May 14th Regular Board Meeting

I was late, but the “Recognition” portion of the meeting was rolling and rolling and rolling – lots of people to give credit to. 🙂 You could tell folks were getting a tad tired of the obligatory clapping.

Update: Video Recording is now available

During Public Comment, one lady got up and started to share about an issue her son had in school, but was shut down because she started talking about how an administrator got involved. I felt bad for her, because she was getting rather emotional and when she was shut down, she left in a huff. The Board President invited the parent to bring the issue up in private, but from the look on the departing woman’s face, I doubt that will happen. I wish there were a better way to handle those kinds of situations. [Edit: She starts to talk at 37:23, and I think her name is Esmeralda Hernandez – I tried to call but did not get past several ring tones]

Gaby spoke for the PTA Council and introduced the new Council President, Anna Simon. Welcome to the Council, Mrs. Simon. 🙂

The 1st reading of some new policies was quickly glanced over. Seemed like most of dealt with student well-being and health and tied into community relations. Apparently in the past the district has had issues with parents taunting other parents/students near school grounds (hence “safe school zones”). Jamar asked some pointed questions about any policies concerning staff on student harassment and it was indicated that those policies are covered elsewhere (not a part of the current changes). I am thinking that some feathers were ruffled by his questions. It was conveyed that administrators were trained about 3 weeks ago in these procedures with the expectation that they would go and train building level staff. It sounded to me like there was little to no follow-up.

The bulk of the Board Meeting was consumed by the “Standards Based Grading” (SBG) high school presentation by the two principals, Mr. Greg Johnson and Mr. Joe Williamson. I am glad it was only about 5 slides. I was a bit confused about SBG; what they talk about sounds like a great idea (ability to track and measure each student individually), but I kinda thought that was already happening. I heard that it was already in the elementary schools. So if we already have this tracking going on, then how come students still fall behind? It is not clear to me how whatever was pitched is actually going to be such a huge boon to us.

In fact, Ileana Saveley asked how progress is measured. It sounds like teachers are supposed to evaluate each child via various different methods, basically judging how they “rehearse” the information as a measure of how it has “sunken in” (the principals words, not mine). And then some really clutch statements came up. 🙂 Like, “kids who know how to do school are not necessarily learning anything.” “Parents are helped by thorough communication”.  A couple times, Mr. Joe Williamson told the Board that they “should have high schools that are leading the pack in the District, even in the State.” After all these statements, my head was spinning.

As a huge critic of how education was “done” at the University of Illinois, and as a part-time teacher trying to one-up everyone else at Parkland and mostly failing, I often wonder how education is “done”. And then it gets me to thinking, education is not so much different than life in general. As Joe said, we are always learning (funny how Miles Horton said the exact same thing).

So what is all the big fuss about? Really. Is all this extra measuring, quantifying and note-taking actually helping our children learn better? From the two teachers I have talked to and a couple others, it sounds like the paperwork and extra meetings are killing them (the teachers). If the teachers are being deflated like balloons, you can only imagine the effect that has on their abilities to teach. In that light, all this concentration on analyzing performance seems very adult-centered – I have a feeling the kids don’t give two squats about the data. And I know about analyzing performance; I get paid to do that on high-end database systems.

I’ll have to leave off with that. If you were there or saw the video, please feel free to correct me where I am wrong.

PS – there were a number of other items on the agenda  – Basically every item in the “Consent Agendas”  (Sections 9 and 10) have attachments but were not covered during Open Meeting. Which struck me as a bit odd. But right now I am too tired to think it through all the way.

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9 Responses to “May 14th Regular Board Meeting”

  1. G. David Frye Says:

    I have two things to share and I’ll post them as separate comments.

    The first is about school safe zones. I think it’s probably unfair to suggest that this is somehow new, or that school staff are just now receiving training. Maybe they’re tweaking existing procedures or adding a new layer of response There might have been something happen recently – or anticipated – that they’re reacting to.

