Ms. Mayer's Comment:
Below is an email I just sent to Dr. White and the BOE. Please consider publishing it as a free-standing post as it is a follow up to the May 16 post titled: Comment of the Day.
Dear Dr. White and BOE Members:
I am writing to follow up on the email below that I sent you on May 15. Nearly one month later, the district decided to produce all of the emails and attachments that were previously withheld from me in response to the FOIA request. I do not know why the district suddenly made such an about face, however, I want to begin by thanking the district for this overt act of transparency. By producing all of the documents, the district has shined a spotlight on what truly transpired in 2012 and 2013 and has now made it possible for you -- the Superintendent and D181's elected officials -- to evaluate and discuss the "facts" and decide whether to take any action.
I have had an opportunity to review all of the documents that have now been produced and they confirm the concerns I raised in my May 15 email to you. The purpose of this email is to highlight the content of some of the documents that were produced, explain my concerns about the content and why the content matters to D181's children and educational system, and ask you once again to discuss the ramifications of what these documents may mean for the future of D181.
First, as I discussed in Item #3 of my May 15 email to you,
"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 two power points, Frattura's and Scheider's have now both been produced and can be found on the FOIA log beginning at Page 63 (Frattura's version) and Page 89 (Schneider's version) under the Attachments link Ms. Duggan created for the June 5, 2015 production of documents to me.
Attachments link: https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/d181foia/2015-05-29+-+Mayer+FOIA+Response+(Bookmarked+Attachments).pdf
I have compared them, slide by slide to see what changes Schneider actually made. I am very concerned about the changes he made to a Special Education focused power point in order to "match" the D181 audience. The changes are as follows:
-- On Slide 2 which is called "What We Know Across the country" on "school improvement at the district level," he changed the first bullet point by adding the word "advanced learning". The original Frattura slide read: "Often happens in isolation of special education and other programs" to "Often happens in isolation of advanced learning, special education and other programs."
-- On Slide 3 called "Across the Country we are seeing...," under the word "Vision" he changed several of the bullet points.
---- He changed bullet one by adding the phrase "local politics/practices." The original read "Districts are reactive to State and Federal mandates." His version read "Districts are reactive to State and Federal mandates, and local politics/practices."
---- In bullet three he changed special education to "advanced learning". The original read: "Special Education and other programs are perceived as a place versus a service." His version read "Advanced learning and other programs are perceived as a place versus a service."
---- In bullet 4 he changed Frattura's version which read "Pervasive believe that the only way to support support students with significant needs is to cluster students into programs in specific schools" to read "Pervasive belief that the only way to support students with advanced learning needs is to cluster/track students."
-- Slide 4 called "What our Data tells us" added a bullet called "ability" under the phrase "schools have a culture of marginalization". That word did not appear in Frattura's list.
-- Slide 8 called "Eight Major Problems with Separate Programs", Schneider changed several of the bullets.
---- In bullet 2 he moved the phrase "who are high achievement" to the front of the list so the bullet would read "tracks and marginalizes students who are high achievement, of color, poverty, language and disability."
---- In bullet 5, he added "isolating teachers." Frattura's version read "fragment a student's day." Schneider's version read "fragment a student's day, isolating teachers."
---- In bullet 7 he added the phrase "advanced learners not maximizing potential". Frattura's version read "forces a further gap in achievement." Schneider's version read "forces a further gap in achievement; advanced learners not maximizing potential."
-- Slide 13 is called "Paying attention to the Research" and cites to findings made by 4 researchers, Hnushek, Klin, Markman and Rivkin in a 2003 article published in the Journal of Applied Economics titled "Does Peer Ability affect student achievement?" Schneider changed the second point on this slide by adding the phrase "not maximizing their learning." Frattura's version read "The students who are isolated the most in ability groupings often are the furthest behind." Schneider's version reads" The students who are isolated the most in ability groupings often are not maximizing their learning OR are the furthest behind." (** See footnote below.)
-- Slide 14 is called "The Goal." Schneider changed the phrase "deficit-based program" to "segregated program" in the last line. Frattura's version read: "Most importantly, preventing the perpetuation of a deficit-based program model." Schneider's version read: "Most importantly - preventing the perpetuation of a segregated program model."
-- Slide 20 is called "Non-Negotiables in Support of Proactive Services." Schneider changed two of the bullet points.
---- In bullet one, Frattura's version reads, "Source of student failure is the system, hence the system needs to accommodate the student." Schneider deleted references to failure and his version reads: "The source of students not meeting their maximum potential is the system, hence the district/system needs to accommodate the student."
---- In bullet 2 he changed what the primary goal of education should be adding the phrase "maximize potential." Frattura's version read "Primary goal of education is to prevent student failure." Schneider's version reads "Primary goal of education is to maximize potential AND prevent student failure."
