Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Philosophical Difference" or Reckless Disregard of Legitimate Concerns by Hinsdale Central High School's Math Department?

As we near the end of the first half of the 2013-2014 school year, we wanted to spotlight what we believe is one of the most serious concerns we have identified this year -- the disconnect between what the D181 administration believes is the correct course to take with the Math Curriculum -- the plan to accelerate all students by one grade level so that all students will complete Algebra before they begin high school -- and the position taken at D86 by the Hinsdale Central High School math department -- that not all students should be accelerated in such a manner.  Dr.  Schuster, who by her own admission at the last board meeting, has not spoken to the math department chairman, claims that the two districts simply have a "philosophical difference."  We don't care what she calls it, the point is that D181 feeds into D86 and the two districts should be on the same page.   They clearly are not and as Concerned Parents we find this completely unacceptable.  Not only should both districts' curriculum departments be collaborating, but the expertise of the math department chair at Hinsdale Central should be deferred to, rather than the D181 administrators who do not have math backgrounds and are certainly not experts in math, let alone curriculum.

We plan to follow very closely what the D181 Board of Education does in 2014, now that it has learned about the difference of opinion between the 2 districts.  Because we have received many comments on the math issue, we have decided to post them below so that they are easy to find and update in the coming months.  One of them references an article that was provided to a parent by the Hinsdale Central Math Department Chair.  We encourage all of you to read it and circulate it to other D181 parents.

The link to the article is: (The text is also included below in one of the comments submitted by a community member.)

The article is called "Algebra:  Not 'If' but 'When'." It was written on December 3, 2013 by Linda M. Gojak who is the President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

We will, as appropriate, update this post -- including adding any new comments that are submitted on the math issue -- and alert our readers to any new developments by the BOE or the D181 administration. Let's hope the D181 BOE does not sit idly by and allow the administration to continue pushing all our students, including those who struggled in the past and those who have now become struggling learners, down this reckless path of math acceleration for all.  Only those students who are truly mastering accelerated math concepts should be allowed to continue.  And the definition of what "mastery" really requires should be determined in collaboration with the high school math department chairman.  Last year, Dr. Schuster presented to the BOE data at the end of each quarter on how the 8th grade math students were doing in the Algebra course.  The data was not promising and it certainly called into question whether all students were mastering the material, despite their being allowed to continue in the class.  Interestingly, this year, she has not made any such presentations to the BOE.  One can only wonder why not.....


Anonymous said...

"How can a school board made up of business professionals and lawyers accept what is being given to them. In the business world, results would be demanded with evidence of success, not simply statements of future success. For all of us who thought we would just get our children to the high school where things would be better, we now have to question whether that will be the case. If Dr. Schuster believes she has a philosophical disagreement with the high school math chair but does not feel that should be addressed and resolved before putting our children through her idea of success or progress, who does she think will pay the ultimate price? We all need to step up to the plate and make sure the administration and board hear our voices, or we will be paying for more than tutors for our children for a long time. I am afraid much of what is being pushed upon our children is going to create a lot of stressed out children who will face a huge hit to their self-esteem. If it has not happened to them now, it will definitely hit them when they begin high school. I ask the board and administration to please look at the data and to use some common sense when making future decisions about our children and the employees we pay so well. Is this really the legacy you wish to leave when your board term is over or you move on to another district?"
December 16, 2013 
Anonymous said...
"1. Common core does not require students to be accelerated to complete Algebra 1 prior to high school;

2. The Hinsdale Central Department Math Chair does not think it is appropriate to accelerate ALL children so that they complete Algebra 1 prior to high school;

3. Our children performed very well in high school under D181's prior math program, as evidenced by Central's #4 ranking; and

4. Our children are failing under D181's current accelerated math program, as evidenced by declining MAP and ISAT scores.