    But to the extent that the kids, and sometimes the families, have conflicts, those problems end up at school because, as much as you can state that the school is a safe zone, some people only respect that as long as it applies to someone else.

    I’ll describe a couple of incidents that demonstrate the problem. One happened at Edison two or three years ago, and was fairly well covered in the News-Gazette. A child was dropped off early for school, in fact earlier than Edison wants kids to arrive because staff may not be in position to monitor things. A car came by the school, some people got out, and they more or less dragged the kid into the car and took off. Enough people witnessed it that they had a pretty good idea who did it, and in fact the child was recovered safe and sound. The underlying story was a little unclear but it involved some kind of disagreement between groups. I honestly don’t remember if it was gangs, or families, or what. But the point is that someone came on school grounds and forcibly abducted a child, in broad daylight, as much to send a message as anything else. We just can’t have that.

    Second incident happened last year, I think. A couple of girls get into it at Central during the school day. If your kids are still in grade school you haven’t seen how ugly a high school girl fight can get. So the girls have been separated and the school has called their parents to come get them. Although the school does it in such a way that the different families won’t show up at the same time, one gets there late and the other early, and THEY start in on each other in front of Seely Hall. Apparently there was a lot of history there of bad blood. The police are called in and pretty soon the school is surrounded by squad cars.

    Stuff like this happens every week. I am at Central several times a month, sometimes several times a week, and I can’t count the number of times the administrative staff were being called out on their radios to deal with something happening in front of the main entrance or in the cafeteria, or there would be five or six squad cars at entrances or intersections around the building.

  2. G. David Frye Says:

    My youngest son was given the opportunity this year to take high school geometry as an 8th grader, and receive high school credit, and because it’s a freshman honors course it is using the standards-based grading system. (I’ll call it SBG here, as you have, but it’s not an acronym I’ve seen used by school staff.) The initial rollout this past year has been a little rough and I spent some time with the teacher and principal to iron out my confusion/concern about the way it was being implemented.

    SBG ties, more directly than any previous method, the grade the student receives to the elements they are expected to learn in a course. In the case of geometry, the high school math departments have drawn from the common core standards – which also finally lay out explicitly the concepts that should be taught in each math subject – a list of standards that the course should teach and the tests should measure. An example of a geometry standard: “Use theorems to prove geometric relationships.” At the beginning of the year the teacher has a clear notion of all the standards that need to be taught in the course, and aligns his or her teaching to those standards. A standard may be taught multiple times or in multiple settings, and in fact it’s expected that the students will work with and be tested on each of the standards multiple times during the year.

    Standards are scored on a 4-point scale (1=clueless, 4=mastery). Early low scores for a standard can be eclipsed by later high scores if the student had trouble at first understanding something. Unlike the old system, where a low test grade permanently affected your class grade, the new goal is to give the student the opportunity to demonstrate that he or she knows the concept and be given a grade based on that.

    Another annoying aspect of the old system was the way that “extra credit” was used as a way to boost class grades. Sometimes teachers would give extra credit for, I don’t know, having a neat backpack, or showing up with a pencil, or singing a song to the class. Those are extreme examples but the general idea with SBG is to do away with artificial grading schemes. The playing field is a lot more level now – either the student understands the material, or not.

    Some of the difficulty in making SBG work goes back to the gradebook program the district is using, because it doesn’t really cope well with the standards scores. Last I heard they were abandoning it after this year in favor of a product that implements the recency-weighted scoring algorithm. I have some references for that algorithm (which I can’t put my hands on right now) if anyone’s interested – I studied it in detail when we were in discussions about it and understand it very well from a mathematical point of view, because I’m a math geek, but I can say with some certainty that the details would leave most parents baffled.

    There are some little things I’m still uneasy about. For example, homework is no longer part of the grade. Homework is a student’s chance to practice and develop some competency with the concept. The teacher may collect it, or let the students score themselves on how well they did, or whatever. A student might opt not to do the homework. (We don’t let ours get away with that, at least not any more!) The tests are what matter for measuring how well the student gets the concepts. But I will say that doing it this way eliminates the problem of kids whose homework looks great because, well, someone at home is “helping” them do it.

