Dr. White's honeymoon is over. What must now come to an end is the "Schneider Era." If Dr. White is unwilling or unable to realize this, then perhaps his marriage with District 181 should end in a swift divorce. We urge Dr. White to read our concerns and act on them.
As our readers know, parents have been patiently waiting for the Department of Learning, now led by Assistant Superintendent Kurt Schneider, to present a report to the Board of Education on this Fall's roll out of the 4 math pilot programs -- Agile Minds, Big Ideas, Investigations and Math in Focus.
Almost immediately after the Math Pilots started, we began hearing serious concerns parents and teachers have, in particular with two of them -- Agile Minds (HMS) and Investigations (Madison and Elm). Concerns included:
- disappointment in the administration for not better advertising the board meeting last Spring at which the Math Committee told the BOE what pilots had been selected,
- lack of information to the parents of students participating in the pilots (some parents didn't even know until yesterday that their children were involved in a math pilot),
- lack of data analysis to support any of the math programs (not just the pilots),
- a lack of differentiated instruction within the "inclusive classrooms" using the pilots,
- poor performance by students in pilots who last year did not have math performance issues,
- technical issues with computer based Agile Minds,
- non-alignment with Common Core standards,
- insufficient teacher training, and the list goes on.
Parents have repeatedly complained to teachers and administrators that the math needs of students are not being met, regardless of whether they are in the pilots or programs that continued from last year. In addition, information was provided to the Board last month that indicated that the Learning for All Plan's math component of acceleration for all is no longer going to be the norm, yet no data analysis has been presented to the board members explaining the rationale behind this change (which the BOE did not even approve). The administration's response to the parents' concerns and unanswered board member questions was to promise that a full report on the Math Pilot program would be presented to the board during the October 27 board meeting.
Imagine then, the growing concerns parents had yesterday, especially those at HMS, when they received a letter from Superintendent White -- not Dr. Schneider -- attaching a "Math Pilot Memo" that informed them them that a decision will most likely be made at the 10/27 board meeting to immediately discontinue Agile Minds at HMS, and that a similar decision might be made in the future regarding Investigations. No specific reasons were given for these proposed changes, nor was there any discussion on the possible negative impact on our students from these pilot(s) or the specific steps the administration will take to remediate the failure of the pilot(s). Instead parents were just told that a "materials transition plan" will be developed in the next "week or so" and discussed at the 10/27 Board meeting. (See copy of Dr. White's letter published at the end of this post, excludes the charts.)
We were hoping that the materials posted on Board Docs for Monday's meeting would provide more information, however, we were sorely disappointed. We have now reviewed the Board Docs materials. The presentation materials are completely INADEQUATE. Our expectation was that the Math Pilot presentation on Board Docs would not only provide specific details on the reasons Agile Minds, and possibly Investigations, will be discontinued, but also include details of the data analysis that was conducted to reach these conclusions, along with the proposed detailed plan on the replacement curriculum and materials that will be used going forward.
NONE of this information is provided and NO DATA ANALYSIS is included in the 2 documents published under the agenda item called "Math Pilot Update": a "Board Report" (click to open link) on the Math Pilot authored by Dr. Schneider and a 43 slide power point presentation titled "Learning for All and the Math Pilot Component" click to open link).
The "Board Report" is nothing more than an almost verbatim copy of Dr. White's letter. There are minor stylistic differences, made either by Dr. Schneider or Dr. White, but the core content is virtually identical, so it is now unclear who actually prepared the report. The authorship of the report is significant, however, and the BOE members should ask who is responsible for it, since they are tasked with holding either Dr. White accountable for curriculum failures, or looking to him to hold his underlings accountable for their failures, especially those that have had a negative impact on student instruction and hurt our children academically. Either way, the Board Report provides no additional information.
Neither does the 43 slide power point, which is the worst "cut and paste job" we have seen emerge from Dr. Schneider's Department of Learning.
The first 31 pages have absolutely nothing to do with the Math Pilots. Rather we are once again deluged with slides dealing with the history of gifted education in D181, Dr. Moon's report, the development of the district's philosophy of learning, the development and implementation of the Learning for All Plan and the Acceleration for All model that Dr. Schneider brought to our district, the History of American Schools, "Previous Conversations," and Common Core standards and related issues. After 31 slides of information we have seen repeated time and again by Dr. Schneider and his past Co-Assistant Superintendent of Learning, Dr. Kevin Russell, most readers would probably give up and assume there was no new content.
Yet, we kept flipping through all of the "bubble" graphics, bullet points and charts that didn't even use the phrase Math Pilot (many of which we have previously seen or are very similar versions to slides that Dr. Schneider or Dr. Russell used in old power point presentations to the board) and soon we too were wondering if we had misunderstood that the Math Pilot was the actual agenda item that was to be discussed with the BOE!
