It seems that the inquisitive comments submitted by a community member have led to an admission from Dr. Schuster about the true nature of the Learning for All Plan. Our next post will address our opinions on what Dr. Schuster's admission really means, but we felt that the content of Dr. Schuster's Blog is of sufficient importance that it needed to be brought to your attention immediately. Below we have copied the comments that have appeared on Dr. Schuster's Blog. (Click the links below to read the posts that preceded each series of comments.) When reading them, we suggest you focus on the comment posted on October 7 (highlighted in red, with certain phrases bolded by us) and then contemplate what it all means for the future of D181. Our opinions will be published soon in the next post.
Excerpts from "Dr. Schuster's Blog" (full posts available on the D181 Website):
Welcome to My Blog
Thursday, September 05, 2013
Jeffrey Mayer 9/7/2013 10:32:11 AM Could you please elaborate on the "social justice" philosophy underlying the current curriculum reform. Are there key academic sources that you relied upon? And, what data do you rely upon to support the adoption in a high performing district. I would be very interested in learning more about this important topic. I think it should be posted, as it will help support community adoption of this recent change.
Dr. Renée Schuster 9/10/2013 4:33:11 PM Thank you for your comment, Mr. Mayer. I believe the“social justice philosophy” your question refers to is Learning for All (formerly called The Advanced Learning Plan) – the plan approved by the Board in February and in place starting this schoolyear. Learning for All is a proactive, multi-year plan for advancing the learning of all students. All District 181 students will need to be able to compete and contribute in a complex global society. By understanding various demographic groups and monitoring achievement data for all students, District 181 staff will be better equipped to achieve the goals of the Learning for All plan. Please see our website for more information on this important plan, including the District’s Philosophy of Teaching and Learning and Works Reviewed, both on the Learning for All webpage.
Jeffrey Mayer 9/14/2013 11:08:22 AM Dr. Schuster, thank you for your reply. I did review the link and was unable to find any data or reference to this new plan, the social justice plan, ever being adopted in a high performing district. Is there any data? Has such a plan ever been used in a high performing district? That was the question that remains unanswered. Thank you for your attention to this important topic.
Dr. Renée Schuster 9/16/2013 12:43:36 PM Thank you for your reply, Mr. Mayer. As a point of clarification, the Learning for All Plan is not a “social justice plan” - the two terms are not used interchangeably. As stated previously and as noted in our Annual Report, the Learning for All Plan touches on nearly every aspect of a strong educational system, including preparation for the New Illinois Learning Standards Incorporating the Common Core, increasing rigor and opportunities for acceleration, and building structural supports to provide our team of exceptional staff with time for collaboration and data review. The District has not used the term 'social justice' in any of its plans. ‘Social justice’ has been one aspect of many included in our professional development, as we are committed to reviewing data and progress of each student, including disaggregating data of student groups as identified by No Child Left Behind, an expectation of all districts from the Illinois State Board of Education. When we presented the Learning for All Plan to the Board of Education over the course of the last school year, questions around research were addressed extensively. Our focus with our Board of Education now is on implementation of the Plan, now in its first year. That being the case, I would refer you to the many presentations and Q&A files from 2012-13 available via BoardDocs. If you have further questions, I would be happy to speak with you in person or over the phone. Please contact my office to schedule an appointment at your convenience.
Jeff Mayer 10/2/2013 8:52:05 PM Dr. Schuster, thank you for directing me to sources to understand whether or not we are a pioneer district with this plan. My research on the sources you identified, including board documents, suggest that the Learning for All Plan has never before been used in a high performing district. Am I correct on this point? If so, we should be direct with the community on this issue so that we can properly evaluate the performance on an ongoing basis. Certainly, there is nothing inherently wrong with being a pioneer, but it requires I believe a willingness to rapidly and carefully evaluate the resulting data and performance and be willing to change as needed without regard to the "sunk costs" in rolling out the program. Your thoughts would be appreciated. I also would encourage other community members to voice their view of this new curriculum on the blog.
