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Thursday, December 17, 2009

School district excludes feedback from parents, teachers

Statement from Laurie Rogers on the feedback (part 2):
Spokane Public Schools’ pre-selection criteria for its new high school math curriculum are purportedly based on summaries of feedback from parents, students and teachers.
Careful diligence was required, therefore, in the collection and summarizing of this feedback. Unfortunately, the processes were so poorly conducted as to render the District’s summaries of the feedback virtually worthless.
It's a shame. Parents and teachers who offered their thoughts appear to care deeply about the issue. It’s disgraceful that so many of their thoughts were rewritten, minimized, reinterpreted, questioned, doubted and “summarized” right off the page.
(In spite of this, the adoption committee members did appear to take the community feedback into account, overwhelmingly voting for Holt Mathematics or Prentice Hall Mathematics as their top choice. These two curricula will now undergo a more in-depth assessment, including a brief classroom pilot, before a final recommendation is made to the school board.)


Parent Feedback Contaminated; Parent/Teacher Feedback Excluded:

In November, SPS hosted two community “forums” on the adoption of a new high school math curriculum. Those who came to the forums listened to a 50-minute District presentation, then were asked to write down on 3”x5” cards what they want from a new high school math program.
District staff made no attempt to differentiate between parents who work for the District and parents who don’t. There was no attempt to collect feedback only from parents, or only from parents of students in the district. The forums were attended by District staff, board members, university professors, District teachers, and math coaches – including people on the curriculum committee. Cards were handed out across the room. I was given cards at both forums.
Thus, the parent feedback was contaminated from the start.

The next week, I went back to the District office and looked through the cards collected at the two forums. I saw an interesting dichotomy.
Most of the cards are clear about a desire for a more traditional approach. They variously ask for “traditional” math, “basic” math, examples, direct instruction, practice, review, standard algorithms, a textbook, mathematical principles, skill proficiency (without calculators), level-appropriate material, tutoring, individual work, a dual track, alignment with state standards, a reference set of formulas, workbooks, and clarity.
On the polar opposite are a few cards asking for connections, explorations, conceptual understanding, application, and real-world context. Looking at these cards, one might think regular parents left their home at dinner time so they could drive to a district high school and use typical educator language to ask the District for more reform math.
Just one card in all of the so-called “parent” cards specifically asks for a “balance” between conceptual and procedural skills, yet this one word became the framework for the District’s summary of the “parent” feedback.

Teacher feedback also was solicited in the same casual, unscientific manner. The two most common teacher requests are “examples” and more opportunities to practice skills. Close behind are requests for context, conceptual understanding or application. Also popular are requests for close alignment with the new Washington State math standards.
A dichotomy is present in the teacher cards, too, however this dichotomy probably is legitimate. Some teachers clearly want a more traditional approach, asking for equations, algorithms, step-by-step instruction or examples for the students, basic skills, proficiency with skills such as algebra, a logical sequence to the material, and no integration of concepts.
The other group wants to stick with reform, asking for investigations and a student-centered, constructivist classroom.
The incompatibility between these philosophies was never discussed in any adoption committee meeting. Quite the contrary. All efforts to discuss it were squelched by the people running our meetings. The way these people consistently handled any disagreement over “reform” vs. “traditional” was to change the subject or substitute the word “balance,” as in “a balance between,” or a “balanced approach” – even if that wasn’t what was said.

On Dec. 3, adoption committee members were asked to go through the parent and teacher cards. We were divided into four groups and asked to “silently” lump the cards into “three to five” categories and then “come to a consensus about a phrase to describe each category.” At my table - a "parent" table - I was surrounded by administrator types, and we didn't have consensus.
“The parents want a textbook,” I said at one point to the Administrator In Charge of the Pen.
“I think it’s implied,” he said, refusing to write the word.
We argued back and forth. “Look,” I finally said, exasperated, showing him the parent cards. “’Textbook.’ ‘Textbook.’ ‘Textbook.’ Just write it down.”
In the course of this process, requests for a more “traditional” approach were excluded. I asked the Administrator In Charge of the Pen to note the disagreement on the poster paper, that some of the parent cards asked emphatically for “traditional math.” Instead, he added words that ultimately fostered the impression of parent requests for balance.

On this day, we were given the opportunity to walk around the room and add notes to other summaries if we thought something was missing. I heard some administrators question what parents or teachers meant by “basic math,” “traditional math” or “standard algorithm.” I wondered what we all had to say before our desire for Math-That-Is-Not-Reform was taken seriously.
When we returned to our tables, we (as in “Not Laurie”) could permanently add additional comments if we thought they were “needed.” At my table, all additional sticky notes were plucked back off.
“You’re removing what the parents told you,” I said to the offender. She was unmoved. “This is supposed to be through our eyes,” she said.

This is the District’s “summary” of what parents requested: “Parent support; student support; practice – a lot; resources for help; real-life or contextual problems; basic skills; balanced content – align with state standards/college readiness; balanced between skills and concepts (some procedural, some contextual, not overly emphasize technology); parent/home/on line resources (textbook); user-friendly with numerous examples, (cleaner, less cluttered appearance, consistent layout).”
The teacher "summary" is strikingly similar to the parent summary. Missing from both are words like “standard algorithm,” “direct instruction” and “traditional math,” even though some committee members added them after seeing them on the cards.
Two members even acknowledged to the ESD101 facilitators that respondents aren’t in sync on a “balanced” approach. That acknowledgment isn’t reflected in the final summaries.

