Introduction to this post:
It has been five days since the January 26 Board of Education meeting. During that time, we have listened several times to the public comments, administration's presentation and board discussion on the Learning for All Plan "Part 1 -- the "definitional" portion of the Seminal Document that is currently being crafted by the administration. We listened with an open mind, really hoping that after three years of the Learning for All Plan ("L4A") roll-out -- which started with the transition plan when today's 5th graders were in 3rd grade -- the administration would be able to provide the BOE and the entire community with clarity and a coherent description of how the BOE's past directive was and continues to be implemented, what L4A means and whether it has been a success. We originally intended for this post to summarize the discussion, but we have decided to take a different path.
There were powerful comments made by parents before the presentation, in which they described their understanding of what L4A originally was supposed to mean, their concerns with how things rolled out, a lack of data analysis into the success of the program and their worry that what is now being presented in the Seminal Document is not the same, original plan. Following their comments, Dr. Schneider and a small group of the original Advanced Learning "task force" members presented an unscripted (to use Dr. Schneider's word) presentation of the definitions of key concepts and terms that they believe make up the L4A Plan, and Dr. Schneider further elaborated on the document posted on Board Docs before entertaining BOE member questions and concerns. (Click to open L4A plan document.)
It is clear to us that there is an obvious disconnect between parents' understanding of the original L4A Plan and the way the administration described it in the new document and during the meeting. There are major differences in perspective and opinions of the board members. There is certainly a lack of board consensus into what the plan meant or should mean, as well as between certain board members and the administration. As we began summarizing what was said, and by whom, we realized that the best way to present this disconnect would be to actually quote what people said. You will read for yourselves, in black and white, the coherent statements made by parents, followed by what we will describe -- for lack of a better phrase -- as a rambling, incoherent, disorganized, administrative psychobabble speech by Dr. Schneider and some of the other presenters.
We apologize in advance should any of the teachers who participated in the presentation take offense with our reflections and conclusions. Our intention is not to personally offend them, but to point out that we are opposed to what is happening in our district -- to our children -- and that the presentation proved that there is still confusion about the meaning of Learning For All. Changes were made to the original plan without board approval and without any objective data support for the changes and this was, in our opinion, wrong. We will not remain silent about this obvious fact or the mess the administration continues to perpetuate, since at the end of the day, our children are the ones who have been hurt and will continue to be hurt by the ever morphing L4A plan.
Below we have transcribed large portions of the meeting in black and white and we intersperse our reflections in red. We do not think we have taken anything out of context, but we caution our readers that the best way to confirm that what we are quoting is accurate is to listen to the meeting. (Click to open Podcast link to the meeting.) If you do, we believe you will be left shaking your heads in frustration, anger and dismay, just as we were. This post is quite lengthy, but we felt it was critical to everyone's understanding of what actually was said -- and by whom -- at the meeting, to read the actual words used. So we thank you for your willingness to take the time to read this post and we look forward to your comments.
Parent Comments Made about the L4A Plan document:
The meeting began with approximately 40 minutes of comments made by 9 parents. Of those 9, only 1 parent, Amy McCurry (who is currently a parent, paid district employee and also a candidate for the D181 BOE) expressed support for the Learning for All Plan. (At this time we will not address the propriety, or lack thereof, of her comment -- as was addressed during the meeting by former BOE member/president Ann Mueller -- however, we do plan to in a future post.) Two additional parents who read a joint comment are also currently candidates for the D181 BOE -- Jennifer Burns and Leslie Gray. Their comment identified 3 concerns they have with Part 1 of the Seminal Document posted on Board Docs. Their full comment follows:
Jennifer Burns and Leslie Gray's Joint Comment: (commencing at Counter 00:14:00)
"We are here to share 3 primary concerns about the Learning For All document presented tonight....
Our first concern is that the document presented is substantively different than the L4A plan approved on 2/25/13. When the Advanced Learning/Learning For All Plan was approved by the board of education 3 years ago, it was about raising the bar for all students. It was about giving all students access to accelerated classes that were previously opened to only a select few. It was about raising the floor to raise the ceiling.
The learning for all plan was marketed as the common core plus 1 model, a plan that would not only prepare our students well for the new state standards, but also empower all students to achieve to their fullest ability. Parents voiced concerns about the district's ability to implement such an ambitious plan requiring wholesale change for success. After all, with the plan's elimination of pull out programs, teachers were going to be tasked with differentiating to a broader range of students within a single classroom. Plus teachers would have to do this while adopting the new common core state standards and helping students understand and apply ideas like conceptual math. Furthermore, teachers would be required to meet these new demands with nominal additional resources to support them. Although many parents were concerned that teachers were being asked to do too much, too fast, the community was assured that successful implementation was realistic, and that the plan would be modified if performance warranted.
The document presented tonight, let's call it Learning for All 2, for sake of clarification, is a plan for inclusive classrooms in which 'discrepancies in achievement between students are eliminated.' With it's approval of the Learning for All Plan, the Board of Education agreed to make advanced learning services more inclusive, as compared to the services being eliminated, which had been available exclusively to students identified as 'gifted.' They did not direct the administration to implement inclusive classrooms. Further in Learning for All 2, as presented tonight, the Common Core state standards are a targeted goal rather than a minimum achievement level as in the approved plan. Tonight's document does nothing to address the concerns of the approved learning for all plan. What tonight's presentation does is raise issues of increased curriculum rigor for all students that were previously addressed by the approved learning for all plan. It also raises concerns over process and accountability. For while it would be appropriate to modify the L4A plan under its prior approval if warranted by an analysis of student performance data, it is not appropriate to make material differences to plans strategies and goals without board approval.
