noun: turncoat; plural noun: turncoats
1. a person who deserts one party or cause in order to join an opposing one.
synonyms: traitor, renegade, defector, deserter, betrayer;
As we indicated last week, our original plan after the 3/9/15 BOE meeting was to post about that meeting, however, in light of the "fast moving train of events" last week, we have moved on. We encourage our readers to listen to the podcast of the meeting, which in our opinion, was just more of the same obfuscation of legitimate parent concerns.
Instead, as we began receiving comments related to inclusive practices and ability grouping in other districts, we thought we would share some sources that were not highlighted in the Learning for All (Some) presentations (3) that were given during recent BOE meetings.
After all, we actually heard Superintendent Don White state at the last meeting that the downward trend in district MAP scores is due to ability grouping. Huh? This statement actually came from the previous superintendent of Troy 30-C, located in the cornfields of Plainfield? Troy 30-C: Isn’t this the same district that has a magnet (tracking) program for gifted, high ability, advanced learners, etc) (see: 10/2914 Post). Didn’t Don White oversee ability grouping on ‘roids because of the magnet track and tiers within classrooms throughout Troy? This is the same D181 Don White who jumped on the fully inclusive-one-size-fits-all-social-justice-mamma-jamma-now-called-integrated-services-classroom and is about to move into some shiny new office digs in Clarendon Hills while telling teachers and staff at HMS to use their overcrowded facility for collaboration purposes even though many teachers lack a fixed desk and assigned classroom?*
Whew! But hold the phone! Say it ain’t so.
But it is.
Yes, dear readers. Make no mistake; any educator, who just eight months ago believed in ability grouping, acceleration and tiered instruction and now believes in the opposite approach for our district is a turncoat, plain and simple. What was good enough in Troy 30C, was the model we had in place here in D181 before the Advanced Learning/Learning For All (Some) plans were rolled out. D181 had ability groups combined with acceleration for students who needed the extra challenges. In our opinion, the Department of Learning's actions over the last three years have been to eliminate those challenges and the administration has yet to provide the BOE, parents or community with performance data showing any improvements or success in student performance. And if you haven’t yet listened to the podcast of the BOE meeting on 3/9/15, you will want to do so if only to hear the justification for the low district MAP scores.
In fact, in a previous BOE meeting, Don White and the Department of Learning stated that the Common Core would be rigorous enough and no additional acceleration is necessary, until our kids get to middle school where the plan is to eliminate the standard, grade level math tier. Yes, folks: we have administrators making significant changes without sufficient data analysis to determine if their changes that have been in place for nearly 3 years and that are continuing to roll forward are working. Hint: we know they’re not. What's worse, the Department of Learning hasn't presented the BOE with any substantive information on how students who have opted into ACE social studies -- which will soon be the norm for all D181's middle schoolers -- are doing. Have those teachers had to water down the "once gifted" curriculum? Are opt in students struggling to keep up or have they been successful. Nothing was included about this in the Seminal Document.
Since the BOE majority has not demanded accountability from the Department of Learning, they feel empowered to plow ahead with their Learning for All experiment while touting their integrated services model that will magically reach every one of those 25+ students day in and day out. Yeah, right.
We would be remiss in our civic duties if we didn’t direct our readers to the following sites for in-depth articles related to common core, gifted programming, and ability grouping. Memo to Don White: you should get your nose in a book or two from VanTassel-Baska to school yourself up again on the ability grouping practices you just supported eight short months ago but have promoted eliminating here. And while you’re at it, take a look at the article related to Common Core and how it is a FLOOR for all students – it does not contain challenge for gifted/high ability students. The Common Core is just a bunch of standards; nothing more, nothing less. Giving it greater credibility in a district like D181 can be likened to our historical reference, Benedict Arnold, who could never shed his reputation as a turncoat because his actions hurt the innocent around him for which he was responsible. Hmmmm, sound familiar?
The first article focuses on the Common Core and how districts are attempting to implement its constraints. You can read part of the article here:
"Will Gifted Education Weather the Common Core?
By Dian Schaffhauser
According to a study by the Fordham Institute, education reform "gadfly," some districts and states believe that the Common Core gives them a reason to "ditch" services for gifted students, equating the standards with advanced education.
