Sunday, January 11, 2015

Board Docs for the 1/12/15 Board Meeting Raise Serious Concerns about Administrative Recommendations to the Board

As we reported yesterday, Board Docs for Monday's Committee of the Whole Board meeting are now available at 1/12/15 BOE meeting agenda. Not only are the meeting agenda and superintendent's report completely devoid of any mention of the HMS Sprinkler malfunction that took place on January 8 causing water damage to five classrooms, the agenda is also disappointing in that it raises serious questions about the validity of committee reports Dr. White is suggesting be presented at future meetings, issues with the 3 upcoming Learning For All Plan BOE discussions, appears to reveal another Schneider "Bubble" of collaboration with an "expert" that the BOE will be asked to approve at a future meeting and issues with the process the administration used to select the Math Pilot Resources the BOE is being asked to approve.  

Let's take a closer look.

Committee Reports:

Dr. White's report suggests that at future board meetings, a board member and administrator serving on various  Board Committees (Facilities, Superintendents Advisory Learning, PTO Presidents, Finance and Technology) make short presentations so that all board members will be informed about what each committee is doing. (See Dr. White's Report.) In theory, that is a great idea and one that is a long time coming. The problem we have identified is who is really going to be preparing the report that is given to the board? Will it be the designated board member or administrator, or will they work together to prepare the report? How will a board member who doesn't attend the committee meetings on a regular basis be able to really contribute to the full board report or better yet, answer questions he/she may be asked by the full board?  

Case in point -- Glenn Yaeger -- who has been called out in the past for not regularly attending the Finance Committee Meetings. (See 4/9/14 Post.) We asked ourselves, has he been a regular attendee since these accusations were lodged? If not, why would Dr.White designate him as the reporting board member? Sadly, Mr. Yaeger has continued his chronic absenteeism as is evidenced by the online Committee Meeting Minutes we accessed at on the D181 website.  

The minutes reflect Mr. Yaeger's absence from 6 of the 8 meetings held in 2014:  2/6, 3/6, 5/8, 6/12, 7/29, 11/5. It appears he only attended meetings on 4/16 and 9/18/14.  Perhaps, as he stated at the 4/7/14 meeting, he only continues to "monitor the agenda, Gary informs me what's going on."  If that is the case, then why isn't Mr. Clarin the board member who will present the report to the full board?  The minutes reflect near perfect attendance by Mr. Clarin. Why pretend like Mr. Yaeger actually has first hand knowledge about what transpired at the finance committee meetings?  It makes no sense!  Only active, engaged board members who attend and participate at committee meetings on a regular basis should be presenting reports to the full Board of Education.  Come on Dr. White, get it right!

Upcoming Learning For All Board Discussions -- WHERE IS THE SEMINAL DOCUMENT?:

Last month we praised the board and Dr. White for refusing to rubber stamp Dr. Schneider's plan for presentations to the BOE spread over 3 months on the Learning for All Plan.  (See 12/9/14 Post.) Now we are left speechless by the Administration's apparent total disregard of the BOE's directive that a "Seminal Document" be created and presented to the board. Where the heck is the Seminal Document?  It certainly is not included in the 1/12/15 Board Docs. Instead, Dr. White's Report once again lays out plans for 3 presentations over the next 3 months by the Department of Learning and only briefly mentions the creation of a report without a date certain of when it will be ready. Worse yet, despite insistence by several board members, including Gary Clarin, that the report provide quantitative data on how the LFA plan has worked out over the last 3 years, there is NO MENTION of any quantitative data being presented to the board. Instead, the Administration simply states a report is being prepared and the three meetings will include a discussion of key terms in the plan, definitions, and "updates to the major components (Math, ELA, Social Studies, Structural Support, RTI) and their related actions" and "where the system is in terms of timeliness and next steps."  (See Dr. White's Report.)

That is what the administration is continuing to sling at the board and community.  NO SUBSTANCE. It has been over one full month since the board meeting at which the Administration agreed to create the SEMINAL DOCUMENT.  And it has been three years since the Learning For All Plan (in all it's prior permutations) was initiated. It is inexcusable that Dr. White's report doesn't state the date the report will be ready, doesn't state unequivocally that it will contain quantitative data and simply provides more superficial, gobbly-gook representations that the report will "update" the board on major components, timeliness and next steps. 

We hope that on Monday night, following Dr. White's report, the majority of the board smacks this proposal down. We hope the majority of the board who pushed at the 12/8/14 meeting for creation of the seminal document before discussion on next steps would take place -- Garg, Heneghan, Clarin, Vorobiev and Nelson -- demand more information and once and for all demand accountability. No way should Dr. Schneider, who is in charge of the Department of Learning, be allowed to sit silently, dodging the spotlight of accountability, at the board meeting and not directly address the Learning for All Plan. We hope that all candidates who are running for the school board will be present at the meeting to witness the discussion -- or lack of -- that will take place regarding this critical and important topic!  