Which leads us to our second concern. (17:23) Despite continued requests for an analysis of the success of the Learning for All Plan, no analysis has been provided. The L4A plan is supposed to be the jumping off point of the next strategic planning process and the cornerstone of the digital learning initiative. And we still don't know if it's working. Where is data to show that our children are better off now than they were before the L4A plan was implemented? In fact fall MAP scores for this year's 5th graders suggest the contrary. The performance of this group in math, the test group, if you will for Learning for All and therefore the first to begin implementation almost 3 years ago, has dropped significantly. Yes, this is a single data point but what can be learned from this group's experience so their struggles won't be repeated by the other classes? What was done or is being done to get this roughly 400 students back to where they would have been without the learning for all plan? As stated on page 22 of the document that will be shared tonight, "assessment is a major cornerstone of continuous improvement and the learning for all plan." Yet the document that will be shared tonight does not include measures of success for the L4A plan nor is it suggested that such a pre-post analysis of student performance will be included in the balance of the document still in development. Yes, change takes time, but isn't nearly two years or three, if the test group of today's fifth graders is counted, enough time to assess performance? Is the plan working? Are our children better off now than they were before learning for all? Based on student performance, what improvements need to be made to the L4A plan? What is the feedback mechanism for continuous improvement? Data based decisions based on others' research are not the same as an analysis of the performance of our students. We would be remiss to begin another strategic planning process without first analyzing the success of our current plan.
Our third concern is over an increased emphasis on inclusive in this document. It would be helpful if a definition of the term inclusive or inclusive classroom could be added to the list of definitions in the document. And perhaps part 2 and 3 of the document which will dive more deeply into content areas and hopefully provide school and classroom level detail might address parent concerns over the level of instruction and shared teacher attention in an inclusive classroom. If districts similar to ours have had success with an inclusive classroom model, that would also be constructive information to share. Without specifics such as these, discussions are based on data based research in which student populations may be different than ours and/or subjects may vary or personal experiences. Parents are wondering, will inclusive classrooms mean less time with the teacher for all students and therefore make teachers do too much both in and out of the classroom to hyper differentiate? In an inclusive classroom, will the whole group instruction be targeted at students working at grade level and therefore miss the bottom and top quartiles of students? Is it realistic to expect to successfully implement inclusive classrooms without pouring an abundant amount of structural supports into those classrooms?
If additional resources are needed for success, how would the community rank inclusive classrooms as a resource priority versus facility improvements, technology, science instruction, foreign language instruction and full day kindergarten? Parents have repeatedly expressed concerns about inflexibility. From the inflexibility of the gifted programs, which was the impetus for the L4A plan, to the inflexibility of exclusively heterogeneous groups. All students and all subjects are not alike and should not be treated with a one size fits all approach. Wherever a student falls on the learning continuum, from struggling learner, to grade level learner, to advance learner, he or she deserves to be educated to his or her fullest ability. This is the premise of the L4A plan and the expectation of the parents and the taxpayers of this community. Thank you again for your time and consideration.
Other parents commented that time is needed to see what the "data" is showing, to analyze test scores, performance, ask parents and teachers what they really feel is successful with differentiation in the classroom. Parents stated that guidelines and objective criteria are needed to place students into flexible groups and that after 3 years, the administration needs to analyze the data. One parent stated that her children "have not received anything beneficial whatsoever as a result of the L4A plan." One parent asked for the district to "stop all of the experiments that are being conducted on my children." She said "show me the data, show me something that is good for my children."
Another parent who identified that her child had been in the original 3rd grade class impacted during the transition year (and who is now a 5th grader) called the transition year a "lost year," yet the administration "pushed forward." She said parents have been "begging for data and haven't seen any" and that now the "rreincarnation of learning for all plan is quite frightening, revisionist history, not what we signed up for."
Reflection: We were very impressed with all of these parents' comments that were thoughtful and respectful, while laying out serious concerns parents have had and continue to have with the L4A plan. The parents' comments coherently and logically laid out their "parent" understanding of what the original Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plan was, their concerns that is has changed into something completely different -- now assuming a Integrated Service/Inclusive Classroom model approach with no acceleration for any students -- without any data analysis or support for the changes. They posed legitimate questions about the impact integrated/inclusive classrooms would have on our students and set forth the community's expectation that every learner deserves to be educated to his or her fullest ability.
So we waited to see if the administration's presentation would address these parent concerns, would describe the administration's understanding of what the original plan looked like and what it looks like today. Sadly, we were disappointed. The presentation focused on defining terms and concepts with generalizations made about how they have been implemented district wide. Strikingly absent from the presentation (until Board Members Heneghan and Garg began asking questions) was a discussion on integrated services for all students, one of the parents' primary concerns.
The Administration's Presentation:
Dr. White kicked off the presentation by stating: "From the Board perspective we are asking for clarity. What's not clear for the board, what missing parts might be there, and any other questions that you may have." (00:44:12)
Reflection: We were surprised to hear this because we did not think that the point of the meeting or seminal document "crafting" was to ask the board for clarity on anything. We thought the BOARD had asked the ADMINISTRATION for clarity and a single document that would explain what the administration has been doing for the last three years.
Next up was Schneider who started with a chuckle stating that. "Tonight we were asked to put together a document that would clarify what is meant by learning for all..background....historical....key terms....working document....may need edits and further clarifications.. tonight is only a discussion of these terms and components within the plan."
He then introduced some of the original "folks" from the advanced learning task force who had "self volunteered": CHMS principal, 1 differentiation specialist from Monroe, two 4th grade teachers from Madison, Madison principal, an instructional coach of district, Sean Walsh (Director of Learning), Dawn Benaitis (Director of Learning who we all know was originally the Monroe principal before being promoted to be the Director of Assessment), School psychologist from HMS, 8th grade math teacher from CHMS.
(00.46:35) Schneider thanked the task force members stating their "Courage to come forward is really commendable." Then he said:
"Nothing is scripted tonight, nothing is rehearsed, I said to them its really important that you speak from your heart and from your profession, this plan is not about me, whether I'm here or not, whether Dr. White's here or not , whether administrators are here or not, this is really a collection of effective practices and strategies that we know are true in our field. That's what we go to school for, that's what we are trained for. They have their perspective and they'll talk about implementation of some of those terms and what that looks like."
