Teacher & Edu Staff Appreciation Day/Week – Thank You #Engage109

This is teacher, nurse, educational support staff (and administrator) appreciation week! We can never say thank you enough to our educators!! THANK YOU!

I’m sharing a quote I have held closely for many years and I’m sharing two notes I recently sent the DPS109 community.

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes.”
Maya Angelou


Dear District 109 Families and Community Members,

At its last meeting, the Board of Education declared Tuesday, May 9, 2017 as Teacher Appreciation Day in District 109. Please join the Board of Education and the District administration team in applauding our teachers and all of the educators and support staff throughout District 109 who work so hard each day. We have high-achieving, nationally recognized, innovative, warm and welcoming schools because amazing teachers engage, inspire and empower our students – your children, grandchildren, and the children of your friends and neighbors!

I encourage you to find a way to show your support to your favorite teacher, or any school staff member who makes a difference in the lives of the children in our community. Whether you write a heartfelt, handwritten note, have your child create a work of art, or just go out of your way to say a personal “Thank you,” you are giving a great gift. They deserve all the thanks that we can shower upon them!

Sincerely,
Mike


“If we neglect our gifts and talents, they, like an unused muscle, will atrophy and waste away.”  Stephen Covey

Dear District 109 Teachers and Staff,

The Board of Education recently approved our 2017 Strategic Plan. The planning process was both reflective and forward thinking, and very eye-opening to me. I realized how much we have accomplished in four short years.  I also acknowledge and thank you for being open to change. I know that’s not easy. Your leaps of faith and constant hard work have allowed our students to thrive, and schools to achieve local, regional and national recognition. In the strategic planning process we should all be proud of the input and impact of that input. Your voices and your input helped shape the goals, objectives and plans. I look forward to working with you and for you to achieve our goals in the coming years.

On April 24, the Board of Education declared Tuesday, May 9, 2017 Teacher Appreciation Day in District 109. The community will celebrate you throughout the week. To show our thanks, the District administration and Board will provide a gift and special treat at some point during the week. They are small tokens of our boundless appreciation of you and your continual work to engage, inspire and empower our students, their parents, your colleagues, and our community.

So THANK YOU, from me personally, and from the Board of Education and District leaders, for allowing us to work with the best team of educators in the nation.

Sincerely,
Mike

What is your Longpath? Thinking about the Future – TED Talk – #engage109

“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.”
– Laird Hamilton

In this post I’m sharing a TED talk that I enjoyed, and I believe serves as a good reminder for our fast “immediate” world. Ari Wallach’s talk caused me to think about reflection, he asks …”to what end”, how far out do we think? The speaker, Ari Wallach has a good message. Reactions/Responses are always welcome.

Tomorrow I’m joining hundreds of other Illinois Superintendents with Tweets, emails, blog posts, etc. in support of a LONG TERM IL funding solution; for too long we in IL Education have been victims of the short term.

