Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dr. Moon Distances Herself from Learning For All Plan -- Ball Thrown Back Into Board's Court

Anyone who attended or listened to Monday's (2/24/14) board meeting hoping to hear Dr. Moon present a progress monitoring report on the implementation of HER 2012 Report recommendations was sorely disappointed.  We are not going to describe every single thing that was said, rather this post is mostly our commentary, and we hope that our readers will weigh in with their opinions.  It is important for each parent and teacher to listen to the whole discussion (including parent comments) and come to their own conclusions.   This portion of the meeting can be accessed at the D181 website, by going to the Board of Education "meetings' tab and then downloading the 2/24/14 podcast. The agenda item dealing with Moon begins at Time Counter 1:01:34.

The agenda item titled "Guest Presentation"was quite enlightening to us for many reasons.

First, opening public comments were not allowed. Apparently now whenever the BOE wants to exclude opening public comments that its own board policy requires be allowed immediately following the pledge of allegiance at each business meeting (click to open Policy 2:230), it simply needs to call something a "guest presentation" and schedule it ahead of any input from the community.  Of course the policy doesn't allow for this, but the board doesn't seem to care that it is violating yet another one of its policies.* Public comments were only allowed following Dr. Moon's "presentation," which was clearly frustrating to all parents who had hoped Dr. Moon would be able to acknowledge or address some of their questions and concerns.  She could not during her presentation, but worst yet, did not comment on any of the the parents' comments or questions raised  following her "presentation."

Second, Dr. Moon did not actually give a "presentation" at all despite the administration repeatedly stating over the last year that Dr. Moon would return -- as required by her contract --  to evaluate and report to the board on the implementation of her recommendations.  Dr. Moon's "presentation" actually began with a prepared speech read by Dr. Schneider.  He went through an 8 slide power point trying to remind everyone of why Dr. Moon had been hired, what her recommendations were and how they are being implemented.  He then turned the microphone over to Dr. Moon, and much to our dismay, she did not present a report at all.  Instead,  she merely explained that she was in the middle of a two day visit during which she would observe classrooms, review documents received from the administration to determine if what's in place is "aligned" to the practices called for in the Board's plan.  She said she had received documents to review from the administration regarding the Board's plan, but that she was still reviewing them.  She said that she was really only in attendance on Monday in order to answer questions the board members might have about the Board's plan. She stated that on Tuesday she would complete her tour of the schools and then prepare a report for the Board that would include "commendations" and "considerations"regarding the Board's plan.  She stated that this report would be different than last time when she had been asked to evaluate existing programs and provide HER recommendations on changes that were needed, but this time her only job was to determine if the Board's plan was being successfully implemented, not whether her recommendations were being implemented. Dr. Moon made some brief observations regarding seeing some differentiation in the classrooms, saying she had seen tremendous amount of growth during her classroom observations, but did really elaborate. She did not specify what any of her final conclusions --- positive or negative might be. She did not say when her written report would be ready and submitted to the BOE.

What was disclosed during the meeting was that after Monday night, the progress monitoring would transition from Dr. Moon to Dr. Reva Friedman, a colleague of Dr. Schneider hired in 2013 to serve as a gifted consultant to D181, but who apparently had never visited D181 until Monday.  Dr. Friedman is not a colleague of Dr. Moon's from the University of Virginia.  She works at the University of Kansas. She was not part of the team that submitted a Request for Proposal to the BOE in 2011 and who were selected after careful consideration of their credentials and proposal when compared to proposals submitted by other educators.  Dr Friedman did not accompany Dr. Moon in 2012 when Dr. Moon spent several days in the district observing classrooms and preparing a written report for the Board.  She was not present when Dr. Moon gave her report to the Board in January 2012.  Instead, Dr. Friedman was handpicked by Dr. Schneider to collaborate -- apparently "for free" - -during the time period when the administration was developing the Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All Plan.  Dr Friedman was subsequently hired in 2013 to serve as a "gifted consultant" to D181 but despite her contract specifying past dates in 2013 and 2014 when she should have been on site, Monday's was her first visit to D181.  She accompanied Dr. Moon to the classroom observations on Monday, but was silent during the entire "presentation" to the BOE on Monday night.