Dr. Renée Schuster 10/7/2013 7:16:10 PM Thank you for your comment. The Learning for All Plan in its entirety is not a “product” or “plan” that could have been used in another District – It is of our own design based on research and the best practices of our field (which have been used in a variety of districts, including high performing districts), as well as the expertise of our staff and the requirements of the Illinois Board of Education. We agree that ongoing data review and evaluation are critical. As we have shared with the Board, the Learning for All Plan is a living plan; we expect that it will be modified based on the data we receive throughout each year of its implementation.
Teaching and Learning at the Instructional Level
Jeff Mayer 10/2/2013 8:44:24 PM Thank your for your post about one of the theories underlying the current curriculum shift in D 181. As commonly understood, the theories of Lev Vgotsky, a Russian who died in 1934, including the Zone of Proximal Development emphasize the social cultural aspects of learning and are typically contrasted with other learning models. As some authority notes "This perspective views children as social beings who are influenced by the cultures in which they live.
Lev Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory emphasizes the zone of proximal development (ZPD) and the use of conversations, external and internal, to guide children’s learning...The sociocultural perspective also stresses awareness of diversity among children, including factors such as ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities. It is critical to understand influences of children’s family values and cultural expectations on development."
Typically, this learning model is contrasted with other models of learning emphasizing the individual child, as opposed to a "social justice" model that ties one child's learning to all other children.
Has this social cultural learning model been used previously in D 181? In terms of differentiation, what percentage of children are benefiting from the "scaffolding" or differentiation process. Obviously, if the superintendent is in the classroom, one would expect the teachers to provide a model experience, but what data exists to show that this scaffolding in in fact going on in the classroom.
Thank you for your attention to this issue.
Dr. Renée Schuster 10/7/2013 12:56:04 PM Dear Mr. Mayer,Thank you for your comment on the latest blog post. My understanding is that you were citing information available on the Michigan State University website. To clarify, the concept of differentiation is not a new addition to District 181. It has been in existence for many years, as it is critical to providing instruction that meets students’ individual needs. Similarly, the concept of understanding what a child can do with assistance and what a child can do independently is also not a new addition to District 181, as it is critical to understanding a student’s instructional level.We believe that all students benefit from receiving instruction that advances their learning. Our teachers in District 181 are exceptional professionals who do an outstanding job helping students learn and grow, regardless of who may be in the room. Additionally, since the majority of my classroom visits are not prescheduled, I know I am seeing the regularly planned lessons. We support our teachers’ continued refinement in the area of differentiation and using the workshop model in particular as they strive to utilize the most effective strategies to maximize their students’ learning.
Jeff Mayer 10/9/2013 3:15:16 PM Thank you for your response. I still am not clear on how the theory is being set out in practice in D 181 based on your response.Perhaps it would be helpful if I broke it down for your readership.
1.) D 181 has traditionally differentiated, as you noted, but my understanding is that this was done in part, but not exclusively by tracking. My understanding is that with the Learning for All Plan tracking is minimized or eliminated ("the raise the floor raise the ceiling social justice concept"). As such, the differentiation is occurring in one classroom. Is this activity increased because tracking is minimized? Do you have data, that the community can review to understand whether the amount of in class differentiation is increased.
2.) Is this differentiation assistance, working as teams, being used in all subjects, math for example?
3.) You cited Lev Vygotsky and, yes, MSU and other sources indicate that the Vgotsky inspired instruction is a different model then other models. So, my question, which you did not answer, is whether this year's in class differentiation different in theory from prior years because you are advocating a social model of learning?in short, your answer only states that differentiation was done before and is done now. However, we have adopted an entirely new system this year, one of your 'own design" and I believe it would be helpful for you to explain how the active learning you describe is different in years past both in practice and in theory.
Thanking you in advance for your thoughts.