Digital Learning Initiative Proposal Reveals Yet Another "BUBBLE" linking Dr. Schneider to a Proposed Paid Consultant:

Recently, we prepared a blog post that illustrates all of the Connections between Dr. Schneider and the experts, consultants and paid outsiders that D181 taxpayers have paid to provide "expertise," guidance, teacher training, etc. relating to the Learning For All Plan. (See "Bubblemania" post.)  Now, it appears another Bubble is about to be "blown" and we can only hope the Board of Education promptly pops it and stops this continuing absurdity in its tracks!

On the agenda for discussion is a topic called "Digital Learning Initiative," complete with a report prepared by Dr. Scheider and Eric Danley.  (See Schneider/Danley Report.)  The report proposes that the district hire (in conjunction with the D181 Foundation) a gentleman named Ian Jukes, who is represented as "an internationally recognized expert in the area of technology integration, who will co-design and facilitate a technology visioning process that focuses on the changing nature of today's learners and best practices in instruction." According to the report,  hiring Mr. Jukes will cost D181 taxpayers $40,500 and D181 foundation donors $27,000, for a consulting contract totalling $67,500.  And that is before any additional technology expenditures are recommended by Mr. Jukes.

Before we address the BUBBLE connection, let us simply state the obvious.  D181 can ill afford any more initiatives that involve hiring outsiders to bring their ideas about best practices in instruction to our district.  No new initiatives should be suggested until -- and ONLY IF -- D181 gets its current house in order, figures out what the heck we are going to do about the FAILED Learning for All Plan and who in the administration -- current or hopefully future Department of Learning Administrators -- are going to do it.  To even suggest that one more penny should be spent on another outside consultant is LUDICROUS and completely irresponsible!

Having said that, it is even more outrageous to suggest that any additional outside consultants that have a connection to Dr. Schneider be hired.  And that may be exactly what is about to happen should Mr. Jukes be hired.  Look closely at the materials posted on board docs.  One of the documents lists Mr. Jukes' "past clients."  (Click to open Jukes' BIO.)  It is a long list that includes some school districts.  The list peeked our curiosity and so "just for fun" we searched the district website of Stoughton Area School District in Wisconsin, the district that Dr. Schneider worked at before he was hired by Dr. Schuster. And guess what we found?  A reference to a "presentation" given by Ian Jukes on 21st Century Technology on what students need to be competent.  (Click to open Stoughton District website link.)  Now, we have been unable to determine when this presentation was given (or if it was actually presented at Stoughton since it is not on the list of Mr. Juke's past clients), but frankly, we don't need to.  What is important, in our opinion, is that it appears we have uncovered yet another connection between Dr. Schneider and an outside consultant he is recommending the BOE approve. It seems far too coincidental that Mr. Jukes is quoted on the Stoughton website, Dr. Schneider's former district, and now Dr. Schneider is recommending that D181 hire him!

So we say, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.  Hasn't the district been sufficiently bamboozled by prior consultants and experts Dr. Schneider recommended, most which he had a personal connection to from prior jobs, seminars and workshops they were both involved in? Perhaps Mr. Jukes is an incredible technology expert -- we are not opining on that -- and perhaps he could assist the district in a digital technology initiative, but unfortunately, in our opinion, we cannot trust any further recommendation Dr. Schneider makes on paid consultants and educational best practice experts-- as we stated above, at least not until the current curriculum mess the district has experienced on his watch is fixed once and for all!

So we look forward to the discussion and hopefully, questions asked by the full board of education, regarding this proposal.  We hope that this initiative is shelved -- at least for now -- until well after the Learning For All Plan Seminal Report and Board discussions are held at a future date.

Math Pilot Resources:

Included on the agenda for Monday's Committee of the Whole meeting is a special business meeting at which the BOE will be asked to approve Math Pilot Resources to replace the current elementary and math textbook materials.  As everyone knows, the school year started with 4 math pilots. Two (Agile Minds and Investigations) were terminated mid-pilot after it became clear that the programs were ill suited to our district's needs. We will avoid debating how these two pilots were selected in the first place in light of readily available information that should have made clear to the Department of Learning that these 2 pilots were not appropriate for our district. Instead we will focus on the process the administration is now using to recommend board approval of Big Ideas (at the middle school) and Math in Focus (at the elementary school) as permanent math resources to replace Glencoe/McDougal Littell and Everyday Math, and what it will cost the district to do so.  