Reflection: The problem with this lead in by Schneider is that the presenters only included 10 staff members from the original task force that had nearly double that number of members. Only a minority of the schools were represented by actual teachers -- 2 came from Madison, 1 from CHMS and 1 differentiation specialist from Monroe. The rest were support staff or principals -- not front line educators who work with our children in the classroom every day. The following schools were not represented by any teachers: Elm, Oak, Prospect, Walker, HMS, The Lane. While we respect their perspectives, unless the community is provided with data or a survey that shows that the remaining 300+ teachers agree with these four teachers, we have little confidence in their conclusions, which were skewed, in our opinion, from the beginning when Dr. Schneider brought his former social justice colleagues in as the experts in best practices in instruction.
Furthermore, for Dr. Schneider to ask the presenters to speak from "their heart, from their profession" is wrong. In our opinion, everything that he or they said should have been based on objective data analysis and collection of actual observations made district wide, not just their own personal reflections. But what we were most disturbed by in Schneider's introduction was his statement "this plan is not about me." Read on and you will quickly realize that Schneider's tactic throughout his presentation was, in our opinion, to deflect all responsibility away from himself on the initial development of the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plan, and blame the prior administration. He repeatedly tried to excuse the past plan as having been developed by others, repeating his new mantra that "this isn't about me" rather than actually addressing the concerns raised.
As you read through Schneider's presentation, remember the following timeline of what actually happened that is presented in a document on the D181 website archive called Meeting the Needs of the Advanced Learner Executive Summary (Click to open Executive Summary):
Dr. Moon presented her Advanced Learning Report in January 2012. Between January and July 1, 2012, Jessica Hockett came to the district to help develop a philosophy statement on advanced learning and a definition of gifted students. The Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plan had not yet been developed. Schneider was hired as the Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Personnel Services (formerly titled Assistant Superintendent of Special Education) and began working at the district on July 1, 2012. According to the Executive Summary, the Advanced Learning Task Force "self-selected" in October 2012 -- after Schneider arrived in D181 -- the purpose of which was to develop an "inclusive implementation plan to incorporate the findings to be presented to the board in December 2012 and January 2013. From the outset of the task force, Schneider was involved. In fact, he was the highest ranking administrator on the task force. The List of Task force members specifically places him at the very top of the list (Click to open Task Force Members List). No Advanced Learning Plan was developed until AFTER he started working in the district and for anyone to suggest otherwise is simply not true.
00:47:25: Schneider stated that shortly before they entered the meeting, he asked the presenters:
"What does Learning for All mean to you. And minus the label, it's not about the label, take the name off, it's simply focusing on most effective practices, around curriculum, around assessments, and around instruction. And it's really about all kids deserving the best curriculum, the best instruction, the best assessments, the best teachers, the most trained, and if they need some additional love and support, that might be through an individual plan called an IEP, or some plan that might be related to an English Language learner. We should figure out how to provide them with those supports where they are so students don't have to necessarily be removed to get help. If students do need some additional support outside of the classroom, its never been the position of the district that that can't happen.
And so really its putting the expertise of that right in the hands of the professional. Further with some of those particular reference points that I just made, for example IDEA, the individuals with disabilities education act, that has been reauthorized numerous times since 1975, you should know that that federal law has had a specific emphasis, that students with disabilities be educated alongside their general education peers, and so we've known that for 40 years. So this is not a new conversation for those particular learners, and with the consequent upcoming reauthorization your probably going to see a further blending of IDEA with No Child Left Behind and with the reauthorization of the federal legislation coming forward because what we've learned is that really there are 2 federal legislative pieces that are really still focusing on all kids, and that all kids including students that are most advanced in addition to students who may be performing below grade level deserve high quality instruction by the best teacher. And at the end of the day, that is all this really is. And so the charge of the task force was to take the direction of the board, and the direction of Dr. Moon and her recommendations and figure out how to do that.
That story began before I got here. (00:49:23) And so this work continues to try to further clarify and implement what we were asked to do.... The staff said, this is really just school. This is our definition of school, this is how we do our job, and that's what we've been trained in, it's what universities teach in, it's what publishers now train when they have new curriculum resource adoptions, it's what the Illinois learning standards are, in terms of the Illinois state standards for teacher licensing, you'll find those same terms, differentiation, diversity, right within there, and so that was included in the document. You see those same elements also part of the Danielson framework....see those same talking points with regards to how we evaluate staff. So you should purposefully see how we want to educate all kids, how that's part of licensure, that's part of evaluation, and how do we then begin to mobilize so that all kids can have the best experience possible. So tonight we sort of "chunked" some of those terms because we know there's been further clarification desired around some of those like say ability grouping, or some of those around differentiation, and what those practices look like."
Reflections: Did Schneider really ask each presenter shortly before the meeting "what does Learning For All Mean to you?" Since their task was to explain to the BOE what L4A meant, shouldn't they have all been on the same page and entered the meeting with a clear understanding of what L4A was supposed to mean to EVERYONE, district wide? And then before he allowed them to speak, Schneider ranted about how the staff said "this is really just school," "how we do our job," "what we've been trained in," etc. etc.... Say what? His rambling list of what the definition of school is left us reeling and confused. But since Schneider then said that each task force member would take a stab at speaking to the application of some of those terms and how they are being implemented within schools across the district, we listened to see if they would actually address how they knew these things were happening in the district.
We will not summarize how they defined grouping, flexible grouping, purposeful planning, differentiation, rigor, acceleration, or professional development and coaching. You can listen to that part of the meeting yourself. Better yet, read the written report, which is, in our opinion, clearer than their verbal definitions. What we will state, however, is that at no time did they provide any data or present meaningful examples to support their statements that all of these concepts were being implemented effectively district wide, across all grade levels, in all subject areas.
As we stated earlier, notably absent was an attempt by these staff members to explain the terms "inclusive classroom, inclusive practices or integrated services." Terms that were addressed -- or rather were not addressed to our satisfaction -- were the terms "data" and "assessments."
