Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Emerald City? Heck, I Would Settle for Troy.

As we finalize Part 2 of our Post "Yellow Brick Road to Nowhere" (that we hope to post tomorrow), we have received the following comment by a "Concerned D181 Parent" asking us to publish as a free standing post.  The title of the comment caught our interest and we know you too will find the content compelling.

" Dear Bloggers:  I attended Monday's meeting and was so proud of the parents who spoke during public comment, bringing forward their concerns and questions.  I was, however, very disappointed in the lack of engagement I witnessed by the board majority and their willingness to accept the administration's excuses and requests for "more time" to fix the district's math mess, without any talk of holding any administrator accountable.  In particular I found Mr. Turek to be the weakest board president I have ever observed at a board meeting.  Please consider posting my comment as an individual post if you think it will be read by more of your readers.  I have been stewing ever since Monday night's meeting and have taken the time to jot down my own ideas.  I hope your readers agree with them.

In one of Don White's first emails to parents ( he states that he would like to see the district goal become the Emerald City. In a film context, this city is a mythical, magical, delightful place where its residents are happy and content. And while this may indeed be Don White's goal, the path to it is now convoluted and illusive. For within his first weeks as Superintendent, he promoted Kurt Schneider, whose background focuses entirely on Special Education, to head the Department of Learning. I have followed this blog, information posted on the D181 website and board docs, and in my opinion, it is clear that he is not qualified to hold this new position as his resume confirms he has limited to no experience in curriculum or assessment (Go to: Blogger's earlier post on Schneider, including his resume.). 

It is my opinion that the impact of this misguided decision is now being felt across the district as students have just completed about 20% of the school year, as one parent summarized at Monday's BOE meeting. Since Kurt Schneider took it upon himself to generate and explain (albeit with an occasional nervous laugh or mangiggle as he answered questions from board members) a list of 5 things that must happen in order for instruction to improve in the district, here is my own list of of 5 things that I believe must be done immediately to right the wrongs, if there is any hope for our childrens' education to improve: 
1. Since the superintendent's honeymoon has been cut short, he should now remove his sunglasses and put on a pair of bifocals so he can see up close the mess that is unfolding under his very eyes. Accountability begins at the top, and yes, this pathetic BOE troop has yet to hold any administrator accountable. But there is an election looming and the majority may flip in the community's favor so that Don White and his rag tags in the Department of Learning will be on the line to produce results. In order for this to happen, parents must step up to run for the board and immediately contact the Caucus. Time is running out, and we cannot allow Marty Turek to be re-elected or those who share his beliefs to be elected next year. Parents, please step up as there are four seats on the BOE open that must be filled with thoughtful, concerned parents who want to see the district improve.
2. By my count, approximately 80 people (parents, community members and administrators) showed up at Monday's meeting, and this was impressive and must continue. Our community cannot just sit back now and not be present at these meetings. If we have learned anything from the recent D86 events concerning the BOE and a potential strike, it takes a collective loud voice from the community to put pressure on the BOE to create change. And yes, many D181 parents spoke on Monday. But I believe parents will have to continue to speak up loudly and consistently if there is any hope for changes prior to the next election. 

3. If teachers continue to remain silent for fear of retaliation or dings on their evaluations, it will be up to parents to again voice concerns about this inclusive one-size-fits-all-social-justice-same-paced-limited-flexibly-grouped-sole-differentiated ideology. I believe Schneider was deceptive when he said teachers have not been told they couldn't use flexible groupings. Say what? Teachers were told 3 years ago that all classrooms were to become inclusive with no pullouts. Period. Ah, but wait. Some schools have bucked the trend and are ability grouping students this year. Yet another example of poor leadership on the part of Schneider and White, who appear to be comfortable with schools doing their own thing with no consistency among schools. 

4. Data must be produced and demanded by parents. Since Don White stated he reads all emails, parents should be writing to demand results. By now everyone knows that MAP results indicate some disturbing trends in 5th grade, as well as other grades. But where is the discussion from the administration or BOE? Turek's lack of leadership is alarming; remember, he sets the meeting agenda with White and could easily demand data and results but is failing to do so. The administration should produce a breakdown of results across schools, grades, quintiles, etc. This didn't happen under Schuster, and it looks like it won't under White unless parents put the hammer down and demand it. By the way, ISAT results and the state report cards are due to be published any day now.

