Thursday, March 13, 2014

Will the Board "Continue the Reign of Decline" or "Work Together to Achieve Long Term Goals" in the Best Interest of All D181 Students?

We begin this post with a quote from a public comment made by a D181 Parent at the March 10th board meeting. 

"[L]ack of excellence has been demonstrated by the majority of this school board to this point.  It cannot continue.  If it does, we will continue to have a school district that is not moving in the right direction.  I strongly urge each one of you to look deep inside of yourselves and determine what you want out of your term on this board.  If you want to preside over a reign of decline, over educational malpractice, then continue to do what you’ve been doing. If you have some respect, if you have some care of your neighbors, and some long term goals, please work together to achieve them.”  Comment made by Parent at 3/10 BOE meeting.  

The father who made this statement was one of 14 parents who stepped up and for almost sixty minutes publicly expressed their concerns about Dr. Moon's report, opinions about the failed implementation of the Learning for All Plan for students throughout the ability spectrum, and who implored the board to finally discuss what they plan to do to remedy the obvious harm that has been felt by some of the D181 students.   The father challenged the board to work together and end what he described as a reign of decline.

We couldn't agree more with this parent's statement and along with over 40 parents, teachers and administrators who were in attendance and hopefully many more who were listening by podcast, we waited to see how the board would respond.

We are pleased to report that following public comment, the board -- all SEVEN board members who were present (THANK YOU MR. NELSON for attending two meetings in a row!) did engage in a meaningful discussion about next steps.  Despite the fact that Dr. Schuster -- who we consider to be in the lame duck stages of her superintendency -- had not intended for any discussion to take place on Monday (as indicated in the Board Doc Q&A's), the board spent the next 90 minutes discussing with each other and the Department of Learning administrators the topic of the Learning for All plan.  

Each board member asked questions and seemed genuinely interested in addressing the parent concerns.  The board recognized that there is a desire by some parents that grade level instruction be offered as soon as possible for any student who wants it or needs it. Further, some of the board members recognized that there is also a concern that as a result of the Learning for All plan, students at the high end of the spectrum may not be getting sufficient challenge or growing academically as they  previously did under the old programs.  Board Member Garg went so far as to bring a motion to have grade level instruction reinstated immediately -- while at the same time keeping parts of the Learning for All plan intact so that students who need more challenge or want to try more accelerated work than they might previously have been identified for under the old criteria, will still have those opportunities.  Board Member Heneghan seconded the motion.  A discussion on this motion followed and ultimately Ms. Garg tabled her motion after the board reached consensus that the administration should first discuss Dr. Moon's follow up report with the teachers and principals AND ask the teachers what they think about the idea of reinstating grade level instruction as an option for students.  The board indicated that this should be done promptly so that it can then further discuss the issue and make some decisions.

While some parents may be frustrated that no decision was reached by the board on Monday night, their decision to gather more information first from the D181 teachers -- our front line soldiers -- was, in our opinion, appropriate, especially if the board plans to revisit this topic promptly.

What was clear from Monday night's discussion was that the board has taken an important first step to fixing a curriculum program that is clearly hurting students.  Now, the hard work will begin.  The board must get confirmation from teachers that grade level instruction is appropriate for some of the students in D181 and must be offered.  We hope the teachers are willing to acknowledge this, just as some have in discussions with concerned parents. It is time for the teachers, parents, administrators and Board to all get on the same page and acknowledge what is happening, rather than have parents speaking out, teachers quietly having discussions with parents and the administration turning a blind eye.  The board seems willing to finally address the concerns and we hope they push ahead with this plan and work together and with all of the impacted constituency groups to remedy the problems with the Learning for All Plan.

We could point out and express concerns regarding some of the representations made by Department of Learning administrators in response to board member questions (as some parents have already done in comments posted since Monday night), however, we want to emphasize the positives in this post.  In our opinion, it is very important to focus on the fact that the board seems willing, ready and able to put an end to the reign of decline and work together for the benefit of each student.  We hope they don't let us down.

So we end this post with some thank yous:

We thank our Board of Education for having a public discussion.

We thank each board member for expressing their opinions and conducting a meaningful discussion that ended with some "next steps" being laid out.

We thank Board Member Garg for bringing her motion to reinstate grade level instruction.  (Ms. Garg, you are MORE THAN JUST A MOM!!)

We thank our Board of Education for realizing that the current situation and parent concerns can no longer be ignored.