The missing words also don’t show up in the pre-screen criteria. The word “balance” is there, however. Also there is “socially equitable/just for the broad scope of student experiences,” even though no parent, teacher or student feedback card asked for that. In the next article, I’ll tell you about the adoption committee’s pre-screen criteria, and how they shaped – and didn’t shape – the curricula choices that were made.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (December, 2009). "School district excludes feedback from parents, teachers." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:


Anonymous said...

Laurie are you famliar with the Delphi technique? It's when they abuse their power and treat you like a complete idiot, while you think you are being treated with respect.
Look up Delphi. The Educrats have the technique perfected!

Anonymous said...

I'm 15 years old and I am so fed up with the math system. Once there was a word problem where a kid didn't want to do his homework on a subject (I can't remember exactly what the subject was but it doesn't matter)and asks you, the answerer, to do it. I said I wasn't doing his homework. I got full credit. How is that related to math? Another time, I got points docked because my hand writing was too messy. Say something to my english teacher, but don't penalize me in a MATH CLASS!
Thank you for your blog. It confirms what I've been thinking for a long time: Spokane public schools sucks, and is only in it for the money.

Kim said...

Laurie, thank you for trying so hard to fix our school system. What a huge mountain you have chosen to climb. I'm a totally confused parent having a very hard time deciphering what a good curriculum even looks like anymore. We're attempting to move to another school district and when I asked about the math program I was told it was Ladders, which is one I haven't even heard of before. Do you know what it is?

Laurie H. Rogers said...

Kim, if you tell me which school district you're moving to, and which grade you're talking about, I'll try to find out something about the math curriculum for you.

Kim said...

Hello Laurie, sorry for the late reply - the Christmas busy-ness distracted me. I hope you enjoyed yours this year. :)

Ladders is being taught in the Buckley WA school district, and your offer to find some info on it is *greatly* appreciated! I asked the principal, who spent 20 minutes explaining it to me, and left still not knowing a thing about it. I think I need a new set of questions, because the 'teach-speak' isn't particularly enlightening for us dim parents, lol.

We're looking for homes in Pierce County, in the Enumclaw/Buckley area predominantly, but also in Bonney Lake. If you happen to know if any of these districts are currently infamous, please let me know. I'm appreciative of any little crumb of info you can share :)

bbl, and thank you again!

kprugman said...

Discovering algebra is another elitist curriculum with no signicant studies to support that it works for students. It relies heavily on graphing calculators. I don't recommend it for at-risk students. A better approach with the far below basic child is using Marcy Cook materials, since these materials were developed using the primary modality of language learners, which is speaking. Language learners have difficulty comprehending with the other modalities: listening, writing, and reading. The teaching of primary mathematics should be treated like a language, not as it is now content-driven. The authors of Singapore understood the nature of their students and the problem. More than half of Singapore students are English language learners. The problem is similiar here to ours in the states.

Laurie H. Rogers said...

Kim, I found out some information for you.

Sumner School District uses Investigations in Number, Data and Space, a reform/discovery program that is weak on basic skills. In middle school, they use MathThematics and in high school, they use Glencoe for Algebra I and Geometry, and Holt for Algebra II. They JUST adopted Investigations and are considering changing the middle school program. This is an odd mix of curricula – reform in elementary and traditional in high school. Since Investigations is a recent adoption, I suspect the district is still committed to discovery learning.

In Enumclaw, they are going through a K-12 math adoption. I like that they’ve reviewed the entire K-12 program at once. I wish all districts did it this way. Holt was recommended for middle and high school. Math Expressions and Everyday Math is used in elementary, but this is under review, according to the Web site. My feeling is – from the recent recommendation of Holt – that this district is perhaps moving toward a more traditional approach. You will want to find out if the board approves Holt.

In White River, they use Bridges for elementary school. The superintendent told me Bridges has been “tremendously successful” for the students, and the curriculum person told me he disagrees with the state assessment of Bridges (which is that it’s inadequate). The superintendent said Bridges combines inquiry with a “strong computational base,” but this is not my understanding of that program. Even Spokane – a longtime supporter of reform/discovery – kicked out Bridges. At any rate, it looks like Bridges won’t be leaving White River any time soon. The middle school program is “Connected Math,” a weak reform/discovery program. The superintendent said there might be a change in middle school. The curriculum person said high schools use an older version of Holt Algebra/Geometry/Algebra II, plus Glencoe for calculus. He said there are plans to look at high school, however, and he indicated that the district is moving toward a “balance” between discovery and direct instruction. Since they like Bridges, I would worry about where the high school adoption would go.

If I were you, I might look more at Enumclaw, then, but please do speak with the districts’ curriculum coordinators and find out if your impression is the same as mine.

I hope this is helpful. If you need something else, let me know.

kprugman said...

White River is having the same difficulties with their alternative programs as the rest of the state - Collins Cooperative services four districts and has a 10% graduation rate.

The task force that made the recommendations (continuing academic probation) included three new superintendents (Nelson, Mendoza, and Lockyer).

I believe there are three things that have not been addressed by your districts. For one, they are headed toward insolvency, that is in part why they chose to start their own cooperative. In doing so, they ignored or in their ignorance chose to use the same curriculum that was responsible for failing those students. The fact White River has such an ad hoc math program shows students and teachers are struggling to find some mode of success. In alternative programs, students are placed on independent contracts, having to learn the same material with little or no assistance from certificed teachers. You would be better off looking for a home-school program. Collins is not a credible program, but these districts cannot afford better alternatives.

In my district, the Principal started its alternative program - it has a 5% graduation rate. Most of the students don't make it past four months. This district is one of three in your state that will be insolvent within two years. They purchased 80 acres of undevelopable land for 10 times its assessed value in a pyramid scheme. These idiots cannot be prosecuted? That's what I think of your justice system, there is none.