Saturday, May 16, 2015

Comment of the Day: Two Years After Freedom of Information Act Request is filed, D181 Produces Documents that Raise Serious Concerns

Yesterday we received a comment from Yvonne Mayer, former D181 BOE member, in which she copied most of an email she sent to the BOE and Dr. White.  She asked that we publish it as a free standing post. After reading the email, we agreed that the issues it raises must be spot lighted by the blog. We hope that as requested in Ms. Mayer's email, the board will discuss the implications of the content of documents that were recently produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Email Sent to BOE:

Dear Dr. White and BOE Members:

I am writing today in my capacity as a D181 taxpayer, former parent and former D181 BOE member.  In October 2013, I filed a FOIA request with D181 seeking production of public records concerning a Social Justice Institute that seven D181 administrators attended in the the Summer 2013 and various categories of emails, including emails by and between Dr. Schneider and  Drs. Frattura and Capper (who Dr. Schneider consulted with and who worked with the Advanced Learning Committee in the development of the Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All Plan).  The district denied production of the documents, I filed a Request for Review with the Attorney General and last month the AG's office finally issued a determination.  The determination ruled in my favor on production of the Social Justice institute materials but denied production of emails on the grounds that my request was overly broad.  Following the determination, I filed a new FOIA request, limiting my request for emails to only those by and between Drs. Schneider, Frattura and Capper.  

On Wednesday, after nearly two years, the emails were finally produced to me (although some have been withheld on alleged grounds that they are not "public records", an issue which I will most likely have to appeal to the AG's office).  I have now had a chance to review the records that were produced.  These public records raise some very concerning issues regarding the process that was followed in late 2012 and 2013 in the development of the Advanced Learning Plan/Learning for All Plan).  These public records also raise some personnel issues.  I am writing today to flag some of these issues for your consideration and to respectfully request that each one of you take the time to read through the documents that have been produced.  You can access the documents that were produced at:

In addition to your reading these documents, I am requesting that you discuss the implication of the content of these emails and whether or not best practices and appropriate research actually formed the basis for the Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plan.

To begin, I would remind all of you that I served on the BOE from 2009-2013 during the administration's development of the ALP/LFAP. I have continued to follow up on my appeal, despite the fact that I no longer serve on the board because Mr. Heneghan and I had serious reservations about the plan as it was developed and, through attendance at BOE meetings and and during conversations with community members, it seems as if many of the concerns I had at that time are coming to fruition. The plan originated following Dr. Moon's report in which she determined that services provided to gifted students  in D181 were insufficient, bordering on educational malpractice AND, that for all learners, there was insufficient differentiated instruction.  Dr. Moon further concluded that the identification methods that were used to place students into the gifted programs and advanced and accelerated tiers were inadequate and recommended fixing the system to allow properly identified students greater opportunities into these advanced programs under new, more appropriate (not necessarily lowered) guidelines.  Following Dr. Moon's report, the district undertook development of a philosophy statement and a plan to implement Dr. Moon's recommendations.  

Dr. Schneider was hired effective July 1, 2012 as Asst. Superintendent of PPS Services and having served on the BOE that hired him, I can state unequivocally that he was hired to run the Special Education Department.  However, shortly after his arrival, he was also tasked with working on the Advanced Learning Committee that was developing the ALP/LFAP.  In December 2012, the administration presented their "Vision of Advanced Learning" to the BOE.  A lengthy power point was presented to the BOE in support of the proposed vision/plan and it referenced research the committee had reviewed and relied upon in formulating its vision/plan.  Experts referenced in the power point included Elise Frattura and Colleen Capper, who at the time were described as colleagues of Dr. Schneider, experts in advanced learning.  At all times, the administration insisted that its advanced learning vision and plans were based on best practices.

Because of the radical changes that the Learning Committee was proposing in December 2012 and early 2013 - changes that included implementing inclusive classrooms where all students would be accelerated in math, gifted programming would be eliminated and a "raise the floor to raise the ceiling" approach would be the norm -- as BOE members, both Brendan Heneghan and I asked many questions.  These questions centered around best practices and asked for specific research that would support the Vision/ALP/LFAP that the administration was proposing. We asked for data from other school districts that would evidence that the educational model that was being proposed would be successful.  