One teacher presented a brief explanation of the use of "data before during and after to guide instruction" (at Counter: 1:02:14). According to the teacher, data can be more simplistic than standardized tests, such as MAP or PARCC. A teacher can "use an exit slip" with a couple of questions at the end of a lesson to see "did the class get it?" Or "a thumbs up, thumbs sideways, thumbs down etc." Apparently, formal assessments aren't really necessary.
She then went on to say that what is needed is a "strong core. Means meeting the needs of most of your learners. Always will have some that need extra. But part of that is knowing and using the data to ask where do I need to supplement, and we do have RTI, and as everything's evolving, a new term for RTI is multi tiered system of support, so again, just like everything is evolving, that too is evolving. So looking at how we provide our interventions to students, because that does make a difference."
Reflections: We were stunned. The "thumbs up, exit slip method" was mentioned instead of an explanation of how objective data should be analyzed? And then to suggest that everything is "evolving" and there is yet another NEW term for RTI --multi-tiered system of support -- left us wondering why the presentation seemed so disjointed, lacked clarity and failed to focus on what is actually being done district wide to assess our students performance? But then came the icing on the cake. Ms. Dawn Benaitis, who was promoted two years ago to be the director of assessment (from her position as Monroe School principal) said she wanted to
"add a couple things" to the person who presented on "data" (1:03:25)
Ms. Benaitis said: "Specifically when we think about how this plan is evolving, and education is also always something that has been ever evolving, and you know we know more today than we knew yesterday, and when we think about that data perspective, and where we've come, you know I think about some of the cut scores and decisions that we made in the past and what we've come to learn now and through our collaboration and some of the structures and things that we have put into place already, through the process of this plan, we can see we are learning more. We learn more from each other, the classes are starting to open, we are having dialoguing conversations about how just looking at this one MAP score isn't enough, we need to go deeper, we need to look at the sub components within that MAP score, so that we can see, where are the holes, where are the strengths, where are the weaknesses of each individual student so that we can get them exactly what they need and build upon those successes. So that's one of the key pieces, so I think it's important that you know when we look around here that meaningful learning is taking place because of a lot of the things that we've already started to do already with the structures and supports."
Reflections: We simply couldn't follow or understand what she was trying to say. Can you? So this is the person who was promoted to be Director of Assessment and who is earning $130,250 (click to open 5/29/14 Consent agenda) and who believes her statement is adding value? How about data analysis to show student performance? Where is a presentation on the winter MAP test if results are not going to be presented? In our opinion, the "couple of things" Ms. Benaitis shared are yet another example of weak-kneed leadership at all administrative levels. (And does anybody know what a "dialoguing conversation" is?)
Following Ms. Benaitis' "couple of things", Schneider continued with his presentation to the BOE(1:06:49):
"So just some concluding comments, you know part of the issue that I think we have is that when you look at math and you look at the resources that were being used and I asked the staff this last week, you know, the core instruction hasn't necessarily been that strong. And that's just the reality. And when I say that, how does that make you feel? Is it offensive, does it hurt your feelings? Because part of what the challenge has been you know across districts has been to figure out how to strengthen your core instruction, your tier one instruction. And staff said no. You know that is the reality and we need to really ratchet up how we provide services to all of our kids in each one of the content areas. So that was math. When that issue surfaced three years ago, it was looking at how do we take a first step, and so that transition plan in third grade math was put into place. And then those learners continued to move forward. And so the L4A plan group here then took all of those previously decided decisions, and tried to figure out how to make sense of it. And that was the charge. And so the L4A plan is not about math, that's one piece, and it goes into other areas. We have the same curricular issue with social studies, we have the same curricular issue with science, we have the same curricular issue with foreign language and so what we have here is that we have a system that is transitioning to strength and rigor in a really short amount of time. You can theorize why we can blame who, so on and so forth, but the reality is that we need to strengthen this. And that's the work that the system is going through. The practices that are being put in place again are best practices that we know as doctoral students, as masters students, as undergrad students, that are reflected in the Illinois learning standards that are part of the assessment evaluation process that we go through. Principals then have conversations with faculty, to discuss with them where they think they need to take their next step. And so there isn't anything here that is, you know, political. There isn't anything here that's part of a person's agenda. This is literally a collection of what we feel are the best strategies that we could put into place and try to organize them in a way that would be thoughtful over time.
The challenge though is that it's been the perfect storm. (1:09:09) You had a highly volatile report from the outside, that had some language that was hard to hear, to put it nicely, you had at the same time a system that didn't necessarily begin to work on the unraveling of the common core standards, and so when Moon came in and looked at putting into place her evaluation report, it was based upon the old standards of 1997 and the way to accelerate learning and to give kids rigor in our system because we didn't have a strong core was to grade level accelerate and so that was the sort of the end around to try to get to the problem. And so what the common core is saying is that when we beef that up and we look at the resources that are now aligned that within those materials we talk about differentiation and other strategies then you should be able to not necessarily need as much of that.
And so that's the process that staff are working on and materials for example in math speak to different levels on how to differentiate. You'll have the same discussion when we go through science and like I said the same content areas. And so, it's not necessarily any of those other issues. There are some people that disagree with this philosophical direction and so I think that's certainly exists, but it's not even necessarily now that I've just said that even philosophical. It's the work of the field and so it's, you know, um, occurring in districts across the country.
And so I looked at Avoca's website, one of the top ranked districts, their website almost looks similar to ours. You can look at Wilmette and you can look at other districts on the North Shore and you can almost take some of their initiatives look very similar and comparable. And so we are presenting what we feel are the best practices to try to improve student learning.
And the staff have worked incredibly hard under difficult circumstances, where a lot is changing in the field, at the same time you had an outside eval that was very complicated and hurtful to many different people and shocking and surprising and people are trying to make sense of that and put this into place. This is the halfway point of the second year, in the full operation and um, and you know not everything that's in the plan has actually been worked on. We're trying to grow in this and part of what we talked about in the spring of 13 is that this is going to take some time because the system has been behind quite frankly in a lot of these key areas, and that's just my professional opinion, my honesty, and how do we continue to move forward in the collaborative way that allows the system to do the work and respect the expertise of the teachers and the people that are doing the work because I can tell you that if they disagreed, if they didn't think this was right, they wouldn't have volunteered to be here tonight.