5. While the focus has been on the math pilot recently because of the dismal results of certain programs, I also question other programs in the district. The board should too. Our children are working in the workshop model of instruction, which involves a great deal of peer teaching (9-year-olds teaching and grading each other's work). This approach and the inclusive philosophy of reading within a single classroom will not challenge our students enough. Parents, we must be engaged. If you are happy with all students in a class reading the same book or worksheet and not allowing for pullouts or ability groups, so be it. But I believe the vast majority of parents want more than just differentiation in the classroom of 20 plus kids. And I would be remiss in my civic duties if I didn't point out that Don White's former district (Troy 30-C), in the cornfields of Plainfield, actually had and still has a "gifted" program with tiers and ability groups. Dr. White supported that approach, no question about it. But now it seems he has fallen prey to the administrator sharkmaster of spin, and everyone knows who I mean.

Today our district is far from being the Emerald City, with a BOE whose majority is apathetic and refuses to press for accountability, with many parents who have taken a backseat and have stayed diplomatically quiet only to see the quality of district education slide downward, with a superintendent who is supporting a department of learning administrative team that isn't qualified to hold the positions for which they are generously paid, with full inclusion and a single classroom teacher (with a few MRC Directors tossed in along with maybe one differentiation specialist) responsible for a one-size-fits-all philosophy, and with pitiful, embarrassing MAP scores across the district (except slight growth at one school) for 5th graders who have been subjected to the Learning For All plan for 3 years now. 

What the heck? Troy is looking pretty good these days...."
(Concerned D181 Parent)


Anonymous said...

Excellent summary.

Butler and Westview (2 other schools that funnel into Hinsdale Central) have tiers/ability grouping.

It doesn't benefit the children (inclusive classrooms/instruction) So WHY is it the ultimate goal? WHAT is being hidden and not discussed?

Anonymous said...

The only people who benefit are Schneider and the other people on his social justice lecture circuit - that is what is not being discussed. Any "research" on inclusion that is presented is from this group. Our tax dollars are funding their social justice experiment and our BOE is patting them on the back along the way.

Concerned said...

Great points. Active parents supported by teachers and a principal with HMS students' best interests in mind overthrew the Agile Mind pilot. Parents are having to work harder at Madison but the same outcome is, in my opinion, inevitable.

Unfortunately, poorly designed pilots and inferior math materials are the tip of the iceberg. Inclusive classrooms, heterogeneous groups and peer teaching in workshops will not meet ANY student's needs regardless of type of learner - at/below/above grade level, quiet/active, focused/easily distracted. Our district is heading in a direction that will produce underperforming (vs individual potential, the only kind of performance that matters) students with SELAS issues.

Write letters, attend meetings, communicate your support to more active parents so they can report with confidence that they are not alone in their concern for the education of children in d181.

Anonymous said...

The very idea of a workshop model of teaching for grade school children makes my skin crawl. I don't care how "gifted" Jenny may be, she's not qualified (or licensed, for that matter) to teach other children.

More to the point, Jenny is not there to teach, she's there to learn. Can we get it straight, Dawn? Your "guide on the side" plan for a classroom is ridiculous on its face.

Speaking of ridiculous, consider the BOE. They approved this nonsense without a hint of data to support it. The lack of critical thinking exhibited by our elected officials is hurting our community.

How could ANYONE sit in a room and listen to a paid administrator argue that the best way to run a classroom is to allow a nine year old to teach other nine year olds, and just nod in agreement? But hey, don't worry about it, the nine year old teacher is really, really, smart!

Well that's exactly what your BOE did.

It's a total indictment of the BOE and the administrators pulling their strings. The perfect storm of incompetence has to end.

The name of this blog is "D181 Parents for Accountability." Well, in the real world, where most of the parents in this district work, our superiors, our customers, and our patients or clients expect results. When we can't produce results, they hire someone who can.

The time to clean house is over due. Vote Turek and the rest of the "know nothings" out! In the meantime, parents need to continue to speak up at meetings and give voice to our concerns. Write emails to the BOE and administrators echoing the very eloquent and correct parent comments we heard at the last meeting. And don't worry about hurting anyone's feelings. They sure as hell don't give a rat's behind about yours!

Anonymous said...