Our questions were not answered.  Our requests for research and data to support the vision/plans were denied.  Instead, we got push back from Dr. Schuster and an insistence that the committee had relied upon extensive best practice research to guide them in their work.  When Mr. Heneghan and I began doing our own research, we concluded that Drs. Frattura and Cappper had a long standing professional relationship with Dr. Schneider, having worked with him at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and all were presenters at Social Justice Institutes that were offered during the summer at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee. We read much of their research which seemed focused on Special Education/ELL/Low Income student populations, not on GIfted/Advanced Learner populations. After 7 administrators went to one of the Social Justice Institutes during the Summer of 2013, an institute at which Dr. Schneider, Dr. Capper and Dr. Frattura were presenting, Mr. Heneghan and I asked to see the materials from the conference. Our requests, both informal and formal (my FOIA) were denied.  

Now, nearly two years later, the Social Justice Institute documents  AND emails between Drs. Schneider, Frattura and Capper are finally being produced.  I believe the emails finally answer many of the questions that Mr. Heneghan and I asked in 2012-2013 and establish the following:

1.  (...)

2.  In my opinion, best practices were NOT followed in the development of the ALP/LFAP.  The NEEDS of Advanced/Gifted learners were not the focus of the Advanced Learning Committee, nor were best practices in meeting their needs followed.  Instead, the Learning committee was "brought along" to buy into a Social Justice/Inclusive Classroom/Integrated Services Delivery Model that resulted in the creation and planned creation of heterogeneous classrooms, the elimination of the gifted programs, implementation of an accelerated for all math program (that as we now know failed miserably) and that has led the administration to not only eliminate accelerated for all math, but now, by eliminating full-time ability based tiers in math that would provide for significant and consistent above grade level exposure and faster pacing for students who need this challenge wants to slow the majority of advanced learners down all in an effort to continue to promote a one size fits all, Socially Just, inclusive, integrated service model. 

3.  Dr. Schneider WAS and continues to be the administrator who introduced the Social Justice/Inclusive Classroom/Integrated Services Delivery Model to D181.  In my opinion there is no evidence that he or the experts he relied on brought any gifted/advanced learner expertise to D181; on the contrary, in my opinion there is evidence that the "best practices" he may have relied upon to support the ALP/LFAP were Special Education practices.  In my opinion, there is no evidence that best practice research existed in 2012-2013 to support the inclusive service model he was proposing as it would impact GIFTED and Advanced Learners. 

One of the emails that was produced dated 10/29/12 can be found at Page 34 of the documents published on the FOIA Log.  This is an email from Dr. Schneider to Dr. Frattura, who was apparently going to Skype in to present research to the Advanced Learning Committee in the course of their developing the Advanced Learning vision/plan.  Dr. Frattura apparently sent Dr. Schneider the power point she was going to present and he responded stating: "I went ahead and made changes.  Please review them to make sure you agree.  I'm assuming you will.  That said, you audience is entirely about GIFTED/ADVANCED LEARNING.  It's not at all about special education.  So, your slides had a special education/deficit focus and I went through and changed them to match d181 and your audience. 

The fact that Dr. Schneider changed Special Education slides to Gifted slides, in my opinion, is very troubling.  While I am in no way challenging an inclusive philosophy as it relates to special education or other disenfranchised categories of students for whom it is developed, in the case of D181, the ALP/LFAP was developed in response to an audit of the gifted education program and the administration touted the plan it presented to the BOE as a research based philosophy for the gifted student profile.  This email raises the question whether in fact there was ANY research that supported that.  In my opinion, good researchers would never extrapolate across populations in the manner in which may have occurred when Dr. Frattura's slide were changed from a Special Education to Gifted focus.  
A medicine found to combat one type of cancer would not be touted as the cure for all without research. Psychological practices to treat schizophrenia would not be blindly applied to all mental illnesses without research and support on these populations.  It is a real travesty to realize that our gifted students may have been guinea pigs for the D181 administration.  What a loss of learning! 