I didn't ask them, I mean I asked them, but I didn't force them (laughing), and I didn't give them a script and they would self check and they would say this is not right, we don't feel good about this. And this is just a representation. When you go to grade level meetings and I know Dr. White's been attending grade level meetings, you hear very much the same conversations from staff. 0:12:21 And so this isn't about me. This is about representing what they do on a daily basis and advocating for what we think is right."
Reflections: After Schneider concluded his "presentation" he asked if there were board member questions. We assumed there would be since his presentation was so incoherent -- in our opinion -- and lacked a true description of what the Learning For All Plan actually meant and now means, and any objective/data supports for the many representations made by him and his staff. We couldn't imagine that the full board wouldn't have been taken aback by the lack of focus, explanations or answers to the many questions posed by the parents about what the original plan intended, how it has changed/is changing and based upon what data? All of these questions should have, in our opinion, been on the minds of all 7 board members, and they should all have demanded answers and accountability.
We couldn't believe that Dr. Schneider suggested that Dr. Moon's report ignored the coming of Common Core and that all of her conclusions were premised on the 1997 standards of instruction. That wasn't our recollection since when Dr. Moon came to our district in 2012, the BOE had already been hearing for more than one year about how Common Core was going to be implemented in our district, the administration had already been conducting a "Gap Analysis" comparing our existing math and language arts curriculum to the impending Common Core Standards and had already reported to the board that there were not many gaps and that D181 was well positioned to implement the Common Core standards. Moreover, Dr. Moon's report directly compared our math curriculum to the new Common Core standards.
We couldn't believe that Dr. Schneider dared to compare our district to any district on the North Shore and based his comparison on his review of their websites. Not a very scientific or data based comparison of two districts, is it? Nor did he give concrete examples or a data sampling to prove that we should in any way compare ourselves to other districts. We found ourselves yelling at the audio tape of the meeting "Will you please shut up with your generalities, and give us facts and data on OUR district?"
Not surprisingly, only two board members expressed concern -- Heneghan and Garg. Ms. Vorobiev came close to pointing out that the current plan has changed from the 2013 board approved plan, and that she didn't quite know when, how or why this happened. Yes, Ms. Vorobiev, you are correct. The BOE never approved change! So why didn't she push for an explanation? She didn't, nor was any provided by the administration.
Yaeger was absent -- again. Turek, Nelson and Clarin all sang the praises for the presentation, congratulating the administration for "doing their jobs." We focus on Board President Turek, however, because he is running for reelection and the entire community should be focusing on what each candidate is saying on the important issues that impact our children.
Board Member Questions and Discussion with the Administration:
Turek: (01:13:00) "So, first of all Dr. Schneider, thank you very much, certainly the way you summed that up, and I want to thank everybody who contributed to this document....Frankly I think you did exactly what we asked for. I appreciate parents who come up and have criticism on what it is but I can also tell you that I'm a parent out there and I hear from a lot of people that are in absolute favor of what your doing. They may not come here all the time to announce it but I do believe directionally this is where we need to go. I agree with you Dr. Schneider, I think we are behind in what we are doing. And I think you guys' leadership in what your doing, just the descriptions of what every one of you said is certainly very helpful to me and I think it will be helpful to the community, and the parents and anybody else that might be interested. So thank you very much."
Reflections: So was Turek listening to the same meeting? The above statements that we found incoherent and lacking in focus or data, he found "helpful" and declared his full support saying "directionally this is where we need to go." Thankfully others were listening and weren't buying what Schneider was selling "as is." (our words....) Board Member Heneghan was very clear he has real concerns with the administration's plans and lack of information.
"First I'd like to thank all of the teachers and all of the staff at our schools who do such a phenomenal job. My children have received a very good education here. And I want to make that point clear because if at times I get strident its because I just really disagree with some of what's being said. And why I disagree with it is because I just think the wool is being pulled over our eyes. I asked about 8 questions on board docs. None of them were answered. I mean they are just pervasively evasive the answers to the questions. And if you go through them, it's just mind boggling why bother asking questions if they are not answered. It's amazing. I asked what data is there that shows that we've been improving, and there's no answer. So I'll rephrase it, do we have data that shows that we have raised the floor, or raised the ceiling by raising the floor?"
Reflections: Before we present Schneider's answer, we are providing a link to Mr. Heneghan's board questions which he claimed were not answered through a practice of "pervasive evasiveness." Click to open Link to Board questions. Read them for yourself. We have no doubt that you will agree with Mr. Heneghan's conclusions.
"I'm going to give my perspective, and then I think Dr. White will give his perspective. I think your going to find that in different areas, whether your looking at the MAP assessment or historical ISAT, you will see different points of growth, for different grade levels in different areas. And so, again the emphasis has been on math because the sensitive group that first got targeted for change several years ago before I got here and so its not that there's been an intentional, I disagree that there's been this intentional, pervasiveness to answer a question, what I think we need to develop to move forward is a common understanding of what are those sticks that we're going to put in the sand with regards to evaluation of the plan as a whole. And I think developing that type of a data dashboard is the direction that we need to come to, because otherwise it makes it very difficult, no one's wanting to purposefully not answer a question, or be evasive, it's trying to mobilize, to hit the target but it's hard to know what the target has been."
Reflections: So in his attempt to answer Mr. Heneghan's charge that the administration was not answering his questions, Schneider did everything BUT answer the questions. In fact, he suggested that no data can be analyzed until a new data dashboard process is developed. Surprise, surprise. After three years of rolling out the L4A plan, which did, by the way, include an assumption that data would be analyzed over time, the administration is now claiming that NOW a data process needs to be developed? So what the h--- have they been doing for the last three years with all of the assessments given to our students? It is downright unacceptable that rather than provide data in response to Mr. Heneghan's repeated questions, three years in they say they need to develop a process to do so. How could Dr. White sit there in silence? Was he listening to what his Department of Learning Administrators were saying about data? Did he find this to be acceptable excuse making by people who have literally been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries over the last three years? Where is the accountability?? And yet, more revelations were about to be made regarding a lack of objective, consistent criteria district wide for placement of children into flexible groups.
