Today we begin our second series focusing on Common Core and Acceleration under the Learning for All Plan in District 181. Part 1 of this series will explain that the D181 Administration’s crusade for classroom heterogeneity and unnecessary acceleration-- currently called the Learning for All Plan -- has resulted in an inaccurate perception that this plan is part of Common Core. Instead, we will demonstrate that the two are not related and that there are serious concerns about the origins of D181’s Learning for All philosophy and the impact it will have on our students. (Don't worry -- we haven't forgotten about our series on D181 Administrators and will publish the next post in that series very soon.)
Common Core (click to open link to Common Core) is required by many states and is now highlighted in discussions during board meetings and communications with teachers and parents. All Illinois districts are required by law to implement grade level Common Core learning standards in math and language arts. The belief is that the Common Core standards will increase the grade level rigor and performance expectations for all students.
D181 appears to be using this Common Core mandate for its own agenda – implementation of an accelerated inverted Learning for All instructional model. What is troubling about the concurrent promotion of the Learning for All Plan and Common Core by the District Administration and the Board of Education is that the messaging has become so confused that many parents believe the Learning for All Plan = Common Core. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We, the Concerned Parents, take the following position: It appears that the Learning for All Plan is, and has always been, the focus of Dr. Schuster and Dr. Schneider's efforts. Their agenda is very apparent in that they believe children are best educated through the Learning for All or heterogeneous classroom model of instruction that relies on the ability of teachers to differentiate within a completely inclusive philosophy. This means that all students, regardless of their ability level receive instruction within a single classroom. Students are not pulled out or identified for advanced level services, average or standard levels or ultimately special education services. Labeling has vanished and students are constantly “pre” and “post” tested to determine placement for reading and math levels. Most homework is not differentiated based on ability as all children receive the same assignments. There is little, if any, variation and in elementary math; “grade level” math now means one year acceleration beyond grade level.
The philosophies of accelerated or inclusive instruction are not learning "standards” and are NOT required by Common Core. Why then are they being implemented in District 181?
The inclusive model promoted by Drs. Schuster and Schneider, called the ICS -- Integrated Comprehensive Services, is actually the same inclusive philosophy that was instituted in Dr. Schneider's former K-12 district in Wisconsin -- the Stoughton District (Click to open report on Stoughton's ICS model.). The inverted model used in Stoughton is the same basic model that he has promoted in D181 to "raise the floor to raise the ceiling." The Stoughton District, however, is not considered a high performing district, like D181 is, and its demographics are also unlike those in D181. The Stoughton ICS model, however, was implemented for very different reasons than in D181. It appears as though the Wisconsin district had/has as a major focus on closing the achievement gap of students with disabilities while MAINTAINING a gifted program. In this context, the ICS model was implemented. Closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities was not the driving force to bringing ICS to D181. And to compound the differences between the 2 districts is the significant curriculum difference that was not implemented in the Stoughton District -- in D181 the ICS model of instruction also requires one full year of math acceleration for all students.
Why was Dr. Schneider allowed to impose the "accelerated version of the Stoughton ICS model" on D181 students without careful vetting by the Board of Education to determine the origin and effectiveness of this ICS model?
In preparing to write this series, we extensively researched Common Core and read the ALP/Learning for All Plan materials given to the Board of Education prior to their voting on the curriculum and instructional model changes. The research uncovered the Stoughton model and Dr. Schneider's involvement. When we found the Stoughton reports on ICS, it was as if a light bulb had gone on. We came to the startling realization that perhaps data questions that were asked by board members -- and more recently community members -- have never been answered in order to hide the true origin of the changes that have been forced upon D181 teachers and students. We found nothing in all of the materials presented to the Board of Education or Community on Stoughton's ICS model. We found nothing in all of the materials presented to the Board or Community that acknowledged or explained that the "product of D181's own design" had in fact originated in Stoughton, under Dr. Schneider's watch. There has been no admission or acknowledgement that Dr. Schneider has previously worked with Elise Frattura on implementing the ICS model in his old district. (Click to open 2010 Report on ICS in Stoughton written by Frattura.)
And yet, that is the very model -- in an accelerated, modified version -- that is now being hammered into D181's classrooms.
The facts that are surfacing show that the acceleration model is failing. Within the walls of classrooms around District 181 sit many students who in an effort to keep up have undergone rounds of tutoring at home, libraries or supplemental programs (e.g. KUMON) since the push for the Learning for All Plan was adopted and subsequently, the mandate for one year of elementary math acceleration for all became a common meme promoted by Superintendent Schuster and her administrators. After Dr. Moon's report (Click to open Dr. Moon's report) was released and suggested that students might be able to be accelerated by one year in math, the push was on to compact the third and fourth grade math curriculum during the 2012-2013 school year for all students. We now know this was a prescription for failure. (Click to open our 6/10/13 Blog Post titled: 2012-2013 Year in Review: Performance Data for the Third Grade Math "Compacting" Experiment.)
So, we are left with the original question: Is Common Core ≠ Learning for All? Fact or Fiction?
FACT: The Learning for All is a philosophy of how instruction will be delivered.
FACT: Common Core defines the state learning standards that students will be expected to achieve and will be tested on.
FACT: Common Core does not require an ICS model of instruction.
FACT: Common Core does not require one full year of math acceleration for any student.
FACT: Many teachers in D181 have been struggling to differentiate to different levels of instruction within one classroom, even with the sometime support of a MRC director or Differentiation Specialist.
FACT: Learning for All will most likely have a negative effect on test outcomes because students are not being taught at their instructional levels due to heterogeneous grouping.
FACT: Even the best teachers in our district will not be able to help students master the very different and challenging expectations that are the new state standards. Differentiation and the "push in" strategy are simply too heavy a burden for even the most experienced teachers. Dr. Moon sited little to no evidence of differentiation occurring in classroom observations within her report, yet the D181 Administration and Board of Education allowed this strategy to be the cornerstone of Learning for All.
FACT: Any suggestion by the Administration or Board of Education that the Learning for All Plan was implemented in D181 because of Common Core is just plain FICTION.