That alone should be enough to oust Schuster and team. We need to start an online petition to get rid of them!!"
December 16, 2013
 Anonymous said...
"As a parent of a fourth grader, I couldn't agree more with the previous comment. My child suffered through the entire math mess of last year, and continues to be frustrated this year. It's obvious our administration doesn't have a clue as to how to fix the mess they have created. How about the recent change to the math grading? Teachers will be assigning numbers from 1-4. Is this a joke? Is this how Hinsdale Central grades math tests and quizzes or do they assign percentages? Of course they do, and this new math grading is yet another example of Schuster and her minions running away from the 80%, then 70% our children are having difficulty meeting because of how the curriculum is being rolled out this year. How this this board can allow this continue is beyond me. But if parents don't complain, the board thinks everything is fine. This couldn't be further from the truth."
December 16, 2013
Anonymous said...
"This article came from the Hinsdale Central Math Department. Parents should be asking the BOE what this philosophical difference is between Dr Schuster and the Math Department Chair.

Algebra: Not 'If' but 'When'
By NCTM President Linda M. Gojak
NCTM Summing Up, December 3, 2013

'One of the questions I am frequently asked by teachers, parents, and reporters is, “When should students take algebra?”

Let’s assume that we’re talking about a college preparatory algebra 1 course. The content and instruction must be designed to develop both conceptual and procedural understanding. For students to be considered successful in first-year algebra, the expectation must be that reasoning and making sense will be priorities of both teaching and learning.

Algebra has often been referred to as a “gatekeeper” to higher learning—both in mathematics and in other fields. Research shows that students who complete a mathematics course beyond the level of algebra 2 are more than twice as likely to pursue and complete a postsecondary degree. Students who don’t do well in algebra compromise their career options, especially in STEM fields. The question is no longer if students should take algebra but rather when students should take algebra.

As recently as 20 years ago, most students took algebra in the ninth grade. Students who showed exceptional talent in mathematics might be offered the opportunity to take it in the eighth grade. In many schools today, algebra in the eighth grade is the norm, and students identified by some predetermined standard can complete the course in seventh grade. Algebra courses are even stratified as “honors” algebra and “regular” algebra at both of these grade levels. The variation in course names leads one to wonder about the level of rigor.

One reason for the push to offer algebra earlier is the poor showing of students in the United States among comparable industrialized countries on international assessments. The belief held by many is that giving students earlier opportunities to complete algebra and take more advanced mathematics courses at the high school level will solve this problem. However, the issue is more complex than simply offering students the opportunity to take algebra earlier.

Requirements for taking algebra in the middle grades should be clear and must not be compromised. Successful completion of a rigorous algebra course requires students to have prerequisite mathematical understandings and skills as well as a work ethic that includes the tenacity to stick with a problem or concept until it makes sense and the willingness to spend more time on assignments and class work. Furthermore, a key characteristic of students who are successful in algebra, no matter when they take it, is a level of maturity that includes a readiness to understand abstract mathematical definitions, to work with abstract models and representations, and to understand and make connections among mathematical structures—and this readiness should extend to making abstract generalizations.