At last we turned to slide 32 that actually refers to the Math Pilot, but rather than provide new information and data analysis on the implementation and outcomes of the four distinct math pilots, and an explanation of the conclusions the Department of Learning has reached since September, slides 32 through 40 are nothing more than historical slides dealing with the Math Committee's selection of the 4 pilots, information that the board was already given last Spring.
So what is missing from the power point? What information did the Department of Learning choose to exclude?
- NO information is given regarding the concerns that have led to the administration's conclusion that Agile Minds must be immediately discontinued, or that address the issues that surround Investigations.
- No information is given about the actual "transitional plan" that impacted students will be switching to, let alone a long term, permanent plan on dealing with the potential harm that Agile Minds has caused.
- There are no slides that address the inability to effectively differentiate with Agile Minds, or that explain (as we have heard from parents and teachers who have pushed for more information) that the inability to effectively differentiate is the primary reason why Agile Minds will be discontinued, since it obviously doesn't work in the Inclusive Classroom model Dr. Schneider has been pushing for in the Learning for All Plan.
- No explanation is given as to how the Math Committee could have selected a program to pilot without realizing that the teachers would be unable to effectively differentiate instruction with it. How could this have been overlooked by the Math Committee or Dr. Schneider?
- Moreover, no performance data is presented at all that shows that anyone in the Department of Learning has conducted any type of performance data collection and analysis as part of their assessment of any of the four pilots.
- Most importantly, there is no acknowledgement or assumption of responsibility by Dr. Schneider or any of the administrators that he oversees, that the selection and implementation of Agile Minds, and perhaps Investigations, was a mistake that should have and could have been avoided.
No, instead of presenting a slide that shows who should be held accountable for the current math debacle, we are presented with Slide 41, a slide whose clear purpose is to deflect responsibility for this latest curriculum debacle away from Dr. Schneider and place all of the blame on past administrative turnover. What other purpose could possibly be intended by a slide that reminds the community that in the last 10 years, D181 has had 5 superintendents, 5 assistant superintendents of curriculum and 23 principals.
What the slide neglects to remind the community is that the current curriculum mess is the direct consequence of the last three Assistant Superintendents of Curriculum/Learning, all of whom had never held that title before in any other district, were untrained and unqualified to assume all of the roles and responsibilities that go along with that job title and who used D181 to learn "on the job."
As we have said in earlier posts, D181 has become a starter district for administrators, rather than a coveted, well earned step up from less prestigious and lower performing school districts. And such hires/promotions, the last two (Russell and Schneider) made by former Superintendent Schuster, have hurt our children. Not to mention, as we have said before, that meaningful data analysis has been nonexistent due to the last two Assessment Directors' lack of training, experience and qualifications to do that job. Again, those two directors (Dr. Russell, before his promotion to Assistant Superintendent, and Ms. Benaitis) were promoted by Dr. Schuster.
But that is NO EXCUSE for the math and curriculum mess the district now finds itself in. Even if there has been turnover, the current Assistant Superintendent of Learning, Dr. Schneider, is in fact the person who brought the Learning for All Plan model to the district. He has been here over two years and cannot hide behind the coat tails of his predecessors. Nor should Dr. White allow it.
So we go back to the title of this post and say the following:
DON'T TREAT US LIKE WE ARE STUPID DR. WHITE. THE MATH PILOT PRESENTATION IS THE LATEST JOKE IN THE "SCHNEIDER ERA."
So we end by referencing the bubble chart (above) that we have created on the "Schneider Era." As you read through the Math Pilot power point, consider adding our bubble chart as page 44, since the bubbles we include are all part of this "Era" and we are still waiting for the administration to answer the following questions:
- The Learning for All Plan: What does it even mean anymore? How has it morphed since the BOE approved it in 2012-2013? Why didn't the administration seek Board approval of the most recent changes? Why hasn't the BOE asked the administration for an explanation?
- The Disasters: Acceleration for All, Third and Fourth Grade Math Compacting, Math Pilots: According to the administration's last presentation to the BOE in September, Acceleration for All is no longer the norm model of instruction, even though this was the ultimate goal of the Learning for All Plan. Why not? Was it because this model had disastrous results for the third and fourth grade classes that were forced to learn compacted math in an Inclusive Classroom? What about the disastrous results of at least one, maybe two or more of the Math Pilots? What data analysis has the administration conducted or discussed with the Board and Community to explain these disasters?
- Raise the Floor to Raise the Ceiling. Has this mantra that Dr. Schneider repeatedly preached to the D181 community actually happened? The data we have looked at does not support this conclusion. What of the administration's data analysis? Oh yeah, there isn't one. We are still waiting for it.
- Going Deeper: This is one of the Common Core Standards that all Illinois Districts must implement. With so many disasters burying our children's curriculum, how can anyone trust that the Department of Learning has any understanding or ability to get this one right?