-- Slide 23 is a continuation of the list of non-negotiables started on Slide 20. Schneider changes the second bullet on Slide 23 by adding the phrase "advanced learners." Frattura's version reads "No rooms/schools/offices that are set aside for labeled kids/staff (e.g., LD, ED, special education, resource, linguistically diverse, at-risk, advanced learners, discipline schools)." She doesn't mention advanced learners at all. Schneider's version reads "No rooms/schools/offices that are set aside for labeled kids/staff (e.g., advanced learners, LD, ED, special education, resource, linguistically diverse, at-risk, discipline schools)."
-- Slide 24 is a chart Titled "Clustering by like ability". Schneider changed Frattura's title "Clustering by like disabilities," by changing the word disabilies to ability. The chart showed 8 "clusters." Schneider changed the last three clusters as follows:
---- "Clustered classes by disability" changed to "clustered classes by ability."
--- "Shared services across districts for students with cognitive and or emotional disabilities and autism" changed to "Shared services across districts for students with advanced gifts".
--- "Separate school for students with severe behavioral or cognitive needs" changed to "Separate school for students with advanced gifts."
Why do these changes matter? Simply put, since this power point was one of the first ones presented to the Advanced learning committee, and I believe formed the basis of later presentations to the BOE on best practice research and findings to support the Advanced Learning Plan, Schneider's changes matter if there is no data or research to support them. Although Frattura informed him in a subsequent email that she was fine with his changes, that statement alone doesn't establish the research or data basis to support them.(** -- see footnote below.)
Frattura's power point presentation was, as Dr. Schneider pointed out to her, "special ed/deficit focused." He converted her power point to be advanced learner/gifted learner focused. The question you should all be asking yourselves is what research or data supported the power point changes? In reviewing all of the materials sent to Schneider by Frattura that were produced to me, there is no data or research to support the changes he made to the slides. When I served on the BOE with Mr. Heneghan, we both asked to see research and data on advanced learner/gifted learner populations that would support the "best practice/research" statements Schneider was attributing to the experts cited in his power points. None was produced. NOW it is time to insist that the research and data be produced to you for your review.
This is especially important in light of an email produced to me in this new batch in which Schneider recommends to Frattura that they hire Reva Friedman for the Summer 2013 UWM Social Justice Institute. Friedman was another expert that Schneider introduced to D181. Page 267 of the emails produced on June 5, is dated 2/15/13 from Frattura to Friedman. Embedded in this email is one from Schneider to Frattura in which he suggests hiring Friedman for the social justice institute. He says "like you, she's been an outstanding support to me in recent weeks at no cost as we're working on inverting our system to be inclusive, and are using the Advanced learning door as the entry point."
When I read this statement, I was shocked. INVERT D181's system? Use the Advanced learning door as an ENTRY POINT?
(This email was buried in new emails that were produced to me on Friday, all which were interactions Schneider had with Frattura and/or Capper in 2013 in which they were planning the Summer Social Justice Institute, the institute that seven D181 administrators attended. These emails were originally withheld on the grounds that they had nothing to do with D181, however, obviously if they reference D181, and were written by or received by Schneider on D181's server using his D181 email address, they are relevant. I would also assert that they are relevant to D181if any of the emails in which Schneider is planning an off-site, non-D181 conference (for which, according to emails that were produced he was to be paid $9000) were written during D181 work hours, or if he spent any time during D181 work hours planning or preparing for the off-site, non-D181 social justice institute. I would urge you to discuss whether or not it is appropriate for any D181 paid employee to be working on non-D181 work (for which they receive compensation) during D181 work hours, however, that is not the main focus of this email so I will not further elaborate.)
In my opinion, Schneider's statement establishes his goal (shared apparently with experts that he was collaborating with) to "invert" D181's education system to be an inclusive system. In my opinion, the work being done by the Advanced learning task force was in essence hijacked and the "Advanced Learning door" was used as the entry point to turn D181's educational "system" upside down.
As a former board member who started the journey of evaluating the GIFTED/ADVANCED LEARNING programs with the hiring of Dr. Moon, and who was asked to vote on an ADVANCED LEARNING PLAN that was supposed to "Raise the floor to raise the ceiling" and "accelerate all learners" by one year in math, in NO WAY was the BOE led to believe that what D181 was going to do was "invert the system" through the Advanced Learning programs.
The original "goal" of the BOE in hiring Dr. Moon was to improve the gifted/advanced learning programs and make entry into THOSE programs more inclusive. That is very different that the integrated service, all inclusive, heterogeneous model that has been rolled out.
As a former board member, D181 parent and current tax payer, it is my opinion that the damage that many of D181's students have suffered in the last three years has been a result of "inverting" the D181 system. It is my opinion that this is not something the community or BOE would have supported in 2012 or 2013 had any of the administrators represented the goal as being to "invert the system." Certainly, at a minimum, the community and teachers would have demanded evidence that our system was a complete failure that required "inversion" and would have asked for data and research to justify such a drastic change.
Since the BOE and community were never told outright that this was the goal, and instead everything was framed around improving the Advanced Learning programs, I have to say that I personally feel misled about what the Advanced Learning Plan "goal" really was. The documents that have finally been produced (after nearly 2 years) cannot be ignored. They raise far too many questions about what the real "goal" was back in 2012-2013 when the administration presented the Advanced Learning Plan to the BOE.
