Monday, March 10, 2014

Letter to BOE addressing Math Acceleration for All: "D181 should be learning from these huge mistakes made by these school districts, not recreating them."

Readers:  This morning D181 Parents Amy and Dave Alex gave us permission to publish a letter they sent to the BOE over the weekend as a free standing post.  After they submitted it as a comment, we requested their permission to do so because we are grateful that they took the time to read beyond Dr. Moon's follow up report, review research on other districts she cited in her report and contact the board explaining the flaws with D181's Learning for All Plan that were exposed as a result.  Mr. and Mrs. Alex have asked us to emphasize the following:  "Let us [Mr. and Mrs. Alex] caution readers that we are not advocating to adopt Montgomery County or Fairfax County's curriculum."  

Letter to the BOE from the Alex's: (You can click on each link cited to open up the research they reference. Note:  For emphasis, we have added highlights to some of their conclusions.)

"Dear Board Members,
My husband and I spent some time Saturday morning reviewing Dr. Moon’s follow-up report. We wanted to address one aspect of the report and then share some information that we have uncovered doing our own research that pertains to Learning For All. 

Dr. Moon sited Thomas Jefferson Magnet School of Science and Technology located in Fairfax County VA, Fairfax County Public School District, as support for all students in D181 enrolling in 8th grade Algebra 1.

“The District moved to commit to having Algebra I as an 8th grade offering for all students. This decision was made as a result of extensive reading into the research literature. This decision does not come without its opponents as well as proponents. However, many of the top high schools in the country require that 8th graders complete Algebra I prior to admission (e.g., Thomas Jefferson Magnet School for Science and Technology, Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools, U.S. News & World Report, 2013, #4 ranking).” (Source:  Dr. Moon's follow up report, p.5,

Here is some information on the highly selective admissions process for Thomas Jefferson Magnet School for Science and Technology High School.  

-Attendance is based on an admissions test which consists of a standardized mathematics and reasoning test along with two essay questions, prior academic achievement, recommendations and essays. 
-Students must be enrolled in Algebra 1 or a higher math course in order to apply (as Dr Moon stated).
-Using a sliding scale, the math and reasoning test score is combined with the student's middle-school GPA to form an overall, objective ranking; the admissions office designates the top scorers as semifinalists, a group generally about three times as large as the planned freshman class. The semifinalists submit further information, including teacher recommendations, awards, previous experience in science, mathematics, and technology, and several personal statements. Two selection panels review this information, along with the student essays written during the admission test, and select the next year's freshman class.

Hinsdale Central is a very good high school, but Thomas Jefferson High School is in an entirely different league. This is an apples to oranges comparison and not relevant to this district.

In researching Thomas Jefferson Magnet School, we discovered information that indeed pertains to Learning For All about two school districts in similar socio-economical areas such as District 181. Fairfax County is ranked 3rd for median household income in the country. Montgomery County is ranked 11th.

The Fairfax County Public School’s curriculum used to look very similar to Learning For All. They cherry picked concepts/skimmed the surface/skipped concepts to accelerate, which created achievement gaps for students. So in order to close the gaps, they instituted a modified version of that curriculum, which was implemented in 2011-12 school year. This link is an audio/powerpoint explanation:

This is a link to the current curriculum: issues with math acceleration have plagued the Fairfax County Public School system since at least 2008, but in order for students to be better prepared for higher level mathematics, the district has made changes to the curriculum that are in the best interest of its students.

In addition to Fairfax County Public School System’s acceleration woe’s, Montgomery County Public School District, has also experienced a similar fate. In a Washington Post article (not a blog, not a community newspaper, but The Post) dated Nov 5, 2010, it was reported that Montgomery County Admits Kids Were Pushed Too Hard In Math. This district implemented a program very similar to Learning For All and it failed. We highly encourage you to read this article and the comments afterward.

We believe that we can speak for parents in that we stand corrected. Whole grade acceleration has been attempted in other school districts. Montgomery County Public Schools admitted failure. Both, Montgomery County and Fairfax County Public School districts, have made changes to their curriculum so that they are more aligned with the Common Core State Standards. They offer grade level math and acceleration tiers when students are identified as ready for those opportunities. D181 should be learning from these huge mistakes made by these school districts, not recreating them.

