Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wick's Words of Wisdom

Late last night, we received a series of comments from one of our readers, Jay Wick, regarding the Board Meeting held at Madison School.  To use his words, he "buried" his comments in a post we published in July 2013.  We have decided to "unbury" Mr. Wick's comments and publish them as a free standing post, after receiving several requests to do so from other readers.  He has written regularly to the blog and while we have not always agreed with his comments, they are thoughtful and provide food for thought.  His comments raise some very important points, most which probably will not be understood by some of the D181 board members, Turek in particular, who may be running for re-election next Spring.  The title is ours, the words are his.

As always, we welcome your comments and the time you take in writing them.

The Bloggers.

Mr. Wick's Comments:

"I thought it might be fun to "bury" a little summary of tonight's BOE back among those posts from when page view of this blog were literally 1/100th of what they are today.

The reason I doing so is two fold: firstly to remind people that try to dismiss the effectiveness of this medium that there is in fact quite a bit of interest in how our district is run, AND point out the fact that too often the relatively empty / quite meeting of the BOE do not mean that "all is well".

Yes, when the place is teaming with angry parents the "squeaky wheel" method of political decision making is often effective but sadly when the BOE does not articulate a clear vision and just stumbles along the same path of least resistance such directionless can be equated with the same unprincipled "leaders" that have placed Illinois dead last in categories like business climate or atop the list of most heinously mis-funded public employee pensions ...

Tonight was the legally important date for the district to make their first effort at a levy. The business manager laid out a mostly clear picture of the process (something that arguably is not necessary, as at this point in time all the BOE members have been through at least one full cycle of such budgetary information...). The BOE's titular head extended a very "Heckuva job, Brownie" type thanks and there was not a whole lot of dissent or questioning. That is troubling on several levels -- Firstly there are those that would like to see the whole of the budgeting process laid out on a "zero based budget". They would not be happy to just see everything rolled over from last year. Secondly there are those of us that recognize that under Illinois system of CAPPED PROPERTY TAX any budget that does not address the actual percentage increases for important categories like salaries (which constitute about 85% of the district's expenditures) have a high probability of seriously short-changing all the other important areas that the district funds should be spent on.

The sad fact is that there were NO other parents or community members that questioned anything! Honestly I would have been happier to see some honest-to-goodness tax slasher type out in the open rather than find out too late that they managed to sneak past those should have exposed such scoundrel in the vetting process.

Let me reiterate where I stand on a few things. I've talked to enough community members who understand taxes to be one of those things that you have to be savvy about it -- a valuable home will likely carry a hefty bill. Uncle Sam helps you out quite a bit by allowing those property taxes to reduce one's income tax liability to a considerable degree, but it still ain't a free ride. My elderly mom well knows this, as do my many retired neighbors that choose to remain in their homes and "age in place". I certainly know it too. Folks that are dishonest or hypocritical about such things will find me tearing their baseless arguments to shreds. That said, those of us who have devoted considerable time to truly understanding how taxes work in this state are often most acutely aware of when the public is NOT getting good value for their expenditures. When we've had the opportunity to convince government units to find cost savings we have done so vociferously. THAT remains a primary reason why I devote time to this!

The basic idea of "accountability" for me has to start with finances and fiscally-sound policies but also must encompass the whole picture of what it means to be an elected official of a public body that approaches their role with a clear set of ethics. The blog here has ample evidence that such has not been the case with some on the BOE -- they have used their knowledge of how districts respond to Freedom of Information Act requests to attempt to further their own business interests. They have benefited monetarily from their involvement with the BOE. They have not fulfilled all the legal obligations to serve as stewards of the public purse. They have not clearly stated where they stand on any controversy. By keeping their views too close-to-the-vest they demonstrated to strong a desire too remain in office and too weak a commitment to stand for public scrutiny...

