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:

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