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D181 Board Approves Long-term Curriculum Overhaul

All six board members in attendance Monday night voted to approve the District 181 advanced learning plan, though two presented plenty of criticism.

After more than a year of discussion, a long-term plan aiming to increase rigor and inclusivity across District 181 has been approved.

The District 181 Board of Education approved by a 6-0 vote Monday night an advanced learning plan 13 months after gifted consultant Tonya Moon pointed out problems she saw with District 181’s approach to advanced learning and six months into a curriculum transition year during which an advanced learning task force has developed the long-term plan.

While all six board members in attendance voted to approve the plan (Glenn Yaeger was absent), Brendan Heneghan and Yvonne Mayer delivered a prepared joint statement before the vote that pointed out what they see as problems with the plan and the process by which it was developed and approved.

The plan, which has been the primary focus of the last three board meetings, would eliminate exclusive ACE programs in the district’s elementary and middle schools while standardizing ACE principles and increasing rigor in math and English language arts for all students.

READ: End of D181's Pullout ACE Program Proposed for Elementary Schools; Exclusive Middle School ACE Program Phased Out Under D181 Proposal

Beginning in 2016-17, the administration's executive summary of the plan reads, the district wants students to enter sixth grade already having mastered sixth-grade math curriculum according to the new Illinois Common Core standards and, beginning in 2018-19, to graduate eighth grade with the ability to place into high school geometry.

In language arts, the district wants all students entering sixth grade to meet current enriched language arts standards beginning in 2016-17, and all eighth-grade graduates to qualify for District 86’s honors English program beginning in 2019-20.

READ: D181 Curriculum Overhaul: How Much Will It Cost?

Board President Michael Nelson said he does not believe he cast a vote Monday night for a “rigid” multi-year plan, but one that can evolve if need be.

“We’ve asked this group … to go out, review all the research that’s been done, come back with best practices, lay out a roadmap, and engage with people throughout the professional education community to help guide us in a vision, and then show us what year one, two, three, four and five would look like,” Nelson said. “They’ve done that.”

But Heneghan and Mayer said in their joint statement that they believe the plan “is not faithful” to Moon’s recommendations, is not fully explained in one document, was approved after the administration and task force avoided tough questions from board members, and is not well understood by the community as something that will affect all students, not just those previously identified as “gifted.”

Heneghan asked, “Is it fair to parents and community members to vote on the plan before there’s a public hearing to hear concerns?”

Mayer said she questioned whether acceleration across the district will benefit all students.

“It is ridiculous to conclude that this will have a positive impact on all learners,” Mayer said. “In fact, it will mostly likely increase the number of struggling learners who will need remedial and support services in order to keep up.”

In the end, however, both board members voted yes because it was clear the plan would be approved with or without their support.

Heneghan said “the only way to continue to help implement change is to support [the plan],” while Mayer voted yes “with the expectation that the administration will come to this board on a regular basis and report what’s been done, what is and isn’t working, and back it up with data.”

Along with Nelson, Sarah Lewensohn, Russell Rhoads and Marty Turek spoke positively of the plan.

“I am from the notion that we can’t afford not to do this at this point,” Turek said. “We must expect more from our kids in this highly competitive, dynamic world that we’re catapulting them into.”

Rhoads, who along with Mayer will be leaving the board after this spring’s election, had strong words before casting the final vote Monday night.

“I do think this is the best thing we’ve done since I’ve been on the board,” he said. 