It seems that some in our administration are PURPOSELY trying to lower test scores so that inclusion/heterogenous class rooms will make more sense. It sounds crazy, but the decisions made by the Learning Dept. support this. They are trying to damp down the top performers AND weaken the curriculum. If anyone would like to add an example please do so-I'll start.

1) Why has word/study vocabulary lessons been completely eliminated from the elementary classes?

2) Are the kids being taught grammar at all in K-5? I NEVER see evidence of this.

3) Our Science ISAT scores speak volumes? Who is in charge of that curriculum. What's being done NOW in grades K-5

4) Math-many issues.

Those are my very general, broad issues.

Anonymous said...

Sorry-meant "tamp" down.

Had to add- Over the past 2 years evidence of minimal grammar study has come home. One year, a completely empty workbook came home. The following year, the whole book was basically photo copied and sent home "to work on during the summer". (grades K-5)

All this demonstrates is that it's NOT being taught. We don't know reasons- It could be the materials, the time crunch, lack of focus-who knows- but it's pretty IMPORTANT for the children. Having no clue what a run-on sentence is, when to capitalize, when to use a comma, starts to become a BIG issue in middleschool when the kids are EXPECTED to know this stuff! -yet it was glossed over- or maybe their buddy sitting next to them didn't know how to correct the mistakes. Darn that "work-shop" model.

Anonymous said...

Can you please elaborate on "guide on the side" plan for the classroom.

Parents want, and should demand curriculum/practices that produce results now, immediately, because we know how quickly time passes and the opportunity to learn is lost. We can't wait 5-7 years for the realization of some plan that NO data supports. Sorry, we aren't that stupid.

Anonymous said...

Dawn Benaitis never met a line of bs she didn't like. The Guide on the Side is code for a 9-year-old teacher or fellow classmate who is supposed to help a fellow student.This is what my high tax bill is paying for? She is dilusional. Hey Dawn - how about getting rid of the Words-Clip-And-Sort-Away program while my kids sit in workshops bored stiff? You can have the side guide cut and clip all the word sheets and then place them and the "book" in the recyclining bin.
This is what our kids are using to learn words. No guided reading books, no grammar workbooks, no spelling words within workbooks.
Does Troy accept out of district students?

Anonymous said...

At your request, here's my unlearned explanation of "guide on the side."

Back in the dark ages, when our country had a legitimate space program and educators placed and emphasis on STEM, teachers were the teachers.

That is, your teacher stood in front of the class and lectured or taught material. She was the font of knowledge for the student. After the lesson, the student was required to practice the lesson with the goal of actually mastering the material.

But according to Dawn and the D181 administrators that model doesn't work anymore. As she put it, "kid's brains are different today." They can't learn using those old methods.

Using the workshop model, the teacher is no longer the teacher. She doesn't stand up and lecture like she once did. She's the "guide on the side."

You see dear parents, nowadays the teacher is but a "facilitator" for "collaborative learning." The teacher will no longer provide the information, the kids will "discover" it on their own through "guided instruction."

That is as dumb as expecting a group of nine year olds to discover the Pythagorean Theorum on their own, by accident!. The workshop model may work great at the college or graduate level. But its success is dependent on having some body of working knowledge to contribute. When you're nine, you're just not ready for that.

Also, the previous posters are 100% correct about grammar and vocabulary. It is nonexistent in D181. Don't believe me? Tonight at dinner, go ahead and ask your grade schooler to define an adverb, a split infinitive or an indirect object. I dare you.

Anonymous said...

You could also ask your fifth grader to define those grammatical terms and they probably couldn't do it either. It's not until they get to 6th grade that real grammar is really taught anymore. So let's change those programs as well. That will REALLY prepare them for high school. Not to mention real life.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for "the guide on the side" explanation.

Remember D181 we are paying alot of $ for our teachers to be "teachers" -not merely bystanders, observers, quiet mice.

Sad but true-my son, whose done great in ELA classes at CHMS completely bombs the grammar segments (yes-I'll give the middleschools credit-there is a bit of gramma) -because they EXPECTED that the kids learned this stuff at the elementary level. My son said" I've only had a few worksheets- I was NEVER taught this stuff."

Anonymous said...

Has anyone read Dr. White's e-mail on the state ISAT rankings yet. I hope I'm wrong but it seems as if he is preparing us for some really bad news. Or at least some of us.

jay_wick said...