Transcript:
So I’ve been “futuring,” which is a term I made up —
0:15
(Laughter)
0:16
about three seconds ago. I’ve been futuring for about 20 years, and when I first started, I would sit down with people, and say, “Hey, let’s talk 10, 20 years out.” And they’d say, “Great.” And I’ve been seeing that time horizon get shorter and shorter and shorter, so much so that I met with a CEO two months ago and I said — we started our initial conversation. He goes, “I love what you do. I want to talk about the next six months.”
0:44
(Laughter)
0:47
We have a lot of problems that we are facing. These are civilizational-scale problems. The issue though is, we can’t solve them using the mental models that we use right now to try and solve these problems. Yes, a lot of great technical work is being done, but there is a problem that we need to solve for a priori, before, if we want to really move the needle on those big problems. “Short-termism.” Right? There’s no marches. There’s no bracelets. There’s no petitions that you can sign to be against short-termism. I tried to put one up, and no one signed. It was weird.
1:26
(Laughter)
1:28
But it prevents us from doing so much. Short-termism, for many reasons, has pervaded every nook and cranny of our reality. I just want you to take a second and just think about an issue that you’re thinking, working on. It could be personal, it could be at work or it could be move-the-needle world stuff, and think about how far out you tend to think about the solution set for that.
1:52
Because short-termism prevents the CEO from buying really expensive safety equipment. It’ll hurt the bottom line. So we get the Deepwater Horizon. Short-termism prevents teachers from spending quality one-on-one time with their students. So right now in America, a high school student drops out every 26 seconds. Short-termism prevents Congress — sorry if there’s anyone in here from Congress —
2:23
(Laughter)
2:25
or not really that sorry —
2:27
(Laughter)
2:29
from putting money into a real infrastructure bill. So what we get is the I-35W bridge collapse over the Mississippi a few years ago, 13 killed. It wasn’t always like this. We did the Panama Canal. We pretty much have eradicated global polio. We did the transcontinental railroad, the Marshall Plan. And it’s not just big, physical infrastructure problems and issues. Women’s suffrage, the right to vote. But in our short-termist time, where everything seems to happen right now and we can only think out past the next tweet or timeline post, we get hyper-reactionary.
3:07
So what do we do? We take people who are fleeing their war-torn country, and we go after them. We take low-level drug offenders, and we put them away for life. And then we build McMansions without even thinking about how people are going to get between them and their job. It’s a quick buck.
3:25
Now, the reality is, for a lot of these problems, there are some technical fixes, a lot of them. I call these technical fixes sandbag strategies. So you know there’s a storm coming, the levee is broken, no one’s put any money into it, you surround your home with sandbags. And guess what? It works. Storm goes away, the water level goes down, you get rid of the sandbags, and you do this storm after storm after storm. And here’s the insidious thing. A sandbag strategy can get you reelected. A sandbag strategy can help you make your quarterly numbers.
4:05
Now, if we want to move forward into a different future than the one we have right now, because I don’t think we’ve hit — 2016 is not peak civilization.
4:15
(Laughter)
4:16
There’s some more we can do. But my argument is that unless we shift our mental models and our mental maps on how we think about the short, it’s not going to happen.
4:27
So what I’ve developed is something called “longpath,” and it’s a practice. And longpath isn’t a kind of one-and-done exercise. I’m sure everyone here at some point has done an off-site with a lot of Post-It notes and whiteboards, and you do — no offense to the consultants in here who do that — and you do a long-term plan, and then two weeks later, everyone forgets about it. Right? Or a week later. If you’re lucky, three months. It’s a practice because it’s not necessarily a thing that you do. It’s a process where you have to revisit different ways of thinking for every major decision that you’re working on. So I want to go through those three ways of thinking.
5:08
So the first: transgenerational thinking. I love the philosophers: Plato, Socrates, Habermas, Heidegger. I was raised on them. But they all did one thing that didn’t actually seem like a big deal until I really started kind of looking into this. And they all took, as a unit of measure for their entire reality of what it meant to be virtuous and good, the single lifespan, from birth to death. But here’s a problem with these issues: they stack up on top of us, because the only way we know how to do something good in the world is if we do it between our birth and our death. That’s what we’re programmed to do. If you go to the self-help section in any bookstore, it’s all about you. Which is great, unless you’re dealing with some of these major issues. And so with transgenerational thinking, which is really kind of transgenerational ethics, you’re able to expand how you think about these problems, what is your role in helping to solve them.
6:12
Now, this isn’t something that just has to be done at the Security Council chamber. It’s something that you can do in a very kind of personal way. So every once in a while, if I’m lucky, my wife and I like to go out to dinner, and we have three children under the age of seven. So you can imagine it’s a very peaceful, quiet meal.
6:30
(Laughter)
6:32
So we sit down and literally all I want to do is just eat and chill, and my kids have a completely and totally different idea of what we’re going to be doing. And so my first idea is my sandbag strategy, right? It’s to go into my pocket and take out the iPhone and give them “Frozen” or some other bestselling game thing. And then I stop and I have to kind of put on this transgenerational thinking cap. I don’t do this in the restaurant, because it would be bizarre, but I have to — I did it once, and that’s how I learned it was bizarre.