Students and parents should be fully aware of course expectations, consequences for not meeting the expectations, alternatives to the study of rigorous algebra in the middle school, and options for future mathematics work. Moving a struggling student out of a middle school algebra course not only has social implications for the student, but also affects his or her self-efficacy, which is very important for success in future mathematics courses."
I recall an assignment from my undergraduate work in which we applied the Fry readability formula to Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind. I still remember my surprise to find out that this novel was determined to be at a sixth-grade reading level. I realize that this does not indicate that it is appropriate to assign Gone with the Wind to sixth graders. It has been a while since I completed that assignment, but I often think about it when the discussion about accelerating students in mathematics arises. Just because a student can read the sentences in Gone with the Wind doesn’t mean that she has the experience or maturity to deeply understand what she is reading. The same is true in mathematics. Just because a student can mimic steps shown by the teacher doesn’t ensure that he has the sophistication to deeply understand the mathematics.
So, when should students take algebra? Many students and parents interpret taking algebra in the seventh or eighth grade as an indication of a level of superior intelligence—a status symbol. My experience, both as a student and as a teacher, leads me to believe that we do more harm than good by placing students in a formal algebra course before they are ready, and few students are truly ready to understand the important concepts of algebra before eighth grade. Many students should wait until ninth grade.
That does not mean that the middle-grades mathematics experience can’t be rich or worthwhile—even beneficial and indispensable to students’ future success in mathematics. I have always believed that middle school should be a time for students to get “messy” with mathematics. Students enter the middle grades with enough mathematical knowledge to explore mathematics through experiences that they may never have in high school or college. Seeing the relevance of mathematics in real-world situations and future career options encourages students to take more mathematics rather than to wonder, “When are we ever going to use this?” Solving interesting problems with high cognitive demand offers students experiences to make mathematical connections, form generalizations, and develop mathematical strategies that lead to making sense of early algebra concepts. Working on projects that deepen the level of mathematical understanding and promote algebra applications has the potential to prepare students for the level of abstraction and symbolism that students need for success in rigorous algebra courses.
Although many individual factors enter into decision about when to offer algebra, explicitly identifying student qualifications that ensure success, teaching for reasoning and sense making at all levels, and striving to give all students a rich and meaningful experience no matter when they take algebra should be high priorities.'"
December 17, 2013
Anonymous said...
"Very interesting letter from the HCHS math chair. It doesn't sound like someone who does not believe our middle school teachers are able to teach algebra, but someone who believes there should be careful thought and consideration given to whom takes accelerated math because of its importance for future learning and its effect on self-esteem if the child is not successful. Now, why can't we have administrators who care that much about our children and make decisions based upon what is best for children and not their own skewed ideas of where "all" children should be. I believe this brings into question the honesty of Dr. Schuster who claimed the disagreement between her and the department chair was about our teachers teaching algebra. I think it is clear from this letter that is not the issue. Dr. Schuster needs to stop with her imaginary conversations and have an honest, open dialog with the high school and the parents in D181. We will not know the real damage that is being done to our children until after Dr. Schuster leaves, which may be her plan. Unless everyone steps up and demands this idea of learning for all is anything more than empty words to build up a few administrators' egos and career paths, we are going to see a hopeless and unnecessary rate of failure from our students, especially by the time they reach the high school.

I find it ironic that Dr. Schneider, who comes from special education where the IEP rules the day, is promoting for the rest of our children the idea of everything being provided for our children all in one classroom. This would never be acceptable or legal for children in special education. Again, we are seeing time and time again where decisions are being made to benefit the administrator and not the teacher or student. Hopefully, more parents will speak out to stop this madness. I am disappointed more teachers are not speaking out. I assume it is because they are hoping for a good contract and don't want to speak out for fear it will affect the negotiations. I think the writing is on the wall that the teacher contract is not going to be a good one. Unfortunately, it will be too late for many children by the time the teachers realize this and the contract is settled and too many of our children have been harmed by this poorly thought out and implemented idea of instruction. If you sit back and say nothing, you have no right to complain about what you are getting. The only way to demand change is to speak out and be heard. Let's not look back and regret what we could have done but at least feel at peace that we did all we could."
December 17, 2013
Anonymous Anonymous said...
"Thanks so much to the parent who took the time to post the letter from the HSHC Math Department. For those of us without high school students, this kind of feedback and information is invaluable in helping us confirm what we know in our gut to be true. The fact that the professionals agree is reassuring. Now, if we could get the majority of our BOE to actually look at this issue in depth and care enough to question the administration in a thoughtful and detailed manner, perhaps we could stop the collision course we are on. It would be nice to see members other than Ms. Garg and Mr. Heneghan actually prepare thoroughly for the meetings. Why doesn't anyone else have anything to say on these issues when the questions the community are asking are so obvious? You can agree or disagree with the administration's answers but at least be prepared enough and take these issues seriously enough to ask the questions. A big and time consuming job, yes, but as the people responsible for leading us down this path, they have an obligation to our students to do better. Parents in the community should not be more informed about these issues than the Board and there are many who are. I have yet to speak to one informed parent who agrees with the bulk of what the administration is doing."
December 17, 2013 
Yvonne Mayer, D181 Parent and Former Board of Education Member said...
"I personally spoke with the HCHS math department Chairman -- Kurt Vonnahme -- in February while I served on the D181 school board. We discussed the math acceleration model that was being proposed at that time by the D181 Administration and he expressed his concerns with this plan and the fact that he believes that some students who complete Algebra in 8th grade may need to repeat it in high school. He stated that he would be willing to discuss the acceleration proposal with the D181 administrators.