    Anyway, sorry for the lengthy response. All in all I’m happy with SBG. The big takeaways are:

    1. Standards are established for each course; the standards should be uniform across teachers teaching the subject and the schools where it’s taught.

    2. Students are graded on mastery of the standards, and their grade is less affected by any initial difficulty in understanding a concept.

    3. Artificial schemes that boost kids’ grades, like extra credit, are out of the picture.

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    Thanks for the comments, G David. What you have said pretty much lines up with what was shared at the Board Meeting (both comments). As an aside, the high school principals used “SBG” (the acronym) in their presentation, which is available via BoardDocs, and since that was my first exposure, I picked it up from that.

    I have noticed that the elementary schools have been using SBG for a while now. Greg got himself in hot water last night because he temporarily forgot about this, and in fact Stig gave some indication he was not aware of his own elementary kids being graded this way. For my wife and I, when we see a long column of topics and numbers (usually all the same number), it does not mean a whole lot to us. I think it is clear that we as parents don’t “get” the importance or the huge benefits of the system, yet. Now that I am more aware of it, I will definitely view her next report card with a sharper eye.

    Overall, with what little I know now, I am in favor of Common Core. The only hesitation I have so far is when I hear about the burden placed on teachers with all the extra paperwork. Not being a teacher myself, I am no position to judge, but I do wonder what an optimal system looks like so I can form some sense of a realistic and even optimistic opinion.

    And you are right that safe zones are not new – they were merely discussing policy to tweak it, as you said. I cannot remember all the details offhand, but that is what the video recording is good for. *grin* (hopefully later today I will receive a copy of it and post it)

  4. G. David Frye Says:

    “The only hesitation I have so far is when I hear about the burden placed on teachers with all the extra paperwork.”

    These things are not necessarily linked: common core, standards-based grading, and extra paperwork per student. Adopting CCSSI does not imply any kind of grading scheme or student tracking method. There isn’t a single sentence in the CCSSI documentation about student records. I don’t know where the paperwork issue is coming from, but I would guess it’s due more to the efforts the district has been making to address the AYP dilemma. Central’s turnaround plan was centered around better tracking individual students’ progress, which meant regular team meetings (vs. none prior) and uniform documentation of student grades (vs. every teacher for him/herself). The SBG methodology was adopted just this past year and theoretically will make the documentation side more uniform. But I think the more important outcome of SBG will be that teachers are having to examine what they teach, and why, and to normalize their curriculum with other teachers of the subject. When the CCSSI-based assessments come online this will all seem a lot more obvious.

    I haven’t seen an elementary school report card in several years, since we’ve moved on to middle/high school. So I don’t know how it’s laid out, but I’m curious. For my benefit, Charles, could you copy a report card (blocking out the personal info, of course) or somehow enter a portion of it? I want to see how they’re listing the subject areas. You can send it to me personally. Just say no if it’s too much work.

  5. pattsi Says:

    All of this discourse is interesting because the focus is how to judge, not what works best for an individual to reach “best practice” of teaching. The assumption that a certain way of teaching and testing works universally when we know this is not the case.

  6. charlesdschultz Says:

    I think I have said that every day these past 5 days on this very topic talking to friends and acquaintances. 🙂 There is definitely no silver bullet, no all-covering blanket, no panacea. Which is why I focus so much on relationships and “anti-efficiency”.

  7. charlesdschultz Says:

    G David, check out these curriculum maps – example is First Grade Math:
    http://www.champaignschools.org/Math/Timelines/first.pdf

  8. charlesdschultz Says:

    Going back to Mrs. Hernandez, I learned that the Board did reach out to her, so I am glad for that. I hope the issue was resolved to Mrs. Hernandez’s satisfaction.


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