7:09
(Laughter)
7:10
And you have to kind of think, “OK, I can do this.” But what is this teaching them? So what does it mean if I actually bring some paper or engage with them in conversation? It’s hard. It’s not easy, and I’m making this very personal. It’s actually more traumatic than some of the big issues that I work on in the world — entertaining my kids at dinner. But what it does is it connects them here in the present with me, but it also — and this is the crux of transgenerational thinking ethics — it sets them up to how they’re going to interact with their kids and their kids and their kids.
7:47
Second, futures thinking. When we think about the future, 10, 15 years out, give me a vision of what the future is. You don’t have to give it to me, but think in your head. And what you’re probably going to see is the dominant cultural lens that dominates our thinking about the future right now: technology. So when we think about the problems, we always put it through a technological lens, a tech-centric, a techno-utopia, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s something that we have to really think deeply about if we’re going to move on these major issues, because it wasn’t always like this. Right? The ancients had their way of thinking about what the future was. The Church definitely had their idea of what the future could be, and you could actually pay your way into that future. Right? And luckily for humanity, we got the scientific revolution. From there, we got the technology, but what has happened — And by the way, this is not a critique. I love technology. Everything in my house talks back to me, from my children to my speakers to everything.
8:55
(Laughter)
8:58
But we’ve abdicated the future from the high priests in Rome to the high priests of Silicon Valley. So when we think, well, how are we going to deal with climate or with poverty or homelessness, our first reaction is to think about it through a technology lens. And look, I’m not advocating that we go to this guy. I love Joel, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not saying we go to Joel. What I’m saying is we have to rethink our base assumption about only looking at the future in one way, only looking at it through the dominant lens. Because our problems are so big and so vast that we need to open ourselves up.
9:40
So that’s why I do everything in my power not to talk about the future. I talk about futures. It opens the conversation again. So when you’re sitting and thinking about how do we move forward on this major issue — it could be at home, it could be at work, it could be again on the global stage — don’t cut yourself off from thinking about something beyond technology as a fix because we’re more concerned about technological evolution right now than we are about moral evolution. And unless we fix for that, we’re not going to be able to get out of short-termism and get to where we want to be.
10:18
The final, telos thinking. This comes from the Greek root. Ultimate aim and ultimate purpose. And it’s really asking one question: to what end? When was the last time you asked yourself: To what end? And when you asked yourself that, how far out did you go? Because long isn’t long enough anymore. Three, five years doesn’t cut it. It’s 30, 40, 50, 100 years.
10:45
In Homer’s epic, “The Odyssey,” Odysseus had the answer to his “what end.” It was Ithaca. It was this bold vision of what he wanted — to return to Penelope. And I can tell you, because of the work that I’m doing, but also you know it intuitively — we have lost our Ithaca. We have lost our “to what end,” so we stay on this hamster wheel. And yes, we’re trying to solve these problems, but what comes after we solve the problem? And unless you define what comes after, people aren’t going to move. The businesses — this isn’t just about business — but the businesses that do consistently, who break out of short-termism not surprisingly are family-run businesses. They’re transgenerational. They’re telos. They think about the futures. And this is an ad for Patek Philippe. They’re 175 years old, and what’s amazing is that they literally embody this kind of longpathian sense in their brand, because, by the way, you never actually own a Patek Philippe, and I definitely won’t —
11:41
(Laughter)
11:42
unless somebody wants to just throw 25,000 dollars on the stage. You merely look after it for the next generation.
11:49
So it’s important that we remember, the future, we treat it like a noun. It’s not. It’s a verb. It requires action. It requires us to push into it. It’s not this thing that washes over us. It’s something that we actually have total control over. But in a short-term society, we end up feeling like we don’t. We feel like we’re trapped. We can push through that.
12:13
Now I’m getting more comfortable in the fact that at some point in the inevitable future, I will die. But because of these new ways of thinking and doing, both in the outside world and also with my family at home, and what I’m leaving my kids, I get more comfortable in that fact. And it’s something that a lot of us are really uncomfortable with, but I’m telling you, think it through. Apply this type of thinking and you can push yourself past what’s inevitably very, very uncomfortable.
12:47
And it all begins really with yourself asking this question: What is your longpath? But I ask you, when you ask yourself that now or tonight or behind a steering wheel or in the boardroom or the situation room: push past the longpath, quick, oh, what’s my longpath the next three years or five years? Try and push past your own life if you can because it makes you do things a little bit bigger than you thought were possible.
13:19
Yes, we have huge, huge problems out there. With this process, with this thinking, I think we can make a difference. I think you can make a difference, and I believe in you guys.
13:34
Thank you.
13:35
(Applause)

