We begin 2014 with presenting a striking reality of similarities between the wordy, deliberately confused definition of a spinning wheel to that of the D181 goals outlined by Superintendent Schuster in the most recent version of the Hinsdalean. It was almost worth fishing the paper out from under a snowdrift as we might have missed the continued nonsensical double talk that appeared in the column that, by all perceived accounts, appears to focus on “collaboration” as the end all, be all savior of the district. In fact, one of her favorite terms, “foster” appears to have taken on a meaning of its own as Schuster references it within the context of her district goals:
- Collaboratively support improvement in student achievement and growth.
- Collaboratively foster community involvement, transparency and an environment of trust, with information and data used to improve learning and operations.
- Collaboratively engage in long-range financial planning focused on fostering academic excellence and effective use of district resources.
- Collaboratively support employee excellence.
Let’s take a closer look at the spin within:
- What does Schuster mean when she states student achievement and growth will be supported through collaboration? If the minimal to negative growth (in some grades) on last spring’s MAP test is any indication about the use of collaboration in this district, then we are in serious trouble. The BOE should be asking the administration how exactly collaboration is being used to support improvement? What exactly is the administration doing in this area? We bloggers believe the following to be true: student growth can only be improved by teaching students at their respective instructional levels. Period. Educational research (Vygotsky, who Schuster freely quotes but does not follow) is very clear on this fact. This, of course, means all students should not be accelerated one year in math regardless of ability level, as is currently the practice.
- How exactly is trust being “fostered” within community involvement? It couldn’t possibly be through the use of community engagement sessions wherein parents voluntarily participate in controlled discussion only to find afterward their ideas and suggestions have been filed away, permanently, never to be mentioned again. Is this how trust is being “fostered?” Or, how about the recent Common Core Math dog-and-pony show lead by the four foot soldiers, Kurt Schneider, Kevin Russell, Christine Igoe, and Dawn Benaitis (See blog post Nov 24) that did not allow time or encourage parent questions. Is this how an environment of trust and transparency is cultivated?
- How exactly is the BOE demanding effective use of district resources (aka $) when the Schuster attends conferences as she wishes and her administrators are busy preparing for and presenting at conferences (Kurt Schneider and Kevin Russell presented at TASH in December)? And conference attendance translates how to academic excellence?
- How is employee excellence being supported? It couldn’t possibly be by demanding teachers differentiate to more than 20 students in a classroom all day, every day, could it? Can we expect employee excellence from our teachers and staff with the automatic year of acceleration in math for all students that has fallen on their backs? How about the ineffective professional development teachers stated they received (as stated in the survey) that does not prepare teachers to be as effective as possible within the classroom? Where is the training related to the demands of the Common Core? Are teachers versed in the new expectations and content so they are comfortable teaching every day? From the survey responses, it appears such training has not occurred. Is this how employee excellence is “fostered?”
Unfortunately, there is a major problem with stating these goals with the sole focus on collaboration as a solution to the districts problems, and there are many. Like the wordy definition of the spinning wheel above so too are the continued messages of Schuster, which continue to be a common problematic pattern. Schuster is willing to use jargon and double speak when attempting to explain away the downward slide of school ISAT rankings and the poor growth on the MAP test last year. Moreover, we find it interesting that within the Hinsdalean (January 2) article Schuster touts her mid-year progress report, which was detailed on this blog post on December 13, in that she ignored the teacher and parent input regarding the true state of professional development and differentiation within classrooms (both of which were described as weak within the buried survey responses). After reviewing this article filled with spin, we have come to the conclusion that Schuster and her administrators do not know what they don’t know. It’s a simple as that.
In a recent book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else author Geoff Colvin provides the following insight: “Being good at whatever we want to do – playing the violin, running a race, painting a picture, leading a group of people – is among the deepest sources of fulfillment we will ever know. Most of what we want to do is hard. That’s life. Encountering problems, discouragement, and disappointment is inevitable. So any knowledge about what makes us better at the things we want to do – real knowledge, not myth of conjecture – can be used not just to make us richer but also to make us happier.” He goes on to say, “The nineteenth-century humorist Josh Billings famously said, ‘It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.’ The first step in understanding new findings on great performance is using them to help us identify what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”
In other words, since Schuster has publicly stated she wants D181 to be “pioneers” and has taken us down the path of a one-size-fits-all ideology, she has obviously taken this risk with our children while unaware of what she truly does not know about learning theory, pedagogy, testing and measurement, teaching strategies; the list goes on. We have someone in charge of our children whose background is centered in speech therapy and has had limited classroom time, if any (Click to open Schuster's Resume). We also have her lead administrator, Kurt Schneider, whose background is in special education, not curriculum and has never taught elementary school children; he only has high school teaching experience (Click to open Schneider's Resume). We still question why Kevin Russell (Click to open Russell Resume 1; Click to Open Russell Resume 2) is not leading the curriculum department and instead Schuster has placed Schneider in charge. What does this say about Schuster’s confidence in Russell?
The BOE and community should be asking the following: do these people really know what they don’t know, or have they developed a severe case of groupthink*? Do they understand what isn’t a reality or have they created their own version, complete with mantras, silos, slogans, and convoluted messaging?
Which brings us back to the spinning wheel, which is much like the differentiation bandwagon that rode around in the 1970s and 1980s in that it was deemed insufficient if it is the main philosophy for instruction promoted within the classroom. Talented educators observed student performance and decided to move forward with new strategies of grouping children based upon need, which then produced the successful end results you would expect to see, especially in a student population that is reflected in D181. What you don’t expect to see are our schools falling in state rankings on ISAT results, and the downward slide of growth on the MAP test along with critical teacher and parent comments that go unrecognized.
So, the spin continues into 2014 with no apparent end in sight. The BOE as elected officials should be demanding much more from the administration. After all, they were elected to represent the parents and community. Where is our representation? Why do several members (Turek, Nelson, Clarin) consistently support the whims, spins, and generalities of Schuster and her administrators without considering the impact on our children? We sure would like answers to these questions and more.
Bottom line: A broken clock shows the correct time twice a day. Should we brag and boast about its accuracy or replace it so we always know what time it is?
*Groupthink: A cohesive group's blind unwillingness to consider alternatives. This occurs when group members strive for agreement among themselves for the sake of unanimity and to avoid accurately assessing the decision situation. Source: Managing Now! Dessler, 2010.