I would also like to point that I so dislike the policy of "non-transparency" in terms of anonymous postings allowed by those that run this blog that I attempted to launch an effort to unmask this practice. Sadly there were more folks that argued for it and some even claim to be teachers in the district that fear reprisal; given the rather open witch hunts that our high school BOE has engaged in that is not an idle concern. I have said before that I have had my own "blogger IDs longer than this site has existed (I have suspended all content from my blogs...) and use that alias mostly as it provides some "plausible deniability" for my kids that would otherwise risk having my views confused with theirs as we share first & last legal name...

I have no doubt that I may often come across as overly sure of my own conclusions. I don't know to really respond to this other than show that in nearly every "controversial topic" that I have attacked the BOE for I have shown that there is legitimate disagreement among the whole of the eductional community. The honest researchers that analyze studies about anything like classroom size or pedagogical approached to reading or math generally go out of their way to present their data and allow other access to every aspect of the study. The best will come right out and say things like the data that disproved their hypothesis forced to reevaluate previous approaches or design more thorough test to understand the discrepancy. I try to show the same kind of approach, it is not just for sake of "balance" but because I really believe there is a great deal of uncertainty in what is truly "best" for any child. I similarly would expect our district staff to try to convey some of these "shades of grey" when they offer recommendations for the district.

Frustratingly certain members of our district staff have approached their role more like those who craft partisan poltical ads -- "if you side with my opponents you must be in favor of all things foul and nasty". That insults the real academic researchers that largely respect the difficulty in truly proscribing a narrow path for education. Certainly sometimes there are disagreements that cause folks to call out one side or another.

Among those involved in mathematics educations has been a long running debate between those that believe in the superiority of either more traditional methods or more progressive approaches. Numerous articles call this controversy "Math Wars"and it long predates the Common Core State Standards. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has been aware of these separate 'camps' since at least 1998 -- NCTM Principles and Standards The fact is any decent classroom teacher learns pretty quickly that some things just work better with some students than others. To have a grasp on some techniques that are decidedly "traditional" like clearly explaining how a particular mathematical operation can be quickly performed with pencil and paper is every bit as necessary as being able to use some progressive methods that involve the use of hands-on materials to allow students to self-generate useful patterns.

I also know that Illinois has required all teachers to complete specific coursework in special education before they can be licensed in ANY capacity Licensure Requirements |ISBE This is mostly a good thing and considered progressive, though I know of no serious "opponents" to such a thing. Further it is hard to argue with the shear number or quality of education schools that Illinois is home to -- the flagship University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign is very well regarded, as is the Illinois State at Bloomington-Normal, as well a Northern Illinois, SIU, NEIU, UIUC, Chicago State, Governor's State to say nothing of private schools like Northwestern, Loyola, DePaul, National Lewis, Roosevelt, St. Xavier, Franciscan, Dominican and others. Yes the Prairie State awards LOTS of advanced degrees in education but at we have seen time and time and time again certain schools are overrepresented in their ties to our beloved neighbor to the north. This myopia wears down the faith in our district staff and paints a picture of, if not outright dishonesty than perhaps at least of a sort of close-minded provincialism that is most unseemly.

If the BOE wants to build trust that we are right track they ought not ignore the feedback of those that are critical but instead reach out and see what can be learned from having a more inclusive vision of all available approaches to learning, professional development and especially responses to drops in tests results.

There is a growing realization among those that respond to Common Core from every conceivable political quarter that they share a common theme -- the lack of field testing and coherency may be the "hidden in plain sight" efforts to dumb down the whole of that nation: left, right or center there is little reason to deny this.
Perhaps a strong, principled BOE and like minded district staff would be working toward a response that exposes the silliness of the whole enterprise for a district like ours... Testing is A REQUIREMENT and dropping USEFUL tests like MAP that can help to focus the efforts on those who really need help while sticking with the mandated PARCC would be a grave error and play right into the worst fears of those that see the horrors of equal outcomes as the real goal of the most radical members of our staff. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equality_of_outcome"


Anonymous said...

Why is the superintendent micromanaging, in fact taking over the job of the assessment director when she is assigned to do that job. It's the case of the pot calling the kettle black. Thank you to board members who look out for our children and schools by asking questions. Thank you to those that said no to late start and early release. Look where staying in the balcony for the past 3 years got us all? A big fat mess!