"The Common Core was really meant to be a floor and not a ceiling," said Jonathan Plucker, a professor of education at the University of Connecticut and an expert in gifted education, who wrote the Fordham paper examining the situation for high-achieving students.
According to his findings, the existence of the learning standards is being used "in some places" to justify reducing or scrapping gifted education services "on grounds that the new universal standards are more challenging than what came before them."
Plucker's report cites several specific scenarios, such as a Mississippi district school board president who told a local paper that the Common Core would cost close to a million dollars to implement, and that's where funding would have to go -- forcing the closure of gifted classes starting in the 2014-2015 school year. An Illinois district eliminated gifted education programming by pointing to the rigorous standards of the Common Core.
After a talk in November at a conference, Plucker noted, "We were overwhelmed by the number of teachers who came up afterward and said, 'We're having this exact same discussion in my school. We're getting rid of ability grouping, of AP classes....' That is worrisome, to say the least."
As antidote, Plucker offered two recommendations, both intended to "emphasize the importance of advanced achievement" in school policies and actions.
First, he said, "We have to get better at instructional and curricular differentiation." Noting that differentiation is a topic that's been around for "30 years," teachers need more extensive professional development specifically "devoted to curricular and instructional differentiation by ability level." They also need time to "plan together" in order to meet the needs of their high-ability learners.
Second, state and local education leaders need to eliminate policies that limit the learning done by advanced students. As an example, Plucker referenced policies that prevent advanced students who have moved into college early from receiving a high school diploma if they haven't earned the appropriate number of high school credits; or rules that tie kindergarten entrance strictly to age rather than readiness.
Such policies, he said, are there "for the right reasons" but have "unintended consequences" of "not allowing students to move through schools at their own pace."
"American education is in the midst of a generations-long transition from age-based and one-size-fits-all education to highly individualized and differentiated learning—an approach that addresses students' unique needs and development," Plucker concluded. By tapping their expertise in delivering differentiated instruction, "Educators of high-ability students have an important role to play in ensuring this journey is successful." "
Ah, yes. Common Core is the floor. We should all be asking how the Department of Learning is meeting the needs of each learner. Are the advanced students still using the RtI Process for acquiring more challenging curriculum? (cough, cough) And we know we keep bringing this up, but how exactly are the needs of advanced students being progress monitored? Oh, and by the way, how is the Department of Learning identifying the kids in classrooms who are getting limited pull-out services? Is it a standardized process or is it subjective?
Inquiring minds want to know.
And since we are on the subject of ability grouping, we thought we would share an article by VanTassel-Baska herself:
Article excerpt from VanTassel-Baska (Source: http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10215.aspx )
"Title: Educational decision making on acceleration and ability grouping
In response to social-political demands, education has embarked on a course of school reform that affects organizational and curricular structures for all students. Calls for higher achievement levels, increased capacity of students to think, and greater emphasis on accommodating to cultural and social diversity have led educational personnel to make at least surface changes in how schools are organized. These changes have been most notable in the areas of grouping and classroom strategies.
How does gifted education fit into this scheme? One direction that gifted education has explored in the current climate of school reform is that of blending in with the movement for heterogeneous grouping and cooperative learning. One such example is the thrust toward redefining the role of teachers for the gifted as cooperative teachers in the regular classroom; they often demonstrate lessons and assist the regular classroom teacher in planning for gifted children (VanTassel-Baska, Landrum, & Peterson, in press). This blending strategy may be appeasing in the local context, but the overall impact of such diffused efforts on gifted education may well be detrimental. This strategy may detract from achieving what is basic to a quality gifted program, namely acceleration and ability grouping. These approaches are fundamental and must be attended to in some form in order to ensure that programs are meaningful for this special group of learners. A major thesis of this paper is, therefore, that acceleration and grouping are the lightning rod issues that test the level of acceptance that gifted programs enjoy in a local school district. The greater the commitment to serving gifted students, the greater the acceptance of advancing and grouping them appropriately.