4. In my opinion, Dr. Schneider had a predetermined outcome in mind when he began his work on the Advanced Learning Committee and only when he was pushed by members of the committe to address non-inclusive practices as they relate to gifted students, did he reach out to Capper and Frattura for research he could include in the discussions, and it remains unclear whether any of them provided such research to the committee. See a 10/31/12 email that can be found at Page 41 of the documents published on the FOIA Log.  In this email, Dr. Schneider states:  
"Do either of you have any articles that present a "non-inclusive" approach from the gifted world?  I'm facilitating this advanced learer committee and trying to bring them along, but they are wanting to see if there is any research out there that speaks to the opposite.  I keep getting from some that advanced learers have to be w/their peer group - it supports them emotionally, meets them at their instructional level, that they need to see others like them, etc.  I have to address this w/them and engage in the opposing view discussion otherwise I'll get killed.....HELP ;)"

The conclusion that can be drawn from this documentation is that the Advanced Learning Plan, as it was designed initially, voted upon by the BOE and as it continues to be relied upon and implemented, was based in large part on research and information that was not truly "best practices" as the term was used, but, instead, was based on research and a philosophy related to special education services espoused by a group of colleagues associated with Dr. Schneider. Further, emails show that it required research by the expert consultants to even find 1 study in support of the gifted populations.  Subsequent emails that were produced from Capper and Fraturra show their responses to Dr. Schneider's request -- neither of the experts had research available to answer his inquiry and one suggested having her "TA" do research to find an article.  

While I was on the BOE and during the presentations the Advanced Learning Committee gave the BOE and community as it presented its proposed plans, the administration stated that D181 should not be satisfied with being the best in the state, and that our goal should be national recognition.  The reality is that the D181 communities (taxpayers) NEVER sought to have the district or any of its administrators in the limelight nationally as a goal.  The goal is, was and always should be to just have good, research based education programs delivered to our kids.  Kids' needs drive programming. Kids' needs should not be forced into a canned philosophy.  In my opinion, it was a travesty that so many BOE members hid behind a battle cry of micro-management instead of doing their job of asking to see if what administrators were foisting on our children was in fact supported with a research base, particularly as complaints started rolling in.

In my opinion, our district, the Advanced Learning Task Force, our teachers and our students have been misled.  I urge the Board to consider undertaking a review of the Advanced Learning Plan as it was approved to assess whether or not the recommendations and research it contains is truly best practices for not only advanced students but for ALL students in D181.

Please do not ignore the documentation.  Please do not ignore the parents and former board members who for three years have  raised concerns about best practices.  It is time for the NEW BOE to revisit what has transpired and no longer ignore the harm that has befallen our students.  It is time for the BOE to demand to see the DATA and BEST PRACTICE research on GIFTED/ADVANCED learning education (if it exists) that supports the original Advanced Learning/Learning for All Plan.

Respectfully submitted,

Yvonne Mayer


Anonymous said...

Just as we thought and as so many parents have been saying for 3 years. The ability inclusive/integrated philosophy that was begun by Dr. Schuster and put into overdrive by Dr. Schneider is based on very little substantive research (only one study I could find, Hattie, which recommends many other methods as well and assumes a boatload of classroom and institutional supports.) We - parents, teachers, students - have been lied to about the Learning For All plan and the supposed "best practices" for 2 1/2 years now. Dr. Schneider and his friends have absolutely no expertise in the area of advanced learning. The question that remains for me - why were parents and a handful of teachers and principals the only ones questioning all of this? Blind faith? Lack of time/desire to investigate these claims on their own? A want to be politically correct? Career preservation? All of this wasted time, money and resources. It is mind boggling.

Anonymous said...

To me, it seems that this presentation communicated falsified information. What’s so sad is that every child in that infamous class was negatively impacted by this. It wasn’t just gifted/accelerated was all of them. This is very serious. How could Schneider be so self-centered and self-serving as to do something like this? Clearly he has no regard for the students in this district.

So was this presentation where special ed was changed to gifted the catalyst for dismantling ACE, grade compacting to make everyone accelerated, integrated services where all student’s needs from below average to above average are met in one classroom by one teacher? Was this a catalyst for the reading workshop model?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Schneider's speaking engagement for the summer:

Anonymous said...