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Carrie February 26, 2013 at 01:33 PM
Teachers who work with talented and gifted students realize two facts about their students. First, that in a gifted classroom there is a very wide range of abilities, wider than in the typical classroom. Second, they realize that asynchronous intellectual development is very common among gifted children. In other words, a gifted child can be extremely strong in one area and but not nearly as strong in another. Finally, CC standards for the primary grades are now considered to be developmentally inappropriate -- much too advanced for most children. For the district to accelerate these primary years could create a good deal of stress and change the way the children view school. For the sake of argument, we might assuming that roughly 25% of the district's students could be considered gifted. When considering these three conditions, the implementation of accelerated CC standards could well mean that most of the good and even some of the gifted students will require remediation to meet a developmentally inappropriate curriculum. That could amount to 50% of students. How will this affect college admissions?
Yvonne Mayer February 26, 2013 at 03:22 PM
Due to space limitations, I am submitting my comments in 3 parts. Yvonne Mayer, Board Member: Letter to the Community: Last night I voted to yes to approve the Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) proposed by the D181 administration. I did so with a heavy heart, after reading a joint statement in opposition to the plan along with Board Member Heneghan. This joint statement (which I would encourage all to listen to on the board meeting podcast available through the D181 website) described all of our concerns with the ALP. End of Part 1. Yvonne Mayer, Out-going D181 Board Member
Yvonne Mayer February 26, 2013 at 03:25 PM
Part 2: Letter to the Community: These concerns included the fact that the name of the plan is a misnomer, as it is no longer what it was originally intended to be – a plan to improve the identification and programs for the gifted students in the district. It has morphed into a plan to accelerate all students one year beyond the grade level Common Core Standards that will, by law, require districts to increase rigor for all students. To accelerate all students one grade level beyond the Common Core standards for all students, without first implementing the Common Core grade level programs and determining whether our students are successfully performing under the more rigorous curriculum, will, in my opinion, hurt many of our students. The community has not been given an opportunity to come before the board after reading a single, comprehensive document outlining the plan. Rather, the plan has been created in piecemeal fashion over a multitude of documents, and only recently have parents of non-gifted students realized that the plan will impact their children. Despite written requests from parents that the board provide a meeting at which they could come and ask questions about the plan before the board would vote, last night the majority of the board insisted that this was not necessary. End of Part 2. Yvonne Mayer, Out-going D181 Board Member
Yvonne Mayer February 26, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Part 3: Letter: I have only 3 meetings left before my term on the board expires. It will be up to the new board to ensure accountability by the administration. It will be up to the parents in the community to monitor the impact of the ALP in their children. Please do not remain silent if you have concerns about how the ALP is impacting your children. Speak up. Demand accountability. Immediately after approving the plan, the board approved a tentative calendar for 2013-2014 that will reduce instructional time by adding 8 late start days. Again, without allowing time for parent input on a plan that will require then to pay for D181 provided day care if their circumstances do not allow them to keep their students home those mornings. Bus service will not be provided for daycare, rather parents will be required to drive their children to school, even if they would otherwise have used bus transportation. This calendar can be revised before June. If you oppose this plan, please speak up now. The board also voted to approve a 4 days/ week summer schedule for administrators, despite all of the work that needs to be accomplished to implement the ALP plan by the start of school. I voted no because I do not think this is the summer where $80,000 in energy cost savings justifies reducing the required days administrators should work. Speak up now if you believe this shortened work schedule should not have been approved. Yvonne Mayer. D181 Board Member
Carrie February 26, 2013 at 04:00 PM
Here’s a tough critique on the standards and how they relate to early childhood education. It was written by Edward Miller, a writer and teacher who lives in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He is the co-author of “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School,” and you can reach him t ed@ed-at-large.com. Nancy Carlsson-Paige is professor emerita of early childhood education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of “Taking Back Childhood” and you can reach her at ncarlsson@lesley.edu. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/29/a-tough-critique-of-common-core-on-early-childhood-education/
Carrie February 26, 2013 at 04:26 PM
Here is another view of the Common Core standards by the noted education historian and NYU Professor Diane Ravitch. http://dianeravitch.net/2013/02/26/why-i-cannot-support-the-common-core-standards/
Carrie February 26, 2013 at 04:29 PM