"Let me go back to another question which I asked, which as I understand wasn't answered....What are the specific criteria for pullout programs? And there's no answer. And I think if you listen to the parents who speak here, and the underlying concern with this plan at least that I have is that it is whatever one wants it to be when you speak to somebody about it. Because how if ability grouping is so pernicious , do we allow anybody to go from elementary school to take math at the middle school? If its so bad and isolating why do we allow that to occur? You can stop that right now."
"Just a comment on that briefly. We are in the transition mode. From one system to another system, so yes we did make those groupings this year, I agree with you. That doesn't mean that moving forward we will have those same kinds of groupings or without criteria for exactly defining what that is."
Heneghan: 1:20:19: "So right now we know we don't have criteria as to how that works, or at least consistent criteria across the district?"
White: "We had criteria that was in place. As we reflect on it, would we say its the best criteria and our best effort, I, we've learned alot since that point. So no, I think we can grow from that."
Heneghan: 1:20:38: "Well I don't think you will ever have a satisfied community when you don't have criteria because the sense is that different people are being treated differently and when you can't objectively say why it happens, it's chaos and it's unfair. And I think that's the biggest concern that parents have is that they don't believe their children are getting the education that they are entitled to."
Reflections: Thank you Mr. Heneghan for pointing out the obvious. CHAOS AND UNFAIRNESS abound in the Learning for All Plan. After 3 years, there is finally an admission that objective, consistent criteria for student placement is still non-existent in D181. Didn't anyone in the administration read Dr. Moon's report where she very clearly spelled out that a major defect in our instructional system was a poor identification process for placing students into programs? How have the last 3 years been any different? They obviously have not been. Different program, same issues. No accountability....
Next up was Board Member Garg who did her best to refocus the discussion and explain HER understanding of what Learning For All was supposed to be about. She also pointed out that Schneider was wrong in suggesting that Dr. Moon had not incorporated Common Core standards into her analysis of what was happening in D181.
"The point of our conversation, the reason we are here today is because some of the board members said that based on different conversations during board meetings and parent concerns that we're not really sure what Learning For All is. And it seems based on some discussions during the math pilot that there have been changes made which we weren't aware of. And so Dr. White when you asked the question about wanting to know is this what the board, are you following the direction, the right direction that the board kind of charged the prior administration with, I don't feel we are. I think we've strayed from that direction. I wasn't completely sold on the previous direction but since that was the direction that was put forward by the prior board, we came up with a philosophy statement and a vision, and a mission and goals around it, I feel that we've tried to support it, we've tried to support the administration and they've asked us, the board, to fund whatever support structures they needed , resources, additional differentiation specialists, some tutoring for our kids in 4th grade. This board has done that, so I don't think that there can be any complaints about the board not funding what's been asked for. But I think at the same time we need to realize that the board was told at the time that we have, we don't need any more beyond what we're asking. The existing support structures for the learners on the lower side of the spectrum will be able to help any learners that are struggling and it turns out that we didn't have enough support. So when you see things, when you were, the board is told that this is exactly what we should do but in the meantime we've had turnover, and we've realized that even while we were told by a couple of assistant superintendents that they were studying common core since 2010, we were in fact now behind in common core. So when we find out there are changes being made, the board has approved a certain plan, we need to have conversation. And it has nothing to do with what the teachers are doing in the schools. I think all of the parents are very appreciative, as well as the board members of the teachers, the staff of the schools. On a daily basis you are trying to do the best, this is really about the overall plan and how we're going to do that. I don't think it changes what you do in the classroom, it really is about making sure that what your doing is effective for all students. And it's really like an organization, any corporate organization producing a product. And so when we make comments, our goal is not to offend you, your professional judgement. It's really to come to an understanding of what is it we were moving forward to do, are we going in the right direction, and I think everybody in the room realizes that somethings not working. But we need to come to consensus with the parents and the teachers and all stakeholders included. We should not be pitted against each other. It's not about parents against teachers, or parents against other parents, you know everybody knows their kids. And the parents do have an important voice....Moving forward from my overall comments, I want to say that I feel Dr. Moon's evaluation, it was highly anticipated at the time. And when the report came out, it was the lightening rod. There was need for change, and I don't think everything she said was true, but I think it had a lot of good information. I don't think she was off base, she was also a professional. I do think when you read the report she addressed common core, because she specifically evaluated Everyday Math. She said Everyday Math met the 7 mathematical practices of common core so I don't think she was looking at the old standards. What she concluded was that you have 2 problems. You have the fact that your not addressing the full time need of your gifted students or advanced learners, and labels are bad, which we all agree with. We don't need a label, what we are trying to do is address student learning. But the other problem is the curriculum. We were behind in renewing our curriculum and the rigor and so after we went through that report, the conclusion was that we are going to advance all of our students. And there were a lot of concerns about how can you truly advance all students at the same pace. For example, in math the plan was to advance all students. Common core was already advancing all kids but we were going to do I believe, 2 additional units, so in total a year and a half for all students. And we do have a large population of advanced learners in our district, there were students who were already ahead even beyond common core, but then for a lot of students who were already struggling or at grade level, they were going to fall below. And ........ expectation is that you are going to get more for your student than standard education.... It's important to realize all student different. We have various stakeholders, with different needs... In my opinion, the original plan, advanced learning, whatever it is, a road map, you can call it an elephant, it was about advancing learning for all students. It was not just about common core. I agree that all students cannot be accelerated. For some students common core is the acceleration, so you can't compact the curriculum as we did for the third graders two years ago and expect all kids to go through it. I think you need ability grouping. If its flexible, its not tracking. For a district like ours, we need to consider having a blended model. And if we are making changes to the old plan we need to have discussion and not just make changes. We can't swing from one end to the other. I think that common core is a standard, we need to provide more, I also think that when we talk about data, I don't see it in this report. We need to have metrics around how we are going to gauge how whatever we do is working before we make any more changes. And we keep talking about putting many plates in the air for the teachers and the teachers are saying we can do it, but in the midst of this we are being told we don't have enough professional development and there's not enough time....I don't think the philosophy statement talks about inclusive classrooms when you bring every single student into the classroom..."