9:09, Dr. Schneider's first day was around July 1, 2012 but was in discussions to be hired for months earlier. Dr. Schuster dismantled elementary ACE, elementary ELA, pull-outs for advanced students and begun the process of planning for acceleration/compacting for all prior to his arrival. The BOE thought that they were hiring Dr Schneider, as his title suggests, to oversee the Special Ed department but that soon morphed into overseeing much of the Department of Learning and, most critically, leading the Advanced Learning Task Force to come up with a plan to address the needs of advanced learners who were shown to be under served in our district. What Schneider et al. did instead, was determine that the time was ripe to impose an integrated/inclusive philosophy and try to sell it as "best practices" for advanced learners and "all students". We now now for certain that none of it was true.

The presentaion/philosopy was voted on and approved in early 2013. Many parents and teachers knew it was not best practices and said so for months prior to its approval. They provided petitions and their own research, as well as many letters from a former superintendent in our district. When they spoke up, they are completely ignored and disrespected. Turns out that they were all correct. But, because no one checked them, the problem got worse as identification guidelines for middle school classes were lowered each year, math materials were chosen and pilot plans put in place to set in motion inclusive classrooms and differentiation of many groups of students. The workshop model was heralded for not just language arts but now for math and group "project-based" learning is the new norm. Plans were made and the BOE voted to eliminate tiers in middle school social studies and language arts. Advanced students will now be "student mentors" in math classes instead of reaching their own potential. Ask your advanced student how often the teacher calls on him/her. And now, only a handful of students will be accelerated in math and language arts in the elementary schools and the grade level math tier will soon be gone in the middle school. Everyone is the same and all students learn the same way and need the same things. To do anything else is "tracking" and "anti-SELAS". Time with teachers is limited as more time with Ipads replaces learning from a teacher. We're told that because of common core, going "deeper", the digital age, SELAS and the real world, memorizing math facts and spelling words is no longer important. Kids will just use calculators, spell check and Ipads to do that now. Hinsdale students have not done well enough in the past, we can do better. Trust us, these are "best practices". Your kids will be fine because "we are the experts" "this is our profession".

Anonymous said...

Where the hell is the superintendent of the ROE, Darlene Ruscitti?!?! She has been informed about this problem for years, but has completely turned a blind eye.

Anonymous said...

If you have never written a letter to ISBE, our BOE or the ROE, now is the time. If you have never gone to a board meeting because you thought others would speak up for you, you are mistaken. It's your turn and you're up to bat. The old parents are too busy dealing with D86 issues. If new faces and new complaints don't start slamming the desks of the ROE, our BOE, and the Department of Education, this disease called Advanced Learning Plan or Learning for All (courtesy of Dr. Kurt Schneider) will consume us all.

The Parents said...

Yesterday we received a comment which after much consideration we have decided to post, however, with a modification. We have deleted the first two sentences. Once published, if the author prefers that it not be published with the modification, please let us know and we will delete it.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, these people act like they care and all they care about is their own agenda and way of thinking. Did none of them stop and think, wait this district is not a low performing district with the types of population our research is geared towards? What about the push for Selas and how that has been used to justify their message? Makes you wonder who all was privy to lack of research and data. If a TA is pulling research, so can the very well educated parents of this district. I hope the people who have supported Dr. Schneider stop and think about what they believe in and is this really the type of behavior selas promotes.

Parent of 4 said...

How can Dr. White not think this is all very, very wrong?

Anonymous said...

All we heard was that they were the experts and we need to trust them. Trust has to be earned especially when we place the education of our children in their hands. This is just wrong. Not to mention misleading teachers and wasting their time. Quite disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Why isn't Ms. Mayer's FOIA on tonight's BOE agenda? It's not on the FOIA update.

Is the administration trying to hide it?

Anonymous said...

10:36 you make good points, however, in my opinion, looks like their research never existed in the first place. It wasn't that they were applying their research from a low performing district to a high performing district.... in my opinion, it appears from the emails that were produced that their research never existed in the first place. In my opinion, it was all special ed research that was arguably falsified by changing the words special ed to gifted and made to look like accelerated and gifted research. In my opinion, it was all a sham!!! Their "changed" documents -- to use the word the Asst. Superintendent of Learning wrote -- were used to justify elimination of ACE and advanced learning tiers for 2 years on 400 students. Why on earth any administrator who does this kind of thing is still employed in this school district is beyond me.

Dr White, do you understand what has been done? You have blindly put your trust in this administrator. Do you realize the harm these actions have inflicted on the children of this district? Is this the type of man you are? Are you going to continue to support such administrators? It's time you make a decision.