Acceleration and Grouping: Definitions and Controversy Educators and parents have a fallacious conception of what acceleration means. Too frequently it is perceived as an intervention visited upon children to speed up their program and drive them to graduate from various levels of schooling earlier. Acceleration should refer to the rapid rate of a child's cognitive development, not the educational intervention provided. What we provide in the name of acceleration is appropriate curriculum and services at a level commensurate with a gifted child's demonstrated readiness and need. Elkind (1988) has noted the importance of changing the term better to reflect the intent of this intervention practice (matching learners to appropriate curriculum), thereby avoiding the common connotation of speeding up a student's rate of progress. Unfortunately, many people deny the fundamental role of acceleration in a program for the gifted. In so doing, they are in effect denying who and what defines the gifted at any stage of development--children who exhibit advanced intellectual development in one or more areas.
Ability grouping, on the other hand, should be defined as the organizational mechanism by which students at proximate ability levels within a school curriculum are put together for instruction. Ability grouping allows for individual and group needs to be addressed in a way that honors individual differences. Without grouping in some form, differentiated curriculum is difficult if not impossible to accomplish. Thus, to reject the practice of ability grouping is tantamount to denying the special instructional needs of gifted children.
Both acceleration and grouping are integral components of a program designed to meet adequately the learning needs of gifted students. Ironically, in the current educational climate acceleration and grouping are being pitted against each other in absurd ways. Grouping of the gifted is under virulent attack, which has led some writers to stress acceleration (Slavin, 1990). It is considered the one acceptable strategy to use with the gifted. Yet we have little reason to believe that less grouping of the gifted will increase the likelihood of more accelerative opportunities (see Jones & Southern, 1992). Less grouping will more likely promote a unitary approach to program intervention that is predominantly classroom-based and dominated by grade-level outcomes. It might also produce, as Slavin (1986) hypothesized, a "Robin Hood" effect for heterogeneous grouping, wherein the gifted can serve others less fortunate in the learning process. The benefits gifted students accrue from such an approach are not clear. "
Oh, Don White should not run away from ability grouping now, a mere 10 months into his tenure. Take a look at this:
An article by Carol Tieso that focuses on ability grouping highlights the following:
"Research on Grouping Practices.
Research on ability grouping has continued for almost a century. The earliest recorded study occurred in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1927 when researchers identified and pre-assessed
two equivalent groups of elementary students (Kulik, 1992). Students in one group were separated by ability and placed into homogeneous classes while students in the other group were assigned to mixed-ability classes. Students were tested again at the end of the school year and those in the homogeneous group scored approximately two grade equivalents higher in mathematics than did similar-ability students in the heterogeneous class. With those results, the opening shot was fired in the century- long battle over the grouping of students for instruction."
(Source: Roeper Review Fall, 2003, http://people.virginia.edu/~cat3y/EDIS_882/February%2019_files/Ability_Grouping.pdf)
Ah, yes. And this article by Tieso is a doozy. Read it and you will see that it includes a discussion on effect sizes, not the analysis conducted by Hattie, as was highlighted the the Department of Learning during the last BOE meeting, but that of other researchers. Take a look because it is important to note that, as Board Member Heneghan (addressing the administration's selective use of Hattie's effect sizes) pointed out on 3/9, "research is used as a sword to get what you want and as a shield to prevent constructive discussion." (Counter 1:47:44 of 3/9/15 Podcast)
Readers, we bring you these sources for informational purposes. Since the Department of Learning have decided to present a one-sided view on how our kids should be educated, we thought we would take it upon ourselves to identify some “best practices,” to use a term the Department of Learning uses frequently.
D181 is at a crossroads. And our kids are staring out trying to find the road ahead that will best prepare them for the rigors of high school. Have our administrators failed them by turning their backs and tethering themselves to a one-size-fits-all (some) learning format in classrooms across the district?
Our advice: turn your coat around and support researched plans that indeed tap into the needs of all district kids, not those who are dreamed up by a social justice-integrated self-proclaimed
'guru" who hasn’t taught in elementary or middle school classrooms.
Then maybe we can get back to basics and reverse the downtrends we have witnessed for several years.
* As one of the comments we received last week indicated, "Don White sent out an e-mail to teachers explaining that many middle schools have overcrowding issues and that the situation can be used as a time to improve "collaboration" among teachers." March 11, 2015 at 8:15 AM.