So we find it very curious to learn during the meeting that following Dr. Moon's 2/24 "presentation" and written report, all work related to monitoring and advising on the implementation of the Learning for All Plan is going to be "transitioned" to Dr. Friedman.  It appears that D181 will never hear from Dr. Moon again.  In response to Board Member Heneghan's question as to why this was happening, Dr. Schuster quickly jumped in and represented that Dr. Moon would no longer be available.

We just don't get it. After paying Dr. Moon nearly $56,000, suddenly the well has run dry? Suddenly she is no longer available, but Dr. Schneider's handpicked choice is?  How can that be? Well the answer may lie in what we learned from the her responses to board member questions. These answers made it abundantly clear that she is washing her hands of D181. And the reason may be because the Board's plan, as she kept referring to it, did not implement her recommendations and is not a plan she can support.  We will have to wait and read what her "commendations" and "considerations" are when she finally submits the written report to the board, but one thing is for sure, no one will be able to ask her questions about what she puts in the report because SHE IS NOT COMING BACK.  Not one board member suggested that she be paid to return to present her findings and conclusions to the board and to be available to answer their questions in a public setting where the parents and teachers whose students are being impacted by the Board's plan can hear the discussion.  In our opinion, this just doesn't make sense, and it doesn't seem logical or right!

So let's look at exactly what we did learn from Dr. Moon on Monday night. She really did not make any substantive comments before addressing the board's questions, but even when those began, Dr. Moon said that there were some she could not answer because they were outside her area of expertise.  Some she said she could not answer because her observations were not yet concluded.  Some she answered in a very generic, non-D181 specific way.  However, several themes or pieces of information did emerge from the Q&A session with the Board.

1.  Her role in returning to the district was NOT to determine if the district was successfully implementing the recommendations she made in her 2012 report.  Her role was to observe classrooms, review data (which she admitted she had not yet reviewed) and determine if what is currently in place in D181 "aligns" with the practices that the Board's plan called for.
2.  The Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All Plan is the "Board's Plan," NOT HERS.
3.  She did not state that the Board's plan was implementing her recommendations; in fact in our opinion, her answers made it clear that the Board's plan had cherry picked which of her recommendations to incorporate.
4.  It also became clear that she had NOT recommended that D181 implement a math acceleration  for ALL program, nor did she necessarily think it is appropriate for ALL students.
5.  The Board's plan has never been implemented in any other district.
6.  She did point out that in order for the radical changes the Board's plan -- including math acceleration for all -- is trying to implement to be successful, the teachers should have and must continue to receive appropriate professional development.
7.  The Board's plan may take 7 years to implement successfully.

We will say that we were quite pleased that all 7 board members asked thoughtful questions.  Several of them acknowledged parent concerns regarding possible harm to students as a result of the math acceleration for all model.  Board member Nelson -- WHO ACTUALLY WAS PHYSICALLY PRESENT -- pointed out that he wants to know if the plan currently in place is "ultimately hurting" any of our students and did it "go too far."

Those were GREAT questions Mr. Nelson, and we sincerely hope that Dr. Moon's final report will directly answer them and provide the basis for her answer.

Following the Board's questions, public comment was allowed.  As the comments posted since Monday night show, many parents spoke and all comments made regarding the plan were NEGATIVE.  No one stepped up and said the Learning for All Plan was working. Parents reminded the Board and explained to Dr. Moon how their children are being harmed. Again, you should all listen to the parents' comments, as they were very difficult to hear, realizing that the Board's Plan, which was not Dr. Moon's plan, has had direct negative effects on students, regardless of the administration's continued insistence that its data -- mostly NWEA MAP data -- shows otherwise.

Parent Matt Bousquette's public comment was in line with our reflections of what we learned from Dr. Moon.  In his words, she's tossed the ball back over to the Board and now it will be the Board's responsibility to figure out if the Learning for All Plan can continue in its current form without modification.  He pointed out that it is not Dr. Moon's responsibility to fix the problems, it is the Board's responsibility.  He emphasized that the current plan IS hurting students.

So several questions remain. WHAT IS THE BOARD going to do to address the concerns and problems that have resulted from implementation of the Board's plan? As another parent asked during public comment, WHEN is the board going to address these issues publicly and engage with each other to decide how to deal with them?  HOW, if at all, will the Learning for All Plan be modified?