The students, teachers and parents are all owed an explanation. It is time for the BOE to publicly discuss just what exactly the GOAL of the Advanced Learning/Learning for All plan WAS and IS. THEN and NOW. The teachers, Advanced Learning Committee, BOE, Parents, Teachers and Students were all asked to trust the experts. We were all told that BEST practice research was being relied upon by the experts to form the basis for the ALP/LFA plans. I and others who asked to see the research and data were called troublemakers and naysayers.
Today, I am glad I asked my questions. I am glad I filed a FOIA request. I am glad I did not back down. Today, I am left with many of the same questions I asked when I was on the BOE and which were never answered. Today YOU should be asking the same questions BUT THIS TIME, you should demand the answers.
It is true that I no longer have students in D181 and you may be asking yourselves, why should I care anymore? Well, I care because I chose to run for the D181 BOE because I cared about ALL D181 students and cared about making sure that ALL D181 students could excel and achieve their educational potential. I voted yes on the Learning For All Plan even though many of my questions went unanswered because (as I stated in a public comment at the BOE meeting when I voted) it was clear that the plan was going to be approved by a board majority and I was asked to trust the educational experts who were recommending approval of the plan. I voted yes, but expressed my reservations that there needed to be data collected to evaluate the rollout and that the BOE needed to hold the administration accountable if the plan did not succeed. Following that vote, Board member Turek personally thanked me and promised me he would seek accountability. Now three years into the plan, it has changed in so many ways, both in name and substance, and yet there still has never been a real analysis of the data. Some of the changes, such as eliminating the acceleration for all, were necessary because too many students were on both ends of the educational spectrum were hurt by the original plan -- either because the work was to hard or the material was watered down for the highest achievers. Yet, through all of this, the questions about whether this plan really made/makes sense for our community were left unanswered. There was, in my opinion, no accountability for the changes made to the "system" that some parents believe hurt their children, changes that have now been scaled back or eliminated.
While I have no more children in D181, I still care about the other children. Further I am still a taxpayer who no doubt will be asked to vote yes in the near future on one or more D181 referenda that will increase my property taxes. If you really expect me or others (with or without children in D181, some who believe their children have been hurt by the "inverted" educational model) to vote yes, then you should address our concerns and questions now. You should demand accountability where appropriate now. If you do not, you cannot expect me or others to support a tax increase in the near future.
Please do not let D181's students down by ignoring the many red flags that have been raised in the documents that were withheld for nearly 2 years. Please do right by D181's students and teachers.
** FOOTNOTE from above:
I would also urge all of you to read the study that is cited on Slide 13. I googled the article to see if it actually stated that students in ability groupings are not maximizing their potential. It can be accessed at: http://hanushek.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Hanushek%2BKain%2BMarkman%2BRivkin%202003%20JAppEct%2018%285%29
I may not be a college professor, but I don't believe the study stands for that propositionl, let alone the summary points made in the original power point. This really concerned me so I asked a special education teacher I highly respect to read through the article and see if it stands for the propositions cited in the power point. In her opinion it does not. This is what the teacher wrote to me (note -- she has highlighted some of her thoughts and questions in green): "In addition to the fact that ELL and SPED students were taken out of the study on purpose (fn 12), it stands for the proposition that the higher the average achievement is in your school (and they specifically also say they make no conclusions as to classroom composition) the better the student growth/learning will be. Also specifically say they did not look at classroom composition as how kids were assigned.
Goes on to say that from a policy perspective, if the higher achieving kids go to a charter school state achievement won’t increase because the increase these kids will show will be set off from the lower achievement of those left behind who had higher achievement when all the kids were in the school. From p 542: In terms of public policy, the fact that the effects are similar across the test score distribution suggests that a reallocation of students will have little impact on the overall state or school average. Rather it will affect only the distribution of achievement across schools; winners from having more able peers are balanced by losers with less able peers. The findings also imply that there will be additional external benefits to improving student performance through special programmes, tutoring and the like. While such benefits are likely to be small in comparison to the main effect for the student receiving any treatment, it is clear that student outcomes are intertwined in important ways. Special programs like pull-out ACE?
Also from p 542: The results themselves provide little evidence that average income or the heterogeneity of peers in terms of variation in achievement levels affect growth in mathematics achievement. If this is the case, and heterogeneity has no affect, then why is it necessary? Of course, again they were talking baout heterogeneity by school, not by class.
I do not understand how the following conclusions in the power point were gleaned from this research:
"1. Varied achievement within student groupings positively impacts student achievement (It is not the variance, it is the average achievement level that they studied. Perhaps you could extrapolate ability grouping would therefor have negative effects because the average achievement would be lower in the lower ability groups, but this is not what this study stands for) - 2. The students who are isolated the most in ability groupings often are not maximizing their learning OR are the furthest behind.” Nothing at all in that study about this! There are also statements that the top kids were least affected by the average peer achievement level. Suggested it could be because of the ceiling of the test, but could also be because they are the ones bringing up the average!