Here is an excerpt of Dr. Ravitch's opinion. "I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation. "The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time. "Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences? "President Obama and Secretary Duncan often say that the Common Core standards were developed by the states and voluntarily adopted by them. This is not true."
Carrie February 26, 2013 at 04:37 PM
Another Ravitch excerpt is most appropriate for Hinsdale school district -- "Another reason I cannot support the Common Core standards is that I am worried that they will cause a precipitous decline in test scores, based on arbitrary cut scores, and this will have a disparate impact on students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, and students who are poor and low-performing. A principal in the Mid-West told me that his school piloted the Common Core assessments and the failure rate rocketed upwards, especially among the students with the highest needs. He said the exams looked like AP exams and were beyond the reach of many students. "When Kentucky piloted the Common Core, proficiency rates dropped by 30 percent. The Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents has already warned that the state should expect a sharp drop in test scores."
Carrie February 26, 2013 at 04:38 PM
Excerpt 3: What is the purpose of raising the bar so high that many more students fail? Rick Hess (American Enterprise Institute) opined that reformers were confident that the Common Core would cause so much dissatisfaction among suburban parents that they would flee their public schools and embrace the reformers’ ideas (charters and vouchers). Rick was appropriately doubtful that suburban parents could be frightened so easily.
Carrie February 26, 2013 at 04:44 PM
A coalition of teachers from New Trier, U of C Lab, and others sent an open letter Arne Duncan with their concerns about excessive standardized testing under the common core. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/02/15/open-letter-to-arne-duncan-from-chicago-teachers/?fb_action_ids=10200449691422832&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=timeline_og&action_object_map=%7B%2210200449691422832%22%3A428395740575352%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210200449691422832%22%3A%22og.recommends%22%7D&action_ref_map
DD Campbell February 26, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Why aren't we teaching foreign language from the beginning? What a perfect opportunity to apply 'no ceiling' assignments for gifted learners. Example: learn 5 greetings in the target language. 'Gifted' kids learn 20. Learn 10 regular 'ar' verbs. 'Gifted' kids learn 50. What a perfect vehicle to show your sparkle! And what happened to all-day kindergarten? That would be a good start for acceleration.
Brozowski February 28, 2013 at 07:15 PM
The only positive result of the passage of the ALP: Schuster and Nelson were exposed for the conspiring cohorts they are and will continue to be until the board changes and Nelson is no longer President. The fact they worked together behind the scenes to limit facts and information from emerging tells us we are in for one disappointment after another for the next two years as this so-called plan is rolled out. Hey,Turek; where was your accountability of Schuster and her enabling administrators this year during this admitted disastrous "transition plan?" Are you kidding? Ask your children if they are happy with a thrown together, non-research based, stressed out teacher-led programming this year, while Schuster and her administrators dance their way to a four-day work week this summer. And don't forget come next year, the children will have 8 days of less instructional time courtesy of Nelson, Turek, Rhoads, and Lewensohn, aka the rubber stampers who just can't seem to find a reason to vote for the well being of our kids.
Joe O'Donnell (Editor) February 28, 2013 at 07:39 PM
Thanks for the comment "Brozowksi." Point of clarification, however: The board approved a calendar for 2013-14 with 8 late starts throughout the year, which are two hours each. So it's not 8 days less of instructional time, but rather the equivalent of 2 to 3 days, if my math serves me.
Suzanne March 04, 2013 at 02:11 AM
The Board should have demanded that the Administration rename this plan and the Task force behind it to reflect what it actually is, a total curriculum and philosophy overhaul. The vast majority of the community wasn't even paying attention to this plan becuase they assumed that it was, as it was labeled for a year, an "Advanced Learning Plan" for gifted students. To continue to label it and vote on it as a plan for gifted students was deceptive, misleading and unethical as well as a huge disservice to the members of the community who were unaware of it and were prevented from educating themselves and providing input about the plan. Not to mention the teachers who voiced so many significant concerns in a recent survey conducted by the administration. An amazing display of arrogance by the Board members who supported this plan. Most of whom, it was obvious, had not even read most of the materials and research behind it. There were so many thoughtful and important questions asked about the plan, it's a shame that the Board didn't pursue legitimate answers to them. Like the plan or not, our children deserved at least this. Time for a new Board.
Carrie March 04, 2013 at 07:52 PM
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/03/us-education-database-idUSBRE92204W20130303 Candidates for the board need to ask parents opinions on the ISBE's proposal to lift the limits on class sizes for special ed students. Also, they need to hear what parents have to say about the state's agreement to provide highly detailed student data to a Gates Foundation funded non-profit, for use by any edu-tech company. Ask how the candidates will prevent ed "reformers" initiatives and RttT policies from hurting district students?

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