We thank our teachers and principals in advance for the discussions you will now be asked to have on the Learning for All Plan, Dr. Moon's report, parent concerns and the question of whether grade level instruction should be reinstated.

We look forward to the next board discussion.


Anonymous said...

While I appreciate the positive tone of this article, it is still important to point out the pervasive lies that the administration told at the meeting. We are at a crossroads, and everyone needs to start speaking the truth for the sake of the CHILDREN! Do our administrators have no shame? The lies told by the administration at the meeting were:

Drs. Russell and Schneider were lying when they said that math compacting is required for common core. If this statement really was true, then why are we the ONLY school district in Illinois with mandatory math compacting? Moreover, why is the Everyday Math fourth grade supplement FULLY aligned with FOURTH grade common core math?

The administration also lied about the energy savings that would be obtained from a four day work week (a community member had to point this out). Thankfully, the BOE did not pass the four day summer work week motion.

The administration also lied by omission when they said the fourth grade map winter scores were the highest in history. This is only the second time we took winter map!! So it is the highest of two times (and not by much - and judging by the parent reaction this is largely due to private tutors).


Also, PLEASE teachers tell the truth about the current state of affairs when you are approached by the BOE and administration. Telling parents the truth in hushed whispers is not enough. If you are afraid, perhaps the teacher's union can speak for the teachers similar to how they did with the mold crisis.

Anonymous said...

I think there should be at least two tiers of math: the regular, grade-level math as well as accelerated math for those who need more challenge. The problem with the ACE problem, IMO, was that the process of deciding who got to go in it & who didn't was flawed. I think the students' academic work should be used as criteria for entrance/exit, with some input from the teachers & parents. Maybe a kid in regular math who doesn't do homework or something is just bored and needs to be put into accelerated to be more challenged. While a student who's in accelerated, while getting decent grades, may just be working to hard and regular math would be better.

But I do agree time needs to be taken before adding grade-level math again so that the logistics can be worked out. As nice as it would be to implement this now, having no plan on how to do it would be devastating.

On a side note, to the parents who wrote this post, thank you so much for adding the thank yous. Some much on this blog is so negative and focuses only on what's wrong with the district, it is so nice to see what's right with it.

Anonymous said...

I actually think we need three tiers like Oakbrook to account for the outliers on both ends. But we need to do it right this time. Please collect ALL the data - good and bad - and make thoughtful decisions that are in the best interests of the children.

jay_wick said...

I am still willing to give most staff the benefit of the doubt as to whether they are completely truthful with us or are merely trying to use the data they have to present things in as positive a light as possible.

More than a few times at work or even when I was a teacher people have presented things to me that they believed to be true. When I dug a little deeper I would discover that they simply had not done as much analysis as they should have. I suppose if such a pattern happens often enough it does erode one's ability to believe these errors are not willful omissions.

The other side of the coin is that the BOE meetings do not have to be adversarial. There is no "jury" that has to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the correctness of an answer. If members of the BOE would perhaps be a little more proactive about sharing info as soon as they can and instructing staff to similarly serve as less a gatekeeper of information perhaps more could be accomplished.

To be sure, the district still is well positioned to be on the forefront of successfully demonstrating that our students and teachers possess the talent and wisdom to have tremendous numbers of our children performing at more than acceptable levels of competence on items for the Common Core. That won't happen if there is not more of an acknowledgement that significant setbacks to such success have been encountered and some kinds of adjustments are desperately needed.

We need clarity as to what precisely is/was the goal of degrouping. Is it to "save money"? The budgetary results seem to suggest we are spending more and getting less.
Is it to address some kind of concerns of "elitism"? What is the limit to stamping out differences in ability? Examination Day by Henry Seslar Will there be similar tests to ensure our children are sufficiently accepting of others too?

Is it an attempt to de-emphasize traditional academic success? To what end?
Is degrouping making the goal of having students complete algebra by 8th grade harder or easier for teachers and students?
Is the math acceleration really appropriate for all children in the 4th grade? Would the children benefit from delaying acceleration until they are in middle school / at a more formal operational level of development? Piaget's Formal Operational Stage Might it be wiser to revisit more traditional ways of organizing learners or at least acknowledging that kids develop at different rates? COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT IN MIDDLE CHILDHOOD
Do we have any clarity as to what would be an appropriate set of tools for such selection?
Are enough of our teachers comfortable with more interactive instructional methods? The Schools Our Children Deserve | Alfie Kohn Are the school schedules really supporting efforts to have students learning as actively and engaged as possible?