All D181 students, teachers, parents and community members have a right to expect a bang for every tax dollar spent on our student's curriculum and instruction. We are all intelligent and know that we should see positive returns on our investments. If we are paying top dollar to administrators and giving them generous raises (as our earlier posts have established), we expect them to choose, implement and monitor successful curriculum programs. We expect them to conduct continuous analysis of performance data to show whether the programs they are implementing are ensuring that every one of our children meets their academic growth targets and not stagnate. Any administrator who refuses, is unable or fails to successfully implement curriculum programs or present meaningful, data driven reports to the BOE, must be held accountable. The community has been more than patient waiting for the Department of Learning to get it right. We have heard enough excuses and are fed up with the continuous obfuscation tactics. We have had enough history lessons. We have had enough delay in collecting, analyzing the data needed to answer all of the questions that board members and concerned parents have been asking.
It is time for answers and accountability. Will the board members demand it, especially those, such as Mr. Turek, who we believe plan to seek reelection next Spring? Will Dr. White agree to hold someone accountable? Or will the D181 administration and BOE continue to play us all for fools?
Please attend the Board meeting on October 27 and demand answers. The meeting will be held at Elm School starting at 7 pm. The Math Pilot is scheduled for discussion at the beginning of the meeting right after Public Comment. If you have concerns about your child's current or future math education, this is the meeting to attend.
Dr. White's Letter to Parents:
In the fall of 2013, District 181 embarked on a five-year curriculum renewal cycle for mathematics. In year one(2013-14 school year), the Math Committee worked to research best practices, gain a deep understanding of the Common Core, develop a philosophy statement, and write curriculum aligned to the new standards. In the spring of 2014, the Math Committee completed the last phase of year one by recommending materials to be piloted for the first semester of the 2014-15 school year. Since the start of this year, most schools and most grade levels have been participating in the math materials pilot, as noted in the charts below. I want to express gratitude to the Math Committee, pilot teachers, the Department of Learning, principals, and our District families – we are all partners in making this important process a success for students.
As our team of administrators has shared at recent Board meetings, we are seeking a resource that provides a strong foundation in fluency, conceptual understanding, procedural knowledge, and application, while also providing an instructional base that is grounded in the Eight Mathematical Practices. In addition, the chosen resource must provide tools for teachers to differentiate based on the needs of students, provide rigor in both instruction and homework, and allow teachers to follow the District’s implementation of the Common Core Standards.
Since the start of the pilot, the Department of Learning has been in contact with members of the Math Committee and participating pilot teachers. The input from teachers has been that they have learned a lot from their participation in the pilot and, in general, they believe that this process has afforded them the opportunity to learn new ideas and methods for providing rigorous instruction. These conversations have also included the identification of strengths and weaknesses for each of the resources being piloted. This is no surprise as we have always known and communicated that there is no perfect resource on the market and that we may need to use supplemental resources to best meet the needs of all learners. In particular, concerns have risen about two of the four material sets – Investigations (K-5) and Agile Mind (6-8). Some anecdotal feedback received from parents has indicated concern with these two material sets, as well.
The problems that are surfacing relate to our need for the materials to support both conceptual understanding and procedural knowledge throughout all grades (K-5 and 6-8). The concern is very clear for Agile Mind, but it is not as clear for Investigations and additional input from teachers is necessary. In the end, we may conclude that one or more of the current pilot resources may work as a supplemental resource, but we may not select them as an appropriate primary resource moving forward.
As we have always said, it is important that we give materials enough time to be thoughtfully considered and at the same time be willing to shift our initial plan if materials are clearly not meeting expectations. Over the last two weeks, the Department of Learning has been meeting with administrators, committee members, and the pilot teachers to discuss their concerns and consider a plan of action moving forward. These conversations have allowed us to conclude that we will stop the Agile Mind pilot, and we see a need to give Investigations more time before concluding that it can serve as a primary resource for our district.
At this time, we are tentatively planning to continue the pilot of Math in Focus (K-5), Investigations (K-5), and Big Ideas (6-8) for the schools and grade levels that have been using those materials. Given the current input from the professionals who designed the process and selected the materials for the pilot, it would be premature to stop the pilot of these materials. In addition, stopping the pilot for the three previously mentioned resources does not demonstrate respect for the learning, committee work, and student growth the teachers feel is being made at this time.
For the HMS classes that have been using Agile Mind, we will be developing a materials transition plan that may include a hybrid of Glencoe materials, the pilot materials, and other resources. This decision will be made in the coming week or so and will be based on the standards scope and sequence. For those HMS families with a child in a class participating in the pilot, please stay tuned for further information from Mr. Peña and/or your child’s teacher about the materials transition.
All students, regardless of materials, need to continue on a learning path that includes exposure to the same topics as all other grade level peers. We want all students to have equitable learning opportunities over the course of the school year.
Our team will continue their discussion and finalize the HMS materials transition plan to be presented as part of a Department of Learning report during the October 27, 2014 Board meeting. Please note that we are still planning to conduct teacher and parent surveys at the end of the pilot for the materials that will continue.
Please don’t hesitate to contact your child’s teacher if you have any questions or concerns.
Don White, Ph.D."