Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Yellow Brick Road to Nowhere: Part 2 -- D181 Needs a New Curriculum Map Maker

Now that we've spent the last couple of days posting stories about D181's endless journey down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, it is time to stop the laughter and giggles and get serious.

D181 is in trouble.

Our students and teachers have been led down a path that the administrators have argued is well intended, yet has resulted in poor student performance, chaos, inconsistency amongst schools, confusion, anger, anxiety, and self-esteem issues.  Although we believe the problems lie in multiple subject areas -- math, language arts, science -- the recent public outcry and administrative focus have been on the math curriculum.   So what did we actually "learn" at the October 27 Board Meeting about what the administration is going to do to address all of the math problems?  What did the Board of Education -- the public officials we elected to represent our interests -- discuss during the meeting?  What new information and specific plans did our new superintendent, Dr. White, and the Assistant Superintendent of Learning, Dr. Schneider, provide the community to assuage our concerns?

Everyone can go to the D181 website and listen to the podcast of the meeting.  In fact, we hope you all do, because ultimately, it is your responsibility to school yourselves up on issues that are impacting your children.  You can also all read the newspaper articles that provide short "factual" summaries of some of the hot topics that were discussed, such as the one that appears in this week's Hinsdalean titled "Math Pilot Concerns Relate Back to Learning for All Plan." So rather than summarize the 3 hour meeting in this post, we are just going to share some of our observations and conclusions and ask you to sound off.

1.  Were parents' math concerns proactively addressed by the administration? NO. Following one hour of impassioned public comments by no fewer than 17 parents, we would have expected Dr. White and Dr. Schneider to take at least a few minutes to directly address some of the questions asked. Instead, Dr. Schneider spent almost another hour during which he read from a prepared script and presented his skewed perspective of the district's curriculum history, followed by a 17 minute video highlighting yet another social justice expert's theories.   Dr. Schneider wrapped up his presentation with vague assurances that plans were in process to address the concerns. His scripted presentation did not provide any real specifics as to the future, other than stating that Agile Minds will be discontinued in the next week or so, a decision on whether or not to also discontinue Investigations would be delayed until further discussions with the teachers, and that more math materials were being ordered.

2.  The Blame Game: Dr. Schneider's script also included a laundry list of excuses and finger pointing (all away from him) to explain the reasons why there are so many curriculum issues.  He said more time is needed to implement all of the changes that were brought upon the district by Dr. Schuster, Dr. Moon's report (which he characterized as "insensitive"), the political "basket", Common Core and PARCC.  He also blamed administrative turnover and said none of the current Department of Learning administrators held their current positions when the Learning for All Plan was developed, never once acknowledging his "starring" role in its development, and the underlying social justice  theory that he introduced to D181. Dr. Schneider also said that everything had happened too fast and what is needed now is a slow down in the curriculum renewal cycle, clarification of the "vision," more professional development (that he said would require revisiting the idea of late start or early dismissal -- which the board previously rejected) and better mass communication to parents to explain all of the changes.

We were fascinated by Dr. Schneider's laundry list of  "to do's" and "requests for more time."
In our opinion, reading from a prepared script in which Dr. Schneider asked for more time, in the midst of  FIVE year curriculum renewal cycles, and after three years spent rolling out the Learning for All Plan, proved to us that he does not have the curriculum experience or qualifications to run the entire curriculum department.  More time?  Who is he kidding?  What is needed is someone who isn't learning on the job, isn't going to blame others and then say we need to slow down even more so the new administrators can fix the mess.  District 181 needs to hire an Assistant Superintendent of Learning and a separate Superintendent of Special Education, who have proven their abilities in other high achieving district and come prepared to tackle D181's issues.  The time that should be spent now is on finding a new curriculum leader.  Please Dr. White,  you have a little over 5 months to conduct a search for a new curriculum leader before you go to the BOE by April 1 and recommend to the BOE whether or not to renew Dr. Schneider's one year contract.  Please use that time wisely!

3.  Data and Half-truths:  What about DATA presentation during the meeting?  NO new data was presented.  No data analysis has been completed by the Department of Learning on the performance impact to our students of the ever changing math programs.   One parent pointed out during public comment that last year elementary teachers were forced to use a new numerical grading system for each and every question on the math tests, and then input the values into some kind of data base.  She asked what ever happened to the data?  Why hasn't it been analyzed?  Why hasn't it been presented to the BOE and community?  None of her questions were answered.  Nor did any of the board members follow up and ask the administration for answers to her questions.

Instead, Dr Schneider, in our opinion, spoke half-truths, pointing quickly to a slide that he asserted showed a decline in student performance when tiers were in place, pre-Learning for All Plan. We thank Board Member Heneghan for asking Dr. Schneider to go back to the slide, which in fact showed that the subject matter in which the decline had taken place pre-Learning for All Plan was in Science, where no tiers existed.  Similarly, Dr. Schneider referenced parent survey data during his presentation representing that the majority of parents were "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with D181 curriculum.  While the results of the survey might have shown that, what Dr. Schneider failed to disclose was that only a very small percentage of parents actually took the survey.  Apparently, when it suits the administrators, they have no compunction in referencing a single data point, despite it's obvious flaws and credibility!  If the community is ever going to trust the data presentations, they should be accurate, complete and not just revisionist history.  Don't the administrators realize that if all they ever do is go back to past data presentations without presenting any new data analysis, it casts a spotlight on their incompetence to do their jobs?