Time is of the essence.  Children are hurting.  Everyone see it.  Board members finally acknowledged that this concern exists.  The issue cannot be ignored and must be dealt with immediately.  Each day that passes without board action is another day that the board is ignoring it's obligations and responsibilities to provide the best learning environment to ALL children and ensure that NO CHILD is left behind or hurt!

We hope to see a Board discussion and action plan addressed at the next board meeting.

* Remember, the board is currently in violation of Policy 5:222 titled Tutors, which prohibits teachers from receiving compensation for tutoring their own students in the subject in which they examine them.
The policy states: "No teacher shall tutor, for compensation, any District 181 pupil in any subject in which the pupil was, is, or may be, examined by said teacher for school credit.  A teacher shall not tutor individually or in a group, for compensation, any District 181 pupil enrolled in his/her class.  Exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis by the Superintendent or designee such as in the case of a special education teacher who has knowledge of the unique needs of the student."
Yet this is exactly what the board is allowing by compensating 4th grade teachers who are now tutoring 107 of their own students in math after school, twice a week. The tutoring is intended to assist 4th grade students who have been identified as needing additional instruction in both 4th grade math concepts and the 5th grade accelerated math they are being forced to participate in.


Anonymous said...

I have so many thought spinning in my mind after that meeting. A few that rise to the top-

1) Didn't the BOE give a list of questions they wanted answered/addressed? I kept waiting for the "meat" of the presentation-but it was devoid of meaningful, concrete examples...I think I could have made her presentation myself if I read a little of her research.

2) What VALUE (thank you Jay-Wich) is Dr. Friedman going to bring our district? And quite frankly what value are several of the Dept. of Learning people bringing to the table (contracts up for renewal)

3) Seriously-our district was not in dire straits before all these changes were implemented. Certainly, we needed more flexiblity between tiers and a better curriculum at all levels-but to dismantle it all? Why? What exactly is the reasoning? Our kids in K-5 are getting less "teacher" time. (Great improvement -rolling my eyes)

4) While I appreciate the MAP analysis-for that adminstrative position, the analysis has to go much deeper-as Henegehan suggested.

5) I hope the BOE considers having parents on some curriculum committe so that they truly have a feel for what is happening in the district-not just the hand picked by Dr. Shuster.

6) My children thrived under the old tiered math program-and they weren't initailly placed in it. Why not go back to that-it seems as if not all children are ready for acceleration and if we stay with Everyday Math this alternative needs to be in place (because its a weak program!)

Anonymous said...

If I were Moon, I would be distancing myself from the nightmare in 181 too. We now see what happened here don't we? The board approved everything Schuster and her highly paid underlings wanted with no questions asked. Now what are they going to do to fix their mess?

Anonymous said...

While I'm thrilled other BOE member actually asked questions-it was a bit painful because the questions asked revealed a lack of knowlege. Most were too general and not probing enough. For this reason, I hope the BOE will please engage the community more if they sincerely want to deliver a terrific educational product to this district. We are craving some honestly, and serious analysis. It's okay if mistakes have been made in the past, but please lets discuss the best ways to improve and move forward.

Anonymous said...

Correcting myself-some of the questions lacked....Garg and Heneghan ask excellent questions.

Anonymous said...

My wish list for D181, in no particular order:

1. A tiered program with transparent criteria that is research proven;

2. Flexibility to move between the tiers;

3. Parent opt-in with criteria in place to ensure integrity of the program;

4. A gifted program;

5. Grade level learning;

6. A professionally created and research driven compacting curriculum for kids who are academically ready for such a program;

7. No more workshops with kids teaching kids;

8. A better science curriculum;

9. Foreign language at an earlier age with more offerings besides Spanish;

10. Full day kindergarten (Oakbrook just passed this);

11. Smaller class sizes;

12. Less substitute teachers in the classroom;

13. More teacher professional development, but not during school hours;

14. Consistency among schools;

15. A BOE and administration that respects and engages parents and is fully transparent in all areas;

16. A professional project manager for our facilities;

17. A less top heavy administration;

18. No social justice agenda; AND

19. Less testing/more teaching.

Anonymous said...