I Voted Today! What does this mean? Decision Making #engage109

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”
– Andrew Carnegie

Democracy is a value ingrained in the “DNA” of Americans. Our entire education system is based upon democratic principles, our Declaration of Independence from the British Monarchy declares our rights to be independent (men and women).  “…certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Liberty is the right most closely aligned with voting. The right to give input is a foundational right we enjoy. We apply and extend democratic principles all through the tapestry of our society.

Ten year olds “vote” for the student council (a governance model in the image of our government). Associations vote their members in for leadership positions. In the USA, we feel it is normal and just to vote for pretty much anything.

Some of you reading this will remember commercials where people voted for the better tasting soft drink on TV. Often couples will vote on which restaurant to attend. Families may vote on what colors to paint their rooms. The concept of voting, choosing, giving input is almost an assumed right as an American. The will of the majority rules so many of our institutions of government and society. The majority rule, though, is not the only rule in democratic societies. The rule of 3/5 or “super majority” as well as the rule of “plurality” (the number of votes cast for a candidate who receives more than any other but does not receive an absolute majority.)

In leadership, though, even in a democratic republic, sometimes the elected representatives vote in a different way than their constituents. This does not mean theydisregard the input, it simply means that multiple factors influence decisions.

In general, if you don’t vote can you really complain about the decisions made on your behalf? No, I don’t think so, that’s why I vote; I want to have a voice, whether it is a large voice or a small voice, whether my candidate choices win or not – at least I can say I voted! I went to the table to give my input and in some small way I contributed to our democratic way of life.

I vote for candidates who I believe will represent me, my values, my interests, and the choices I would make if I were in their shoes. I don’t expect the folks for whom I cast a ballot to always agree with me, at times, perhaps often, they will be better educated on the particular issues than I.

In the United States our government and ways of life are more Roman than Greek. That is to say we follow a republican form of government (not the political party) but it’s a representative democracy concept. We don’t employ a direct democracy where everyone gets one vote; we have a representative democracy. This means we vote for people who will represent the views of groups of people. For example, members of Congress are assigned to districts, geographic areas, representing certain numbers of people. This is why the decennial census (the population count every 10 years) is so important to political map-makers.

  • I vote in every election.
  • I vote because I can.
  • I vote because I am a free man.
  • I vote because it is my civic duty.
  • I vote because it is my responsibility as a free man to exercise this powerful right – the right to give input as to whom should represent me and my interests.
  • I vote because I hold great value in the power of representative democracy.
  • I vote because I would like to have my input considered.
  • I vote so I can share my views and values and be a responsible member of society.

One of the tenets of voting that some people overlook is that their vote is going to elect others who will represent their interests. Will those for whom I cast a ballot always vote the way I want them to? No – of course not.

Will they take my follow up input under consideration? Yes – that is the beauty of a democratic republic, the type of society in which we live. I would like everyone I vote for to become elected. But that is unlikely since there are many other voters and that is not a realistic wish. I understand this and I’m ok with this.

As a regular part of my role as the superintendent of schools, I regularly give input to our elected representatives in Washington, D.C., and in Springfield, IL. I would like them to consider my input even if they disagree with it. They may disagree in principle or they may disagree because they are better informed, or they may disagree for political reasons. They also may take my input and form, reform, or transform their beliefs!

I vote for school board members (even my own bosses!); I vote for village trustees and township trustees; I vote for friends, neighbors, colleagues, folks about whom I know a lot and at times, I vote for folks about whom I do not know a lot, but who are aligned with a political coalition I support or understand.

Many voters select based upon political party or candidate gender or candidate ethnicity. It is free choice; people can literally vote for anyone who is on the ballot (and at times they can enter a “write-in” candidate too). That is the beauty of living in a free society.

What does democracy mean in the workplace?

I consider myself to be an inclusive and collaborative leader. I seek input and views and votes from the people likely to be impacted by a decision or set of decisions. I work in an industry full of committees, viewpoints, processes, procedures, etc.

I work for an elected non-partisan school board made of seven citizens who, with me, form a governance team of 8 to manage and govern the school district. I seek input from the nearly 500 employees whom I serve and employ.

Do I always agree with every one of their votes? (no) Do I always do what the will of the majority requests? (no) The plurality (the larger number of votes when a majority is not there)? (no)

Or do I consider their input with care, concern, and respect, and make a decision based upon the combination of input, voice, votes, research, evidence, etc. YES – As a leader I truly have to balance the will of the many with the right decision – often equal or congruous with the will – but not always.

The paradox of leadership is leading with an inspired vision and per a collective plan, mission, agenda, vision, etc.