Part ONE of TWO
There is absolutely no truth to Common Core being tied to ANY necessity to change the pedagogical methods of teachers.

_Z_E_R_O_ Don't take my word for this, get it from the "horse's mouth": Jason Zimba, author of Common Core Math Standards

It is similarly NOT AT ALL TRUE that there ever was a time when teachers were EXCLUSIVELY expected to be a "sage on a stage". A little historical perspective / common sense is all it takes to think back a few decades or go look at some documented evidence.

I don't care if you went to a nice clubby prep school and had a Mr. Chips, an iconoclast like Dead Poets Society, some inner city Blackboard Jungle, a parochial school staffed with penguins, a beachside school with an officious Mr. Hand, maybe a school in the barrio with a committed calculus teacher like Jamie Escalante, Prof Kingsfield from The Paper Chase or a composite of several of these -- it ain't like any real teacher EVER spends that whole year like some barely animated robot from Disney's Hall of Presidents.
Decent teachers are ALWAYS thinking of the best ways to engage students. Sometimes with a well crafted presentation, other times with a carefully worded open ended question. They move around, look over shoulders, figure out who is on task and who is spaced out. Still other times they'll devote some class time to guided practice or group problem-solving.
Even the kinds of assessments that are chosen are part of the engagement process -- a quick quiz to determine if students are mostly on-track with new material, some extended homework so time is not the limit to what students produce, a thorough test where students can demonstrate mastery and finally appropriate review and remediation so their is foundation to move forward.

Just as some people falsely "pump up" how much "savings" they've found in some government style of budgeting, so too do less than honest 'researchers' embarrass themselves and setback efforts at real improvement when they overstate effects or flat out misrepresent data.

jay_wick said...

Part TWO of TWO
The "guide on the side" buzzword is foolish reaction to the handful of teachers that plow ever onward, entranced by the sound of their own voice, oblivious to how people may have fallen asleep.
That is not a problem for any real teachers in an active classroom of elementary schoolers -- far more likely this might happen when listening to a college professor overly influenced by "preaching" vs checking for signs of understanding out in the tiers of some huge lecture hall (also a real problem when playing videos and even "canned" computerized lessons).
Back in the days before graphing calculators and such, math teachers ROUTINELY would not just spew out factoids but explain the ins & outs of plotting points on axes to solve a function graphically, use compasses and slide rules to create estimations, expect students to construct physical evidence to prove a mathematical assertion and dozens of other "hands on" activities that required a very active teacher giving feedback.

The idea that there was ever some mindset that teaching was meant to be a like tuning into a propaganda station on shortwave and listening through endless chatter ignores the foundational heritage of teachers as far back as Socrates. Here is a nice thesis from a college senior at Carnegie Mellon Socratic Learning Method and the Inquiry-Based Learning Method If I have an objection to the paper it is mostly that there is, in the real world or actual classroom teaching, no dichotomy between "constructivist" and "instructionists"; skilled teachers come to the conclusion that certain things absolutely are more appropriate for a very "tell them what they need" approach while other topics are much better suited to other methods.
The real problems happen (as was the case with Professor Boaler & Railside school) when a strident denunciation of one approach is contrasted with results that truly are "too good to be true". See this blog, written by the rare inner city math teacher that actually graduated from Stanford and studied under Prof. Boaler from some insights into how the study was not true and how flexibility is really the key to successful classroom learning -- Education Realist

Months, maybe more than a year ago, I warned the BOE that Common Core was inherently politically. That clouds a whole lot of the "debate" but even then we have to use logic to find a path forward. In the past I have praised Elizabeth Green for her excellent book "Building a Better Teacher". I stand by that praise. I also have cited an excellent excerpt that the NYTimes Magazine ran. I urge you to read it -- Why Do Americans Stink at Math?
Please also read this excellent critique - Six Myths From Elizabeth Green | Brookings Institution.
Finally take a look at this from site of well regarded veteran high school math teacher --Why the NYTimes Stinks at Math Quite a different perspective... UNQUESTIONABLY these perspectives are driven by the POLITICAL BIASES of avowed left leaning NYTimes vs the decidedly right wing Brookings and the generally more pragmatic view of a very realistic veteran teacher...

I do really feel awful for the kids that have been whipsawed around in our district. I know parents want to see a real plan that will help get these students back on track toward real progress. I do think there needs to be pressure on the administration to deliver such a plan.