The school year has just a few month left. Many parents honestly believe that things have not improved since the district took a major step away from practices that once made the district desirable for all. Few parents have expressed any positive benefits of this shift. If we wish to see any change the time to answer some hard questions is rapidly drawing near...

Anonymous said...

Having grade level math is a no-brainer. My children didn't get into ACE, one missed by a small margin but I didn't care. It wasn't necessary and it wasn't the right program for my child's personality. It did not bother me that some kids got on a bus and went to another school one day a week. As adults I am disappointed that parents would try to take services away from other children just because their child did not get in or they weren't happy with the quality of education for their own child. Yes, lets all suffer now, since this is much better. All I can say is that we have some sub standard programs just because parents wanted to blindly support the folks at the top to get rid of the gifted programs. The end of the school year can't come soon enough.

HMS Parent said...

Great comment Mr. Wick!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first comment that the administration has not been candid with the community. Why do some of the administrators think it is ok to say something that the whole world knows is not fact? IT IS NOT TRUE that Common Core Math requires math compacting. Anonymous is 100% accurate that if what D181 is doing was required by Common Core math, we would not be the only district in Illinois to now be instituting it. Don't the administrators realize that D181 parents are not going to blindly accept their spin? Don't D181 administrators realize that we are going to do our own research and present it to the BOE? Thank god that the board has finally started a public discussion on the parent concerns. But this is just the first step of many the board has to take to regain the trust and confidence of many community members who have grown disillusioned with these elected officials. The board should take some time to make things right, but not too much time. Valuable time has been wasted and our children have suffered as a consequence. The board should push the administration to return quickly to them with the feedback from the teachers and then make a decision quickly on what changes will be made to the Learning for All Plan.

HMS Parent said...

Now that the board has asked to hear from teachers, I hope they feel empowered to voice their true feelings on the Learning for All plan --- specifically the math acceleration piece. Teachers need to tell the administration and board if they believe grade level instruction should be reinstated for students who want or need it. For any teachers who might say no, they should explain why not so that the board can understand their perspective. Teachers should also be candid on whether or not there has been a "watering down" effect on math instruction at the "high end" as a result of having to accelerate for all students. Have they had to slow down the curriculum at the high end? Would the high performers be further ahead if they were receiving math instruction as it was offered several years ago versus how it is now offered to them? Has anyone done a comparison of where in the Everyday math curriculum the 4th grade highest achievers are today when compared to where in the curriculum the 4th grade highest achievers were two years ago in mid March?

I also agree with the last Anonymous, that the board should push the administration and get the teacher feedback in short order.

Anonymous said...

Talk about not telling the truth, Dr. Schuster needs to get her facts straight. I have an older child who went through the original gifted program, and he was identified in fifth grade for placement into advanced algebra. Why does Dr. Schuster continue to say we should not be deciding in 2nd grade if a child should take algebra. This district never made that decision at that young age. The program was also flexible, at least in the middle school. My first child was originally placed in advance math, but after he showed his teachers he was ready for accelerated math, they moved him to that level.

Now my fourth grader is simply bored waiting around while other students catch up. This is not progress, and this certainly isn't an example of the district following their new mission statement that all children will achieve excellence. Is anyone really paying attention or keeping track, or are they simply happy to have a failing framework to share at their summer conferences? Dr. Schuster can not leave fast enough.

Anonymous said...

I just read this week's Hinsdalean and have a question and an observation. First, in their article on the board's discussion last Monday on the Learning for All Plan concerns voiced by parents, the article states:

"Responding to comments from parents that teachers have told them of feeling overburdened by the Learning For All plan, board member Glenn Yeager said that runs counter to the feedback the board has received.
“What they’re telling you as parents is not what they’re telling us,” Yeager said."

I would like to know what Mr. Yaeger meant by that. Have the teachers been surveyed? If so, are the results posted? Have they written the board letters? If so, can they be FOIA'd? Have they met with the board to discuss? if so, with which board members and if all, when and at what meeting, since I don't recall them doing so. Perhaps Mr. Yaeger, if he reads this blog, can answer those questions, but more importantly, tell the community exactly what the teachers have said that he was referring to.