Seeking input, empowering people yet “at the end of the day” realizing that “the buck stops here” and the accountability and responsibility rests with the leader.

Not following the will of the majority is not rejecting input. Not following the will of the majority is not “not listening”. From time to time the leader must seek input, gather facts, anticipate impact and … well … lead. Sometimes leading means helping the group see a different reality than the one they think they want or the one they think is right.

Recently as part of our work, I shared committee recommendations and my administrative recommendation to the Board of Education (there were sometimes differences in the committee recommendation and my ultimate decision). These examples about which I refer are from the 2013-14 Superintendent’s Task Force for Middle Level Education. This coalition of students, parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders, and board members, a 140 member stakeholder community engagement group, made recommendations for improvement to our middle schools.

I took input from many, shared the input publicly, reviewed a number of factors, synthesized the priorities and make a recommendation. For the elective areas I took all the votes/input and I made a recommendation with some differences. The input continues to guide decision making and resource allocation. The STEM team recommendations were accepted 100%.

The challenge of a leader in a democracy is to respect input and consider the votes and then decide what is in the best interest of the many and to lead. The leader may know more and be able to see around corners the people cannot yet see. The leader often needs to have vision beyond the past experiences and limits of the group. The leader needs to lead and challenge the process and manage the change process.

Does your vote and your input guarantee that your choices will be advocated? No – just like the village trustee for whom I cast a ballot will vote his/her conscious when employees give input, or vote, if you will, they are giving input to the representatives who will ultimately decide what action to take. Your vote does guarantee that your views will be at the table and respectfully reviewed and considered!

What does a leader do when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and the future for which he is leading requires systemic unlearning? Well … with compassion and conviction, he leads.


I’m proud I voted today.

I’m proud that the educators with whom I work continue to share voice, vote, values, viewpoints and vision.

I’m proud to share the Deerfield Public Schools District 109 new Strategic Plan later this month.

The mission, vision, guiding principles, portrait of a graduate, goals, objectives and action plans have been carefully prepared, reviewed, planned, and considered.

The Strategic Plan is created by reviewing input of more than 1700 stakeholders – those who voted in surveys have their voice represented. Those who participated in focus groups have their voice represented. Those who Engage, Inspire and Empower have their voice represented as we “rebrand” and “re form” our educational organization for the next several years.

Khan Academy Leader on Mastery Learning – #Engage109


“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

– Jack Welch

I’m a longtime fan and supporter of Sal Khan and his Khan Academy. Khan started his “education empire” by helping a cousin overseas with math instruction. Then the world changed, the desire for his expertise changed, and pretty much anyone at anytime can learn – for FREE. All you need is drive, desire, and the internet connection. The subjects and topics have grown from math to pretty much everything (see image below). FREE – access for all – 24/7. This is our world today – anyone, anytime, anything at our fingertips. 

A few years ago when I was the superintendent of schools at a small school district near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (Pennoyer School District 79 in Norridge), we experimented with the Khan Academy in 2nd grade math. It was our first foray into “1:2 computing” – we did not have the funds for one device per student, but we had the funds for one device for two students and we made it work! The courageous teachers, Melissa and Samantha did a fabulous job of demonstrating grit, perseverance, and growth mindset by shifting their construct and concept of math and by changing their instruction to meet the needs of modern 21st Century learners.

In many ways Khan and his modern work have revolutionized access, digital power, transformation, and an entire mindset shift of what education is and can be – and should become. A lot of the work I have been writing about lately is stated far more eloquently and articulately by Sal Khan!

Earlier this year I participated in a book study with Kipling School and their faculty where we took a chapter, topic, concept, and wrote reflections. The other day I was reading Pioneering from the Education Reimagined group, and I came across a 2016 video from Khan that relates to recent posts as well as current events in the Deerfield Public Schools District 109. Our journey is powerful and we have written a number of articles about successful change management and growth for staff and students. Our journey continues – the road from good to great does not end at great – it only continues to stay great.

His messages are powerful, his approaches make sense, Khan is the present and the future! Please check out his video and share any comments.

Addressing Equity -Opportunity- Acceleration for All #Engage109

“Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Winston Churchill
 

In the Deerfield Public Schools, District 109, we have decided to make a change to mathematics program delivery models starting in

ENGAGE, INSPIRE, EMPOWER

the 2017-18 school year in the 6th grade. We are going to eliminate “regular math” and offer “accelerated math” for all.