I do not like that several board members and Dr. Moon seemed to suggest that the problem with Learning for All was insufficient teacher professional development. The suggestion was that Learning for All would work if only the teachers knew how to implement it. I was so insulted and I can only imagine how our teachers and principals felt. They are the true heroes in all of this. They are working tirelessly for our children and are trying desperately to make this "plan" work. The problem is not our teachers and/or principals, the problem is the plan (or lack thereof). We need to get rid of the substitutes and get our teachers back into the classroom where they belong. And we need to fix the "plan". However, I fear that several board members and Dr. Moon are going to blame this on our teachers and principals. This is not acceptable. They need to be thanked, not blamed.

Anonymous said...

Saying teachers need more professional development isn't insulting the teachers. You can't expect someone to be proficient in something new without sufficient training. Teachers are doing a great job with what they have... I bet they'd be doing even better with more professional development.

This applies to everything, not just Learning for All.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, professional development is going to get us out of this mess. Gosh, that’s such a brilliant idea!! Since that’s the case, school districts across the entire country should be implementing LFA in its schools. Just train the heck out of the teachers using D181’s exact methods!! Isn’t that what the administrators and some (and I stress some, NOT all) of the board members want? The notoriety?? Since when in the history of education has a school district compacted every single student in an elementary setting in entire grades? When? If somebody could find it, we would love to see it!! If the Administration had been competent enough to develop a solid plan for grade compacting/acceleration with students meeting certain criteria (with parent opt-in), professional development would be absolutely necessary and teachers would welcome it, I’m sure. But it has to start with a plan that makes sense and a curriculum for God’s sake! And newsflash....if a student does not possess the academic ability, there is no amount of professional development that a teacher can do that will make a difference. Some kids are just average (like a majority of the population) and that’s what’s called life.

The comment from "this applies to everything" is a prime example of why teachers need to begin speaking up. The teacher that commented saying that they are going to get blamed is absolutely correct b/c most parents don't get it.

Anonymous said...

This isn't the teacher's plan to fix. Did you hear Dr Moon or did you read the Hinsdalean? This is the Board's plan and the Board's responsibility. Not the teacher's!!

jay_wick said...

Part 1 of X

There is a big difference between a solid plan that includes real support for the teachers via adequate professional development and some hastily cobbed together excuse for a plan that probably is not workable even with wholesale retraining of the whole staff.

I think lots of parents know which more correctly describes not just the "math compaction" that too many kids are struggling through but too many initiatives that have been dumped on the plates of all the district staff -- the real shame is that kids are hurting becuase of these things.

Let's not kid ourselves, the decisions made  about "de-grouping" we're not based on any real "evidence based research". These decisions were made to address a handful of "indefensible" placements made with improper evaluations, to attempt to "level out" the appearance of some kids getting more 'contact time' with teachers, to answer the critics that felt the district was spending too much money, and to do something that seemed "more fair". The data shows that there are still lots of parents dissatisfied with their children's placements (I suspect this is a truly intractable problem...), we still have gross imbalances in 'contact time' -- now massively shifted toward kids that are either getting help becuase of some desire to "work up" or "struggle to not fall behind", the district is now spending MORE while getting less high performance and finally the outcry from rational parents is clear that such arrangements are actually "less fair" becuase some kids are getting district paid tutoring while many more are shouldering this cost privately. I doubt the majority of the BOE is capable of fully addressing any of these issues, nor would any evaluator / consultant hired by the district want to touch these things with a 39 1/2 pole but we have to fix the most glaring gaps first.

jay_wick said...

Part 2 of X

When one looks out at the "frozen tundra" that still exists in late Febuary it might seem that there is plenty of time to tweak things so next year more kids are not in the same mess. The fact is that with so much lead time needed for the district to change anything some rather tough decisions need to be made rather soon. The BOE already voted on a budget that provided less funds than district staff requested. They can change what they spend, maybe even dip into reserves to deal with the HMS cost overruns, but they need to get some things lined up NOW if they have any hope of addressing the most pressing issues in the classrooms.