Reflections: Thank you Ms. Garg for your valiant attempt to bring clarity and focus back to the discussion, push for metrics and data to gauge if the programs are working and explain your concerns with the district's (new) plan of integrating services for all students in a classroom and possibly eliminate tiers at the middle schools. Unfortunately, following her statement, Vorobiev asked Dr. White is Tiers were going to be kept or eliminated at the middle school. White said first the board would need to reach consensus on what L4A plan is and "stabilize things." In the midst of the discussion, Mr. Turek claimed to have done his own research on L4A.
Turek: 1:45:20: "We all know that the math compacting. there was some heartburn....you responded to exactly what they are looking for. We always compare ourselves to districts, so I printed Wilmette 39's plan -- side by side yours blows them away. Key difference, they started this sooner."
Reflections: Really, Mr. Turek? Rather than ask for concrete data on how D181's plan is ACTUALLY working, you take the simpleton's approach of opening up another district's website and concluding that our plan "blows them away?" Honestly, we were embarrassed by your statement. We expect more "analysis" of actual facts and data from any of our elected officials.
Heneghan and Garg once again attempted to get clarification on "what does [L4A] mean."
Heneghan: 2:3:35: "Which philosophy do we want to pursue as a board. Because it is different than what was in the advanced learning plan."
Garg: 2:07:40 "All research that was looked at was about inclusive practices. Nothing else was looked at. ...no data that shows this is working and that we are meeting growth needs of each student. need data analysis. If kids are going to be critical thinkers, we need to be critical thinkers."
Heneghan: "Its not what was in the original document -- ex. integrated services."
Following the board questions, Schneider said he had a couple of clarifications to make:
2:13:25: "When this work was charted out a couple of years ago, we tried to define the ideal, and tried to take the recommendations and our best understanding of what those were. And since I've been here, the administration has changed twice. And so we've been trying to work with our best understanding of what the directions were. And so we put in place that ideal. In terms of the working document, Dr. White has talked about putting together this seminal document. That doesn't mean that other documentation hasn't existed.
I know Mr. Heneghan, you and I disagreed with this at the last board meeting, what we are trying to do is to take, because there is a lack of understanding, trying to take the previous developed information, and now package it differently into one document where you can go that would hopefully help further clarify. So from my perspective, we've been as transparent as possible, we've created videos, we've created works cited pages, all the information out to the public that we could.
The point with districts that look like ours....what we did was we took Moon's research, and her works cited information, as a gifted professor at a top rated university and her colleagues, our work wasn't going to re-replicate what a tenured faculty professor who goes through a peer review research process and her expertise and what you paid for. We weren't going to redo that. What we added to that research base, was specific folks that would look at understanding how to implement the how. Which is a different set of folks that work on that.
And so, that's where we pulled in some additional folks to help give perspective to what that would look like. And so those pieces of information do take into account what Dr. Moon said, and all of her works cited, and also some additional experts from the field. It is true, some of those I've worked with. Because when I got here, the charge was so explosive, this topic was so volatile, and we had such a short timeline, that we needed to be able to indicate and the staff had questions about how did we even get to this historical stuff in the first place, where did this even come from. That was the rationale for connecting with colleagues that I personally happened to know at no cost to the district. To try to work as quickly and efficiently as we could. And that's what we did. And it was really helpful. I don't regret it. I don't apologize for it. It was what you brought me here to do. That's expertise that I brought to this system. And so we relied on her research, we weren't going to re-replicate it, we added to it and we made that available. We worked with the parameters of the board that we felt were given. In terms of the level of detail we now are at, we are trying to further support that initial level of information that the board got 2 years ago by trying to now define some specific terms within curriculum and instruction and assessment. And so there are specific technical details to your job that you wouldn't necessarily be able to provide in that first wave of information when we were trying to do that work 2 years ago. And so now we are wanting to further build this and add that level of detail. And so its not that this document replaces the old one or is a different approach than the old one, it's to further try to clarify and put things into one place. With regards to ability grouping, we never have said that we will never ability group. What we have said is that ability grouping is one form of grouping. And that that decision should be in the hands of the teachers, based upon the data that they are looking at, whether its formative everyday with how the kiddos are working, that particular day, or whether there's quantitative summative data that they are looking at, allowing them to make that decision. And so at different points in time they may ability group, they may group by interest, they may group one day by popsicle sticks, they may group by birthdays. All depends on decisions they are going to be making as a team. I don't think that's appropriate to define for them each and every day for each teacher in the district how they should group. That's why we hire them. That's the expertise that the teachers bring and their training and their background. With regards to inclusive schooling, inclusive schooling has been a practice that began well before I got here. Pam Kazee talked about that with regards to LADSE and the pullout. Least restrictive environment is a term under IDEA, the federal legislation and it discusses specifically to the maximum extent appropriate. That doesn't mean full time, that doesn't mean always in room 25. What that means is the IEP team for a student with a disability has to have that conversation and decide how much time and of additional support from specialists is needed. Can it be provided within the classroom? How much time may not? Those minutes then get written into the document. That is part of what they do. It would be illegal for me, quite frankly, to tell staff that they have to go with a 100% model. So that's students with disabilities. We included that because inclusive practices was originally part of the diagram that the board of education got well before I got here. That triangle and those terms existed.