The article from the Washington Post was dated almost four years ago. District 181 is behind the eight ball. It has been almost two years and we are still trying to make Learning For All in its current form work, when we have known for a long time that it does not. We are still trying to do something that has been proven unsuccessful in other districts. We are continuing to beat our heads against a locked door thinking that this will make it open. Learn from other district’s mistakes. No program is going to be perfect, but Learning For All is a disaster. Please do what should have been done long ago. Put a stop to this program.

Amy and Dave Alex"


Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Alex for shinning a light on the true state of affairs of D181. And thank you for doing the homework our BOE, administrators, and Dr. Moon should have done themselves.

I know a lot of people have written letters to the BOE this week. Please continue to write letters, and please show up tonight. But most of all - I urge the BOE to fix this mess. We have waited two years. Enough is enough. This nightmare ends tonight!!

Yvonne Mayer, D181 Parent and Former Board of Education Member said...

Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Alex for sending your letter to the board and providing proof to them that the Learning for All Plan needs to be changed -- at a minimum to allow for grade level instruction for students who simply cannot, or do not want to, do accelerated math. There are, and alway will be, students who do need accelerated math instruction to meet their individual needs. D181 had a program that offered this in the past, the problem was that the identification process kept students out of the program who could have succeeded in it, because of the arbitrary cut-offs imposed by the administration. Rather than fix the identification process, the acceleration for all model was presented as the road our district should travel down. There have been board members, such as Mr. Heneghan, who repeatedly asked to see the research that D181 relied on or that showed that the acceleration model had been implemented in other districts. None of the data or reports on the problems experienced in Fairfax or Montgomery counties was ever (to my knowledge) presented to the board for review or discussion. Had it been, perhaps the full board would have been willing to look more closely at the proposed model of instruction before approving it (me included). It is now up to the current board to make things right. I urge all parents to attend tonight's meeting and demand a public discussion by the board.

Anonymous said...

It is always the right thing to admit when a mistake has been made. It is never the right thing to ignore a mistake that is hurting children. Please BOE fix this mess.

Anonymous said...

The Learning Dept. was not honest with the BOE or the community regarding this plan. It doesn't seem like a mere oversight, and our chldren and teachers got the short end of the deal. I remember the administration reassurring us that everyone (teachers's) would be trained and up and running with all the new curriculum resources etc..Yet really this too was completely false. The BOE needs to really consider why certain contracts should/shouldn't be renewed. I would have expected our Dr.'s in the Learning Dept. to have had a comphrensive, realistic, data driven program in place a head of time. Nope. Dr. Moon's report says that our curriculum needs improvement-I certainly hope Dr. Schneider has more specific recommendations otherwise this is just ridiculous. There is a major disconnent between what the Administration wants to happen, and what is really happening in the classroom setting (and what is possible).

Hopefully I'm proven wrong, but this approach is continuing in that the Learning Dept. isn't telling us which math program they are looking at piloting. Once again thank you for the transparency.

I'd like to go on about how my child can't seem to write a cohesive paragraph, or earn more than a "2" on that writing rubric because a strong curriculum isn't in place-but I'll stop.

HMS Parent said...

Yes, mistakes were made. It is time to own those mistakes. The administrators who are responsible should do the honorable thing and admit their errors and either immediately offer up a legitimate plan to correct them, or not ask that their contracts for next year be renewed. And certainly, any more dog and pony show antics regarding the L4A plan by such administrators on the educational lecture circuit should be prohibited by the BOE.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Garg's board questions from the last board meeting still have not been answered. Also no board questions for this meeting have been posted yet.

Anonymous said...

Board questions are posted now

The Parents said...

We checked between 2:30 and 3 PM and they were not yet posted. It is now 4:25. Does not give the board members much time to read through the information and thoughtfully reflect upon it before they go into executive session at 5:30.

Anonymous said...

Good for the Alex's to follow through on this. Last year, on two occasions, I asked our administration, what the research shows and what changes were made to implement this plan in Fairfax. Each time, they avoided answering my question. What do you think that says about our administration? Our children and the hard working families in this community deserve better. I'd like to see the BOE clean house completely. Yup, all of them!