 You will all recall that when the "options" of using scheduled classroom time  for in-service training to either keep kids at home or hire massive numbers of substitutes the district punted and decided to forego either option. The results are clear -- even Dr. Moon suggested, based on her brief classroom visits, that "pedagogical content knowledge" could be enhanced. This is educationalese for saying she saw teachers that need to have deeper understanding of subjects they are attempting to teach. This really should not come as a surprise, even in business if I ask a database administrator to utitlize features of a new release of  software I need to get them training or my investment in that new version is wasted.  The fact is Common Core does expect some new "content" especially in math. There are requirements to understand things like slope of line / rate of change that are really the foundation for integral calculus just as the requirements to understand areas / bounds are the foundation for differential equations. Some districts have already responded to these shifts by investing in more training for their teachers on the use of things like graphing calculators and mathematical visualization software. Our district is already behind the curve in these areas. 

jay_wick said...

Part 3 of 3
What about the kids struggling in "compressed math" in the 4th grade? Well the most obvious problem is many of these kids are almost certainly too young to handle some of the concepts. There is a large body of research that shows kids really do not have the maturity of thought to handle some of the content at a conceptual level. The research similarly shows that much of these mathematical topics  can be mastered through "concrete -operetional" learning. This is a fancy way of saying "hands-on".

Think about it -- when you hire a crew to reroof your house does it really matter if they understand the conceptual trigonometry behind the stability of the whole system or just that they have enough hands-on experience / rules-of-thumb to know what is safe and what needs to be rebuilt. Sure it would be great if they consulted with a licensed professional engineer to model everything with computerized analysis software but that is probably more appropriate for some edge case than the run-of-the mill roofs most of us have... Similarly when it comes to what the kids need to master in 3rd or 4th or 5th grade they probably can best tackle these things hands-on. That likely means smaller groups and more time with better trained teachers. Will this hurt down the road?  The fact is that kids will continue to grow in their mental capacities --almost certainly all will have the option to take calculus at D86. It really does not matter if "compression" happens in 6th grade or after 8th grade or during 10th grade they still end up taking calculus before college. If we want "acceleration for all" to work we need the flexibility of allowing different kids to "compress" when / if  it makes sense. We wouldn't shove each 4th grader into a pair of running shoes that is too big or too small for them!  Make no mistake - I fully endorse the goal of calculus for all. I don't think it really matters if kids end up taking AP or Honors Calculus and we probably need D86 to require a "non science major" calculus offering too.  (I would also demand that any vocational track kids also tack calculus -- I want guys doing HVAC work to understand how to interpret a LEED certified heat load and people working as plumbers to understand the rate of growth of bacteria is a septic tank...) More and more it is becoming obvious that nearly all working professionals will need to take calculus. It goes without saying that shifts toward algorithmic trading makes higher math necessity for the financial markets but even in fields like marketing and media which are increasingly shaped by the avalanche of data that pours out of "social media" and "search engine optimization" means that having pretty charts and a few anecdotes  from "focus groups" are no longer sufficent to make business decisions.

The BOE needs to find a way to fund training for teachers in the subject matter demands of Common Core and do it fast. The BOE also needs to get some funds for professional development for methods of incorporating more advanced technology into the classroom for math instruction. But that's not all -- Common Core includes MUCH MORE content for social studies AND science AND more analytic reading AND more directed writting.  Without professional development in ALL these areas our teachers will fall behind their peers and subsequently our kids will not perform as they should.

Look at you calendars. Count the scheduled meeting that the BOE has to deal with these pressing concerns before our current superintendent leaves. Think of how little time any new superintendent will have to get aquatinted with staff. Consider how much disruption there was due to weather and facilities issues. The time to demand that the district get "back on track" is NOW!

Anonymous said...

Mr Wick,
You are spot on. Thank you for taking your time to address the many serious issues facing our district. Reality is looking bleak for 181. The reason I say this is because our current administration from our superintendent on down do not have the knowledge or competence to change course and clean up the mess they have created. They all have been pretty quiet about the major flaws of their so-called plan, which by their very on admission has never been tried anywhere else in the good old USA. This is scarey stuff. Our children and teachers are in life boats trying to survive but without paddles. No one in 181 knows how to save them.

Anonymous said...

We already have a staff search firm so now is the time to fire the department if learning and hire real administrators with expertise. Now is the time especially considering the change in pension laws. Do the right thing boe / do not renew any contracts !