Anonymous said...

Getting rid of a tried and true test like MAP, after only having it for 3years is a terrible idea! The only thing worse is substituting it with the experimental, in proven PARCC test. Wick is right!

If anything, hold off on the PARCC until it's kinks are worked out. Teachers have just started to become familiar with the MAP, and it has been about the only constant in our children's ever changing materials and curriculums. Keep it, and continue to hone the teacher's skills in it.

Anonymous said...

To the person who asked why Dr. White was doing Dawn Benaitis' job - good question. It sounded like he was really complaining about being asked to do reports regarding data. Sorry, Dr. White, but you made your bed. Time to lay in it.

Let's face it, when the data doesn't show good results, and starts making one look bad, people usually start finding excuses about why they don't really need to analyze the data. They say things like, "It's very important to not look at only ONE data point." Which leads to this question- if it isn't good to only look at one data point, why is Dr. White trying to eliminate MAP testing? What ARE the other data points we refer to? Instead of relying on both Map and PARCC, now we will ONLY have one data point to look at! Actually, HE will only have one data point to look at. If I am understanding this correctly, he isn't even planning on releasing the PARCC scores to the public rankings. So WHAT data point will we have? Certainly one data point is better than no data point at all.

Data = Proof

Anonymous said...

In the absence of district led sessions that are meaningful instead of just being joyful:


However here is another example of common core that supports the new way. Really how many people would use the traditional long subtraction method to solve 3000-2999? We must be really stupid since we would insist on using the borrow and column subtraction method but it is really so simple in the new way. Who would have thought there was more than one way to solve a problem. Wonder where all the folks at the cash registers learned to figure out the correct change for cash?




Thanks for not educating the parents. Then you can blame all your problems on the parents when you can't blame it on the prior administration.

Robo-graders. what's next, robo teachers, flipped classrooms for kindergartners? Parents basically re-learning what they learned a different way to help their kids with homework or fill in holes.


Maybe the robo-grader is better than peer editing:


The picture says it all for the student (WHY???):
About the test, read the comments:

"Bryan Bleil, Pearson’s vice president for online and technology implementation, says the company is working with states and districts to help them make the transition to computer-based testing—ensuring they have enough Internet bandwidth, for example, to handle the cyber traffic during testing times.

The company stands to gain as states contract out work on test development. In January, Pearson won a $500,000 contract from the state groups developing the tests to create a “technology readiness tool” for districts, to help them determine whether they have enough computers, for example."


Do any of these administrators read about the problems facing our students and teachers besides inclusive classrooms. Complete lack of knowledge and focus:


"The standards assume that students will be taught “by people who understand mathematics well,” said Briars.

RELATED: The Math Standards: Content and Controversy

But many elementary and middle school teachers “don’t view themselves as experts,” said William Haver, a professor of mathematics at Virginia Commonwealth University who helped design his state’s math specialist program. Most undergraduate programs for teachers tend to emphasize language arts and give short shrift to mathematics, which means that teachers “often feel inadequate” even after years of teaching the subject, he said. Although most schools have offered their teachers some kind of professional development since the Common Core math goals were released in 2010, many teachers say they still feel unprepared. Pat Campbell, a University of Maryland math education researcher, said this uneasiness is not surprising. Research has repeatedly shown that short-term professional development just isn't an effective way to make these kinds of major changes, she said."

Anonymous said...

Pearson is piloting a program where the children watch the lesson at home on the computer-then at school they complete the homework problems in class. The "live" teacher simply helps the students with the homework problems.

I don't think the communities are going to support paying teachers 45-$100,000 to be merely homework helpers.

Is the current push towards inclusive classroom the slipperly slope that will lead to this outcome?

Jill said...

To 11:24 PM:

NO PARCC scores will be compiled by the State for this year's test - this is not a Dr. White decision - it's a Statewide thing.

