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: http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/hcanderson/bl-hcanderson-emperor.htm)
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.