Anonymous said...

Just read the board questions and responses.....I don't see the smoking gun that you seem to be looking for. Good questions followed by good answers. Am I missing something?

Disgusted Parent said...

To Anonymous: I do think you are missing something -- substantive answers! Sorry to sound disrespectful, but are you blind? For example -- Moon came to the district for a follow-up and came to the last meeting unprepared to really answer questions about what she had observed. Now she submitted her report. Community members have worked tirelessly over the weekend to ask questions and point out flaws with the report and the district's current L4A plan. They have sent letters to the board with their analysis. They have attended board meetings and voiced their concerns. Through it all, they have asked the Board to discuss what is happening to our children through the L4A plan -- both good and BAD. Dr. Schuster posted the latest Moon report on Board Docs. Guess she didn't think anyone would actually think that by doing so there would be an expectation by the community that perhaps finally the board would discuss the parent concerns and more importantly Moon's new recommendations. But no, in response to Garg's question to put Moon's report as a separate agenda item, not just as part of Schuster's superintendent's report, we learn for the first time late this afternoon, and only by reading her answer to Garg's question that Schuster has NO intention of having the board discuss Moon's report today. Won't happen until April after the principals and teachers discuss it. Well that is crap -- pardon my language. Why can't the Board discuss it tonight? Sorry if you don't have a problem with that. I do, and so do other concerned parents.

Anonymous said...

And why do our children take the map test if we are not going to analyze them. I agree - pure crap!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why it's hard to account for the classrooms visited during Dr. Moon's visit (both in 2011 and in 2014). She was only in classrooms at Hinsdale Middle School for a total of 30 minutes this time around. The largest school in the district. I'm guessing she saw maybe 3-5 teachers in that time?!? How is it so difficult to identify who and where she visited? No one wants to judge the classroom teachers she observed. We would just like to know how well-informed she was before suggesting sweeping changes. It's possible the district doesn't want you to know that she evaluated rooms with subs teaching in them in 2011. I think that question is a fair one. Remove teacher names. Provide grade level and subject instead, but answer the question. It's a fair one.

Anonymous said...

Quite a few angry parents spouting off tonight at the Board meeting. Why would anyone want a position on the BOE? I now see why most BOE members don't seek a second term. What a thankless job!

Many of these parents are disillusioned. The board can't just tell a Superintendent (who's leaving in a few months)to change the program midyear.

The next Superintendent will have to put together a new curriculum. The parents have made their point. Everyone should be looking get a new Superintendent hired ASAP. I don't see any changes being made until the hiring issues are resolved. The BOE will obviously vote to change the curriculum. Anyone following the meetings can see that at least 4 of the 7 want to make the change away from Learning For All.

Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed in the behavior of my fellow parents at the board meeting this evening. So many speak about SELAS in the schools and the issues we have with bullying... I'm noticing the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The cat calling, the snickers, the rudeness. It's time the "parents" take a step back and look in the mirror at their behavior. Your children are watching and learning from you.

Anonymous said...

Well, of course, parents are infuriated by being ignored yet again! Where is the SELAS from the ADMINISTRATION and the board? Parents have been following protocol and being respectful for years. Yet they STILL IGNORE us. They no longer deserve respect.

Anonymous said...

The real question is, why would anyone want to move to Hinsdale if parents are routinely, and systematically ignored! Another question is how can the BOE ignore parents and continue to ignore real data and real failure about how forced acceleration for all has been a failure everywhere it has been implemented.

Anonymous said...

At least I'm here fighting for my kids!

jay_wick said...

Re: Initial thought on March 10th BOE meeting (part 1 of 2)

I cannot approve of a "noisy" audience. I had to "sush" folks around me. It makes it hard to hear what the speaker is trying to say and really does not add anything to the meeting ESPECIALLY since the BOE is generally good about allowing comments at the end of the meeting.

Of course when those comments don't lead to changes that are VERY easy to follow up on one really does have to question if the meeting is really worth the effort.