Another thing I noted in the Hinsdalean was this quote from Dr. Kevin Russell in an article on bullying: "A child needs to feel safe when they are going to school. If they don’t feel safe, it’s going to affect their social, emotional and academic well-being.” This applies to feeling safe in their classes and not being made to feel afraid of going to school because the work is too hard for them. Grade level work needs to be offered as an option, just like it is in 99.9% of all other public schools in the United States. Kids are afraid to go to school Dr. Russell because they are being forced to do accelerated work, struggling to keep up and feeling stupid and like failures. D181 has become the biggest bully of them all!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Schneider is back on the lecture circuit again. Next up is a presentation on April 23, 2014. He is lecturing during the ROE's Professional Development day called "Reframing Mindsets for Student Achievement -- A Catalyst for Change". The brochure states:

"Additional presentations by:
Dr. Kurt Schneider is the Assistant Superintendent of Learning for School District 181. In 2012, while in the Stoughton Area School District in Wisconsin, he was nationally recognized by both TASH and the National Center for Educational Outcomes for his work around systems change and the raising of student achievement for all students through inclusive services delivery approaches."

This description suggests that Dr. Schneider was nationally recognized for "raising of student achievement" for ALL studentsin Stoughton Area School District in Wisconsin as a result of "inclusive services delivery approaches." Has he presented this data to the D181 Board to prove that his L4A model works? If so, is it posted anywhere on the D181 website? Does anyone know?

More importantly, how can he have so much time to be lecturing? Isn't he a full time employee of D181? He's not a teacher, so he doesn't have the summers off, yet, he taught at UW Milwaukee at the Social Justice Institute last summer, is scheduled to again this summer, lectured at Tash conference in December, and has at least 2 more upcoming lectures scheduled on raising student achievement via inclusive practices. Has anyone heard him present at these events? Is he claiming that student achievement for all students has gone up as a result of the L4A plan? If so, where is the data?

Anonymous said...

I wrote the last comment on Dr. Schneider's upcoming presentation. Here is the link I found online:

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comments that common core does not require grade compacting. Our fourth grade common core sup. for Everyday Math is fully aligned with 4th grade common core. Unfortunately our math compacting curriculum at D181 is not aligned to common core. The pacing guide for Everyday Math clearly outlines which subjects need to be taught to align with common core. D181 skipped a large portion of these concept in order to accelerate. Acceleration should mean moving at a faster pace, NOT skipping concepts!!! STOP WITH THE LIES. Our administrators are more concerned with "the plan" and the lecture circuit than our children.

Anonymous said...

Pacing is really important in the Everyday Math program because each year the student builds a little off a certain topic. From past experience, the current pace in some classrooms is way behind what it used to be. Is this because it's difficult to differenciate within the classroom? The topics weren't adequately taught the prior year? Some classes haven't started the 2nd half of the Everyday math program. Once again 2/3 of the year is over.

In fairness-some classes are almost done with the 2nd book-I"m not sure why such the disparity.

Anonymous said...

I found the irony between the two Hinsdalean articles so sad. The administrators are forcing children to accelerate at a pace that some of these children are not developmentally ready to handle. Yes, there are different levels, but the pace has not changed! The fast learners are being asked to bide their time while the remaining 2 groups madly try to catch up. They should be allowed to progress at a faster pace, and the other group should be allowed more time to process new concepts. This program is not fair, and, like bullies, the administration refuses to hear our "brave voices" that our kids don't like how Dr. Schnieder's Learning for All plan makes them feel.

We heard parents tell the board that their children are coming home saying "I am dumb in math" and "I am stupid", yet the administration won't act. Is this acceptable?

With tears in their eyes, parents are begging administrators at board meeting after board meeting to allow the schools to opt their children out of accelerated math. Yet, they turn a blind eye. If kids can't opt into and out of accelerated math in middle school, why can't they opt in and out of it in elementary school?

Anonymous said...