To a 11:54 - the "flipped" classroom is actually an intriguing concept. The teachers will video the lesson they would have taught in class that day for the kids to watch at home and then when the kids come in the next day they do the work in class that would have been classwork and/or homework. The teacher can then focus in on trouble spots and not spend as much direct time on concepts the kids learned easily. It makes homework more meaningful, less reliant on parents and helps maximize teacher time working directly with kids on more confusing concepts.

Personally, I think it has a better chance of being effective in High School and/or maybe middle school and probably more so with math than other subjects, although I could see a video on Egypt for homework and then more interactive activities in class to extend learning at school. I can also see it benefitting the advanced learner who needs to hear it once and then can be challenged with application in class - still led by the teacher.

Just like anything else, a good teacher can make it beneficial for kids and realize when it is not effective. It's just another tool in the tool bag of instruction

jay_wick said...


When our BOE first started trying to get their heads around Common Core I made it a point to tell them this was first and foremost a POLTICAL movement. I believe this more strongly now than ever.

As I have said before, the TESTS of PARCC clearly do seek out a specific kind of response that is highly convoluted and literally will punish students who get the correct numeric answer without the silliness of making tally marks. It is quite simply not worth wasting the time of our students with such nonsense for many trivial questions but that is EXACTLY what is expected on too many items.

The sad reality is that these sort of test items are in fact a covert effort of the supporters of Common Core to impose specific methods of instruction upon teachers. This is a dangerous precedent and one that steps over a line that devalues the skills of teachers; instead of merely suggesting a range of techniques for teachers to have "in their toolbox" it artificially locks teachers into using only "approved tools" in the way that a totalitarian regime would limit logical uses of resources. There is widely retold quote that is relevant here: Why use shovels if spoons involve more laborers?

Similarly John Dewey, the noted American advocate for education, wrote in 1915:“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.”
The School and Society, Dewey, University of Chicago Press Instead excellence and opportunity what we get with the Common Core is very different. Bill Gates, one of the major financial backers of Common Core went to the elite private school, Lakeside, near Seattle, he and his wife Melinda send their children there now. There you'll find nothing like Common Core -- Lakeside contrasted with Common Core

We must not allow our schools to be dragged down through this silliness. Yes, take the tests. Heck, do what we must to mollify the bureaucrats that are pushing this latest fad, but DO NOT impose a regimented and small-minded orthodoxy upon the whole range of learners. This is not mere "malpractice" but true villainy -- if we abide this foolish punishment of students that are able to quickly and accurately solve problems without crutches how long before we also see to it that swift swimming athletes carry along added ballast so they may flounder at the bottom of the pool along with poor swimmers?

Anonymous said...

Just to piggy back on what Jill said, PARCC scores are not being reported b/c most schools are not equipped right now even to take the PARCC. Since it's a computerized test, many districts do not have the capabilities b/c they don't have enough computers for students. I completely agree with Wick in that Common Core is a politically corrupt movement. Pearson is heavily in the mix.

PARCC will be a disaster.

Our district should not be eliminating the MAP test. And it is going to happen.

Anonymous said...

D181 kids have been taking the MAP for at least 6 years now.

Seriously parents-we can't let them discontinue its use because it is the ONLY stable (yet just one data point) that we have.

PARCC is going to be a disaster-and I hope with all my heart that the movement towards Common Core encounters more resistance-because it is PURELY POLITICAL! Just look at Obama Care-many of the arcitects of Common Core are buddies of this administration that just flats out LIES to the public.

The word "political" should always be attached to the PARCC test and Common Core.

We should be stalling the race towards Common Core, and PARCC because there's no guarentee that is going to be fully implemented. States are pulling out-and quick frankly-all district don't have the money for it. It's beyond ridiculous! Extreme left/right pipe dream. Please understand I'm not ripping on Democrates-because I think Reublicans came up with their own version-I disgusted by the extremests on both sides that want to destroy our children's education.

Anonymous said...

Has our administation/BOE had any significant discussions regarding the discontinuation of MAP testing?

Parents better start speaking up! Soon, you'll have NO clue how your child progressing .

Again-what happened to all that data teachers needed to enter last year?