That said this particular meeting did seem a bit more productive than some -- very little was "rubber stamped" and most of the BOE did have substantive questions about everything from the value of consultants to software to the changes in curriculum that probably should have been looked at more closely quite a while ago...

Funny thing too was even the "non-substantive" things that BOE did discuss / act on are starting to show a little more awareness of what happens when things cross the line from "non-micromanaging" to "lack of oversight" -- bills grow dangerously close to $2M and will need to be "negotiated" to something more defensible (let's hope this does not lead to litigation...), schedules need to changed from "compressed summer work schedule" to 9-5 (though honestly I think that really ought to be less a BOE policy and more a decision of the new superintendent...), and even the least skeptical of members start to wonder if the whole mish-mash of "acceleration & Common Core & non-negotiable-ness" really amounts to an empty set of nothingness...

The reasons one would choose to live inside the district and send one's children to the schools have not YET really disappeared -- I do believe that we really do have a lot of very talented and dedicated teachers that really will put forth all the effort they can to see as many kids succeed as possible REGARDLESS of how little support they get and how ill-thought through some of the planning has been. While other districts have never had things like dedicated art or music classes or are cutting back on vital aspects, our teachers continue to put in long hours to ensure that kids get the benefits of these and many other things that have disappeared elsewhere.

jay_wick said...

Re: BOE March 10th Part 2 of 2
Further the reason that folks ought to continue to want to serve on the BOE is, despite the excessive "educationalese" that sometimes get tossed around to make things alternately seem "cutting edge" or hopelessly outdated, the kind of visits that some BOE members have made almost certainly will result in the gratification of seeing LOTS of kids that seem to be engaged in meaningful coursework and experiencing a classroom environment that is exceedingly pleasant. You don't need an EdD to judge the value of some things like teachers that have an appropriate rapport with students.
The sort of environment that exists in the district is in some ways a thing that is not a result of any "expenditures" but the shared expectations that virtually all parents and teachers have regarding basic conduct / decorum.

That said the district has already invested a great deal in equipping classrooms with technology that ought to be enabling teachers to do a whole lot more than your "average school" -- to use just one example things like the "document camera" mentioned in the Moon report are probably better used to help kids identify the various geometric shapes & kinds of angles found on every day objects than watching a worksheet get filled in: Sample math lesson for elementary school with document camera and real world objects ...

Similarly IF the district gets back-on-track with things like "1-to-1 personal technology" (which we've fallen behind compared to other districts...) the hope would be that our teachers would be ones pushing themselves and students to really do new and interesting explorations with better tools not merely using complex and expensive tools to stand-in for cheaper / older tools like existing workstations or pencils & paper.
Of course the BOE members have to want to the district to be innovative and have to be demanding of the standards and measures they'll hold staff to -- if they don't see innovative uses of technology in their workplaces or seek out other districts / schools that are pushing the boundaries they won't have those expectations.

Without those high expectations staff will very likely do what is most expedient -- whether that means handing out worksheets when they know a more creative way to engage students really will have more benefits or that a more thorough analysis of costs might yield budgetary estimates that are not as favorable but more defensible / honest it ought to be clear that when the BOE and the leadership they choose are truly holding themselves to high standards the benefits are enormous.

Conversely when the BOE and/or district leadership is insufficiently "invested" in the success of the district nothing good will result -- be that declining student success, overlooked bureaucratic filings, or ballooning expenditures...

Things like the report from Arcon are also troubling. The report suggests complete replacement in needed /there is likely not enough lead time to get appropriate materials to replace the worst of the panels. These statement seem to be at odds with the assessment provided by consultants just last year as well the experience of repairs that were effectively done in prior years. Is some one asking the consultant to perhaps paint a "worst case scenario" for an ulterior motive? With the next scheduled BOE meeting nearly a month away that leaves an awful lot of time to concoct an even more elaborate story as well some "April showers" that hopefully will not bring any more "flowering" mold on our VERY expensive new "gyp board" while furthering SHORTENING any lead time needed to create specifications to go to bid on complete re-roof. Some one REALLY ought to think about moving up any scheduled "facilities committee" discussions as well as trying to MAYBE squeeze a meeting back into the calendar..