The irony to all of this is that one of the primary reasons the L4A plan was developed and implemented was that parents complained (and Schuster, Schneider believe)that children felt bad and "less smart" because of the tiers that existed for Math and some kids were pulled out for elementary ELA. Thus, the idea was formed that every student of all abilities should be in the same classroom and that teachers should differentiate between 4-5 different ability levels in that classroom (including classroom work, tests, etc...). Academic social justice. Ridiculous, totally inefficient and ineffective! Kids that struggle with academics are always going to feel "less smart" and they all know who the "smart" kids are. Does anyone really believe that any child 3rd grade and older doesn't know the difference between the red, yellow and green groups?! Thinking that keeping them all in the same classroom, sitting next to each other (versus going to other rooms)will solve this problem is totally misguided (it makes it more obvious!) and is what has led to the problem we have now of over/under acceleration. The only real problems that should have been fixed were the issue of inflexibility between these tiers (in both math and language arts), and lack of consistency in identifying kids for the tiers (should be a combination of teacher input, classroom performance, standardized test scores and ONLY when the above doesn't work, parent input.) The middle schools and the high school differentiate using tiers with much success. Elementary schools should do the same while allowing for the increased flexibility needed in those grades due to the varying rates of development among children of elementary age. If we have appropriately challenging curriculum for all levels, reasonably sized classes, etc... all students will be appropriately challenged and move at an appropriate pace. This has been a failed experiment no doubt, but there are parents in this district who have to accept responsibility for arguing loudly that tiers were making children feel "bad" and giving others an unfair advantage. As we now know without a doubt, this was simply not true and what we are doing now is causing problems for all students except the middle kids. AND, I would argue that even they are being shortchanged because the bottom line to all of this is LESS TIME WITH AN (OVEREXTENDED) TEACHER learning at his/her appropriate level.

Anonymous said...

And, speaking of tiers, I would strongly argue that implementing them in all elementary schools for language arts would significantly help improve our students' learning in this area. Additionally, tiers in Science in the middle schools should also be implemented. The science curriculum at the middle schools is not challenging and, as with math and language arts there are students of varying levels of interest and ability. There is zero science challenge in middle school for academically high performing students. While I'm sure our new partnership with Fermilab will help all students, the initial premise that all students are able to be challenged the same curriculum in middle school absolutely incorrect. Such a shame that we have spent so much time and resources on the misguided 3rd grade (now 4th grade) math experiment instead of improving the basics of language arts and science (in which, for you parents who don't attend BOE meetings, d181 ranks as one of the lowest performing in the state).

Jill Quinones said...

So how is this for a little irony - last week I sent an email to my building principal asking about the RTI process that was in effect, at least in my child’s building. He first responded by directing me to the District’s website at:

I responded that this was a good overview, but that I wanted specifics, and asked him the following questions:

Some of the questions I am looking at having answered are:

1 Do we have trigger %ges on our global assessments that would automatically trigger building discussion of kids (at the high and low ends) ?
2. Do we have research based program interventions used for kids at each of the Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels (high and low)?
3. Do our grade level teams meet on a regular basis with Differentiation Specialists and special Ed Teachers to review the global assessments and classroom benchmark, unit and other data to problem solve for kids needing more challenge or less rigor?
4. Do our teachers keep records of interventions used with kids?
5. Are parents notified as kids are moved through the Tiers?
6. Are building principals doing fidelity checks of intervention implementations? Are there forms they use for these?

As you know, as to the struggling learner many of these are things that are required by IL law under RTI. Again, if the District is saying RTI is being used to implement challenges for the high end learner I would expect similar protocol to be in place at the top end.

I also attached a copy of my District’s RTI plan for reading as an idea of what I was looking for: We don’t use RTI for the Advanced Learner side, but in theory it should work the same way.

I ended up having a conference call with my Principal, our building Differentiation Specialist and our buildings PPS Representative. I learned, a lot of interesting things, but the one that stood out was that in fact all Tiered programming IS NOT being delivered in the larger classroom. Depending on the program and need, at both ends – struggling and Advanced, the students are pulled out in different sized groups for instruction by different teachers. Sometimes these groups may meet within a classroom while the classroom teacher is instructing the rest of the class, although the group is made up of students from different classrooms, and sometimes the student or group meet with a different teacher in a different room. I clarified that this was the model used with Tiers and that we were not talking just special ed and I was told yes, at the Tiers.

SO…….if Dr. Schneider believes all instruction at all levels is being done within the classroom with assists from time to time from other staff members, that is NOT the model in my school!

Don’t get me wrong, I think the model in my school is closer to what is best for kids than what Dr. Schneider suggested was happening, but what does this do to data in support of the model? And if we are still grouping kids and pulling them out why the big show to say we are not doing this anymore?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately there are no pull outs for kids at the higher ends at my school - I wish there was. My child is an outlier child but my child is simply given challenge sheets to do independently at school (or at home if my child needs help). I would guess that the smaller schools have more flexibility and resources to do this. This may explain why the smaller schools are doing better under this plan.

Anonymous said...

If this district does not start offering services/programs for our high performing students, these students are going to leave our district in mass quantities. I have heard many parents of high performing students tell me this. That would not bode well for our rankings.