I documented our conversation in a letter that I sent to the rest of the D181 Board and Dr. Schuster (and copied the HCHS math chairman on it) and I implored Dr. Schuster to please have the D181 math teachers and D181 curriculum administrators meet with HIM before the board was asked to vote on the ALP Plan (now renamed Learning for All Plan). (NOTE: ANYONE in the community can file a Freedom of Information Act Request for a copy of my letter to the BOE and Dr. Schuster regarding my conversation with Mr. Vonnahme. It was sent to them in February 2013.)

Despite my letter to the Board, neither the majority or Dr. Schuster felt this was necessary. I am extremely disappointed that 9 months later, no D181 administrator has taken the time to meet with Mr. Vonnahme. It is such careless disregard of the expertise of the math chair of one of the highest ranked high schools in the state and nation that leads me to conclude that our administrators are too arrogant and ignorant to want to participate in an open, substantive and meaningful discussion with the high school math department on what regarding what Dr. Schuster is now labeling a "philosophical difference."

What are she, Kurt Schneider and Kevin Russell afraid of? If they really want to address the parent concerns, teacher concerns and HCHS math department's concerns about the math acceleration model FOR ALL that they are currently steam rolling through D181, they should invite the HCHS math department chair to the next Commmittee of the Whole Meeting in January to participate in an open dialogue. Acceleration might be appropriate for some students -- and probably for more students than were previously identified under the old "testing" cut-offs that Former Asst. Sup. of Curriculum and Instruction Janet Stutz was responsible for -- but that does not mean that this plan is good, right, academically or socially appropriate for all.

It's time for all seven board members to actually have a discussion about this during a public board meeting. WHY WON'T THEY???"
December 17, 2013
Anonymous said...
"I hope everyone is paying attention to what is happening at the high school. Now, there are hundreds of parents and teachers showing up after it is too late to make a difference. The same thing is going to happening in 181 if the parents and teachers just sit back and wait to see what happens. Now is the time to speak out and be heard, and it needs to be many. I don't care if you like what is happening in the district. Then you should show up and be heard. I would love to see parents stand up at a board meeting and tell us what it is about this plan they like, and if they are talking about actual results or only ideas.

The board and administration need to hear from parents and teachers now while there is still a chance to stop or slow down this so called "learning for all" plan. I am afraid if everyone waits much longer, it will take years to undo the damage that is being done to our children and school district.

I hope our teachers and parents will have a wonderful winter break. Then come back rested and ready to be heard."
December 17, 2013


Anonymous said...

I've been appalled at the way the administration has pushed through this Learning for All plan and yes, my child suffered through a lost year as a third grader last year. I think the accelerated math plan is flawed and the implementation has been abysmal. I think we should continue to focus on fixing it before it is too late.

However, I also want to caution that we need to keep an eye on Language Arts because I am not seeing anything of substance or rigor coming home with my child. There is absolutely no way a teacher can differentiate among 22+ students in each classroom when there are distinctly different reading, writing, and spelling capabilities.

The Common Core standards and the new ISAT the kids will be taking in the spring are supposed to be more rigorous and yet, it appears as if Language Arts has been "dumbed down."

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with the most above comment on Language Arts. The focus this year has been totally on math. My fourth grader sits in class and cuts out words so she can sort them. Then she gets to sit in class and read silently for most of the class period. In the few minutes she has after silent reading, she gets to have a fellow fourth grader critique her answers to questions about the novel she read. This workshop style is also used for my child's writing. All of this seems unstructured and a piecemeal approach to learning language arts. Not to mention skipping around lessons in the math book. But wait, I'm just a parent on the fringe complaining. What's to complain about?

Anonymous said...

I'm not even sure D181 (K-5) has a comprehensive Language Arts curriculum in place. Dr. Shuster said "all needs will be met". My 5th grade daughter is in the lowest "words our way" group and she is actually complaining that the words are so easy. I mentioned this to her teacher-who said with this program they need to have so many kids in each group etc etc( she can't be moved yet)-so basically she's just coasting along, not really learning anything. How is grammar being addressed?, vocabulary? I haven't seen anything! I do like the A to Z reading passages to help with comphrension-but there is alot that seems to be missing.

I think it would be helpful to cite very specific examples of how the curriculum may or may not be "meeting the needs" of your child. I'll be writing the board.