What we are trying to do is say people are using a term inclusion classroom. That's not an accurate term. Inclusive practices is an accurate term. That's the practice in which staff have to make decisions about how much specially designed instruction a student needs and where they are going to do it. Can they do it within the general ed classroom because the law says to the greatest extent possible. Not full time. Now those decision are made by those individual members coming around the IEP team. The commonality across special education, English language learners, gifted education, when you go into those research bases, you can go to any conference with me and you will find that the conference discussion talks about all students having access to the rigorous core instruction. Not 80% of the kids. All the students. ELL staff, gifted education staff, special education staff, Title 1 Staff. Their training is specific to trying to figure out if they can, to the greatest extent that they can, help support right within the collaborative classroom. There may be times though, that they need to receive some instruction outside. That's perfectly fine. What we are saying is that when you permanently ability group, and when you keep that learner with the same group of learners all the time, for along duration of time, that's where you run into problems where your no longer meeting the needs of the students who are most advanced, it's also saying that may not necessarily meet the student who is under performing. And so you have to constantly be thinking how to work best with each profile of learner and so what I can tell you is my background and my training speaks to each one of those research areas, that's pupil services. And so pupil services in that particular arena speaks to how to deliver those services in the classroom. Now when I say in the classroom that doesn't necessarily mean just in room 25." (Then he described going to Walker school and seeing one classroom with 4 teachers, 25 students. Each adult leading a group in different spaces. Allowed staff to be fluid with their delivery.)
Schneider continued 2:21:40: "I just wanted to make those clarifications because I think sometimes with all due respect that there are opinions that aren't necessarily reflective of what is actually happening in the schools and also may not be accurate with regards to what we are trying to do with regards to the expectations of our field and what we are trying to do and trying to do to best interpret from your direction what you want. Nobody comes to work every day to figure out how to do things that are going to cause confusion. Everybody comes with the best intentions in mind every day. And we try to do our best work and we are trying to bring clarity to an issue for a long period of time that has been difficult in this community. And we've been doing it under extremely stressful circumstances with divisive discussions. And hurtful things professionally and personally said to many of us that have been sitting here at this table. And so it's time that we come together to be able to move forward and respect one another in the conversation so that we can bring clarity which is what we are trying to do to deliver the best possible education we can for our kids. That's the goal of every one of our employees. That's the goal of myself, that's the goal of every administrator in this district. It's all stakeholder groups trying to do what's best for our kids based upon our training and our expertise. And these are the same conversations as I said in my opening that are occurring everywhere."
Reflections: After starting the presentation by stating that this "isn't about me," Schneider went on what we are going to call the "cry baby rant." Despite stating that he was not responsible for the plan, in his concluding statement he admitted that he personally hand picked former colleagues to work on the "implementation" piece of Dr. Moon's recommendations. In fact he now claims "it was what you brought me here to do." Really? Schneider was hired by the BOE to be the Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Personnel Services, not to run the Learning for All Task force and create the plan to implement Dr. Moon's recommendations. Dr. Stutz and then Dr. Russell were in charge of the Department of Learning when Dr. Moon's report was commissioned. We challenge the administration or any board member who approved Schneider's hiring to step forward and verify that "it was what [the BOE] brought [him] here to do." Moreover, anyone who takes the time to look back at prior board meeting agendas and board questions will note these outside experts Schneider picked were always touted as bringing "Best Practices" to the district. At the time that he engaged these social justice experts -- which we've written about extensively in earlier blog posts -- he did not inform the BOE of his past relationships with them. Finally, the curtain has been pulled back to reveal the mastermind of the Learning for All Plan. It is clear as day after Monday night's board meeting.
So after reading Part 1 of the Seminal Document draft and listening to the administration's presentation, we are left with the following questions:
1. Do taxpayers really want to continue paying $130,250 per year in base salary to Ms. Benaitis who was originally promoted to be the Director of Assessment? What value has she added to our district since assuming that position?
2. Do taxpayers really want to continue paying $146,484 per year in base salary to Dr. Schneider (Click to open consent agenda with 2014-2015 salary), to continue to run the entire Department of Learning and continue to lead the district down the Learning for All path, no matter what that phrase might mean - which obviously is a question that has still NOT been answered?
3. How in the world do we know if the profound changes in Schneider's Learning for All Plan are working? All we hear, in our opinion, are generalities, emotional references, and double talk. When will the BOE, if ever, be presented with an analysis of objective data that will show everyone, once and for all, whether or not any part of the Learning For All Plan has been a success, what objective data exists to justify any changes from the original BOE approved plan, and what evidence exists that integrated services model that is now being touted by the administration is the right course to follow for all of our students?
4. As for Dr. White, who is being paid $232,500 per year (click to open White's contract) plus benefits, why isn't he demanding accountability from his administrators? Why is he turning to the BOE and asking the BOE to give HIM direction? Isn't he, the superintendent, supposed to be in charge of implementing what the BOE already approved three years ago? Isn't he, the superintendent, supposed to demand data analysis from his administrators in order to be able to report to the BOE if the programs that he stepped into are working? Shouldn't this have been the first thing Dr. White demanded his administrators produce for his review last June when he started working in our district? And isn't he, and his administrators, once they have analyzed objective data (which in our opinion should include surveying all teachers about what is working and not working in their individual classrooms), supposed to be the professional who then reports to the board and makes recommendations for continuing and/or changing parts of the plan -- all which should then be subject to board vote?
5. If Dr. White is actually looking to the BOE for direction, then why is he going to give the power to change a previously approved plan to a BOE that will look dramatically different in just 10 weeks? Why would Dr. White seek THIS Board's approval so outwardly when they are essentially lame ducks in the Learning for All Schneider Ponzi Scheme? In less than three months, there will be 3 new board members -- 4 if the community does the SMART thing and does not reelect Turek. Those four new board members, who will serve our community for the next four years, should be the ones approving any proposed changes to the Learning for All plan.
Readers, the quotes in this post speak for themselves. We believe District 181 is in a downward spiral, big time, with nothing and no one capable of saving it, with one exception: a newly elected school board. Since the current BOE majority clearly supports Learning for All, it will be up to a new board to demand accountability - immediately!
And parents, your voices should be loud, and your action swift and deliberate come the election on April 7. Yes, parents can make a difference as long as they show up and speak out. Our children are losing way too much to allow us to sit by silently at this point.
Now that you have read the administrative psychobabble spoken last Monday night, ask yourselves if it makes sense. Or should we be angry and demand answers?