4. There was no BOE "discussion."  Discussion assumes a conversation or debate about a certain topic. Following Dr. Schneider's written speech and movie, there were individual questions asked by board members.  Some board members even went further and provided findings from their own research on some of the math issues.  But what the board failed to do was to have a meaningful conversation or debate amongst themselves about what THEY thought was happening or what THEY thought should happen.  Without such a discussion, there was no opportunity to decide if anyone should be held accountable for the math mess.  The majority of the board seemed perfectly content to accept Dr. Schneider's excuses, preemptive blaming of everyone but himself and requests for more time.  Board President Turek had very little to say, probably because word on the street is that he plans to run for re-election and has realized that the community is now listening to every word he says and will be quick to highlight anytime he "sticks his foot in it."  Unfortunately for him, silence is just as bad, as it is his role to facilitate discussion during the board meetings, and his refusal or inability to do so is but one of the many reasons why it is time for the voters to fill his board seat with someone else.

5. We do want to thank Board Member Nelson, however, who not only attended the meeting in person, but also came the closest to seeking accountability, albeit, not actually reaching the conclusion that someone should be held accountable.  During the meeting he made the following statement:

"What's the path to support kids back to where they should be in a finite way because part of what's frustrating for folks and frankly, me too, is we have good concepts, we have good research, but we always seem to be behind it.  We are trying to play that game of here is the actual steps we're going to take, here's how we're going to measure ourselves.  We keep talking about doing it but we don’t actually get to the end and say this is exactly how we're going to do it BEFORE we get there. So in this case let's be real specific about how we get those kids caught up, let's be real specific about what the decision criteria are as to which of these curriculum we're going to choose, because I think if we get everybody to agree on what the decision criteria are its easier to accept that decision rather than come up with your own view of what it should be.  So I just really hope that we do need, in my view, to slow this down again so we can make sure we have the steps and the actions in place before we end up creating another situation where we're half way down the path before we decide we don’t like where we’re going."

While we do not agree with Mr. Nelson that we have "good concepts or good research" in place (although everyone is entitled to their own opinions), we do agree with his observations that the administration hasn't been able to go down a road and reach its destination, without constantly deciding it doesn't like where it's going, and without really having a process in place to choose which path to follow.

The answer, however, in our opinion, isn't, as Mr. Nelson suggests to "slow down again to make sure we have the steps and actions in place." No, as we stated above, the answer is to stop, hire a new curriculum leader for D181 and THEN make sure he/she takes the necessary and appropriate steps and actions to get us to our final destination.  We wish Dr. White, Mr. Nelson and the other six board members would follow through on what the last three years of curriculum experiences have shown everyone:  We need a new, experienced bus driver running the curriculum bus.

Why are they so averse to reaching this obvious conclusion?  Why are they once again refusing to utter the "A" word -- Accountability?  None of the administrators who are referenced in Dr. Schneider's SLIDE 41 left after being held accountable.  Almost all left for promotions in other districts, because they were offered higher salaries or chose to retire.  We would venture to say that some of them left before the possibility that they would be held accountable could come to fruition, but the bottom line is that they all stuck around until THEY chose to leave.  Perhaps their departures were too slow and took too long.  Dr. White and the BOE must not make that mistake again.

6.  There is power in numbers.  We were thrilled to learn that the vast majority of the seats were filled on Monday night.  We are pretty sure that the administrators were surprised by the number of parents who attended the board meeting, because it is common knowledge that they (and some of the board members) have deluded themselves into thinking that there are only a few parents who are upset with curriculum issues and that it is always the same "squeaky wheels" calling for accountability.
Hopefully they have now realized that this is not the case.

Hopefully the administration will also quickly move to end the Investigations math pilot.  If they do, we believe it will be a direct result of so many parents coming forward and advocating for their children.  There is power in numbers.  It is time for parents to stay the course and "board the bus."  It is time for parents to begin regularly attending board meetings to stay on top of the issues and decisions that impact our children. It is time for parents to speak out before decisions are made, especially if they are not supported by actual data, but just someones educational theories.

In conclusion,  it is time for the community to elect board members into office who will not wait years and years to question why the "drivers" haven't been following a Map, and giving them more time to draw one.  We need board members willing to demand results, not just give the administrators more and more and more time to never achieve them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Schneider is looking out for Number 1 and right now it's about squashing out the "resistance". I can't believe the hypocrisy of this administration and it's disappointing that Dr. White is continuing with this sham. They want to address STEM and then dumb down the Math (SLOW IT DOWN) and keep science where it is so that our children continue to miss key education over the next few years while they slowly figure out a science curriculum (since we have none). Shame on this administration and shame on them for using our children to promote models that sound good in theory but have little success of working with our students. And yes math is just one of the problems. There is no grammer being taught or at least it's not being retained and the word study is a joke.