appreciate the education they received. So why change it?". What?!? Maybe she didn't pay attention last year, but the ADMINISTRATION changed everything last year because they wanted to be "new" and "experimental". Remember? But she was probably too busy putting out fires at Monroe last year, that she must have missed hat memo from our district's "new" PR person! Ha! This is NOT the same district that it was 20, or even 10 years ago. It is much, much worse.

If we parents let administrators get away with this type of behavior, maybe probably are stupid.

Anonymous said...

All day kindergarten has not been shown to be effective in districts such as ours. The only place it has shown some effectiveness is in very poor, urban districts. Likely those children did not attend a quality preschool. My guess is 99% of D-181 children have attended 1 to two years of a good preschool before starting kindergarten. Kindergarten children are 5 years old with limited attention spans. Some of them are ready for 1st grade, many are not. To basically decide to cram the first grade curriculum down the throats of 5 year olds because of common core does not make sense. Today there are very bright motivated kids at outstanding colleges that were probably lousy in kindergarten. Let's don't diminish the love of learning that most 5 year olds naturally have.