According to the board report prepared by the Dr. Schneider and the Department of Learning (click to open report, the recommendations to approve these 2 resources were based upon discussions with the pilot teacher and completion of a teacher and parent surveys. Sounds great in theory, but the real question is how can any legitimate comparison be made between the "data" collected by teachers and parents, when each person (teacher or parent) was only answering questions about one of the math resources their child/students used. With regard to elementary math resources, 13 teachers filled out the rubric for Math in Focus and 88 filled out the rubric for Everyday Math. The data collected was not broken out by grade, rather the "averages" discussed in the report were a compilation of all teachers who responded in grades K through 4 for each of the math programs. There was no attempt to compare the data collected for the programs by grade. So, how can the board know if for EACH grade, the teachers felt that Math in Focus was a better program than Everyday math?  How does anyone know what the "averages" really mean, if the data is simply lumped together?  The same is true for the averages given of the middle school math resource data.  All the grades were lumped together and there was no true grade by grade comparison of Big Ideas versus Glencoe/McDougal Littrell.  

The same flaw exists with the parent survey, where parent data was lumped together -- all elementary grades and all middle school grades. And in a district of nearly 4000 students, how much weight can really be placed on data collected from only 107 parents? Moreover, why wasn't this parent data broken out grade by grade? What meaningful comparisons or conclusions can be made using the teacher and parent surveys if the data isn't analyzed grade by grade?  In our opinion, this is another example of the sloppy and shoddy data analysis that our district has been subjected to for the last several years in the absence of a qualified Assessment Director.  Just as disturbing as the "lumping" of data and possibly false conclusions the administration reached, is the lack of any analysis into the COMMENTS provided by parents in the parent survey. Any objective reader will realize that parents voiced legitimate concerns with both math programs the administration is now recommending for approval. Yet, this isn't discussed at all by Dr. Schneider in his "report" to the board.  Why not?  

We have no doubt that the majority of the board will approve these programs without much "push back" or inquiry into the sloppy data collection and analysis.  That will be a real shame, but sadly, this is what we expect will happen. 

Parents of elementary students have a right to know the answers to these questions before the board votes to approve Math in Focus and Big Ideas. Will any board member ask the administration for a more detailed analysis before the board votes on nearly $415,000 in additional curriculum materials?


All of the questions, concerns and issues we have raised in this post leave us feeling very unsettled.  Overall, not a good way to start the New Year in D181. The April 7 election can't come soon enough for us. Change on the Board of Education is needed and needed fast. We need new board members elected who will hold the administration accountable and demand meaningful and timely information and data analysis. Is that really too much to hope for in this new year?



Anonymous said...

Bloggers you are spot on! Why can't Dr. White see what is going on in the Dept. of Learning? It is disgusting!

Anonymous said...

There is a slight error in your reporting. If you look at the report carefully, you will notice that the initial cost to purchase Math in Focus DOES include workbooks. I am guessing they are just pointing out that in future years, the district will need to purchase workbooks, and that cost is already included in the $270,823.29, as opposed to Big ideas where the cost includes workbooks for 6 years.

"The cost of materials for Math in Focus (including teacher editions, student editions,
workbooks, supplementary materials, and manipulatives) is $270,823.29. This includes the
online resources for six years. Workbooks in subsequent years will need to be purchased."

You bring up some really valid concerns, but please report things accurately. You may lose your credibility as well. I think sometimes you are quick to judge because of your opinions of the board and administration. What I would like to know is what will the cost be to fully train our teachers in this new program? Singapore math is very different from the way we learned and Everyday Math.

There are only 13 teachers reported because only 1 grade level in the entire district k-4 piloted the math in focus materials, while the remaining classrooms in the districts used Everyday Math, so that is why there is such a discrepancy in the data. I'm am not a statistics expert. In your opinion, what would be a better way to compare the two resources, when there is such a discrepancy?

Investigations was thrown out also without comparing how different grade levels felt. It is my understanding that many of the primary teachers liked teaching with investigations, it was the upper grades who were unhappy. Was a similar survey done before it was thrown out? I'm curious to see how this would compare to the others.

I think changing math programs is a very difficulty thing to do. No 1 program will be perfect, nor will it every please everyone.

Anonymous said...

I just looked at the board report again, and I did see the cost of professional development is included...I need more accuracy in my own reporting too... don't want to lose my credibility :)

The Parents said...

Thank you for pointing out the mistake we made regarding the workbooks. We will correct our post.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious to know what parents thought about the Math Pilot survey. I found it confusing and questioned the relevance of the questions in determining the strength of the materials. I'm a parent of children in the Agile Minds/Investigations camp, so perhaps my impression was due to switching materials during the testing window which was not accommodated by the survey?