We engaged in a comprehensive review of our own student performance (status, growth, standardized test results) data and decision making processes. We also consulted with our research analytics partners, the ECRA team, as well as board members, we are confident that the right steps moving forward involve changing the math delivery model in 6th grade. We also made this decision after speaking with district and building administrators and a comprehensive review of research and data.

This equitable math curriculum delivery model change is based upon a substantial body of educational research, two years of our student performance data analyzed by professional psychometricians, and our unified, ongoing desire to create and sustain the most effective and proven structures for student learning possible. 
This decision is also supported by emerging themes of needed differentiation stemming from the input and analysis of the strategic plan information (from more than 1700 people’s input).
  • Strategic Planning Update: Board of Education President Nick Begley commended his fellow Board members and the administrators for a productive strategic planning meeting on Saturday, January 21. Dr. Lubelfeld reported that the District gathered input from more than 1,700 people as part of the process. He explained that the strategic planning process is an opportunity for stakeholders provide guidance to the Board to set the path of the District. The District 109 Board reviewed all the input and worked with ECRA in a half-day workshop to develop a draft plan that  includes the mission, vision, portrait of a graduate, guiding principles, goals and objectives. The administrative team will meet on January 31 to review the objective statements as they begin to plan the action plans to meet the objectives and goals. At the February 13 Committee of the Whole meeting, the Board and administrative team will meet to bring together their work. The final plan will be presented to the Board for action at the March 20, 2017 meeting.

 

As district and building and community leaders,we feel it’s incumbent upon us to design instructional structures that meet the needs of all children and provide equitable educational opportunities for all students. The current delivery model is providing barriers to access for some students, denying them the best opportunity to successfully master grade level standards.
The fact that less than 27% of 6th grade students enrolled in regular math for the past two years met minimum standards is simply unacceptable. We are not assigning blame to any teachers, of course, yet we are also not willing to make excuses for these results or overlook these results.
In our local situation, we discovered that sixty two students were enrolled in regular math (over the past few years) yet they had similar historical achievement levels to 32 students in accelerated math.  The 32 students in accelerated math grew at higher rates than the 62 students in regular math.
 
The issues surrounding how to best meet the needs of students is part of a broader look at education in general. Over the years, most recently through John Hattie’s meta-analysis of school studies, researchers have “proven”/found” that various instructional methods and organizational approaches have differing effects on student learning. Hattie’s findings relating to ability-based grouping are simply not encouraging.
 
In considering changing the model of 6th grade math offerings, members of the administration have reviewed and studied an abundance of research related to tracking, ability grouping, and instruction. In addition, the partnership with ECRA Group has allowed us to review and analyze multiple points of local student performance data over the past few years in each “program.”
 
Sharing one of many videos about ability grouping – causing us to pause, think, and “unlearn” for children – ALL children!

Our 6th grade math model moving forward calls for four sections of accelerated math on each middle school team with TAP (our gifted ed and high achieving track) still remaining separate. We understand that this will be a change for our current sixth grade math teachers.
However, it is worth noting what will not change: 6th grade teachers will move from teaching 4 sections of 6th grade math to 4 sections of 6th grade math with the curriculum map standards (as the “floor” for all students, but the “ceiling” for none) remaining identical to what they are now. The expectation for differentiation is not new, it’s done every day in every K-5 classroom across the district, and it has been happening in our middle school classrooms as well for decades.
 
We believe children must be allowed to show competence and mastery of their grade level standards, and when they do, the teacher must allow them to move beyond in an effort to remove the limits on our students.
 
Finally, this entire change process directly relates to the PLC (professional learning communities) work in which we have been involved. There are four basic questions we all must continuously ask and reflect upon every day:
 
  1. What do we expect our children to know and be able to do? (As mentioned before, with this change the answer will be the same: the 6th grade CCSS for mathematics will be the floor for all students and the ceiling for none).
  2. How will we know if they learned it? (Again, largely nothing will change; we will continue to use MAP, PARCC, DCA, and ongoing daily formative assessment data to monitor our results)
  3. How will we respond when some children do not learn? (Our answer to this question, based on all available data the past two years, is the “why” of this whole movement. This is something we’ve examined extensively and–having done so–determined we must now respond systemically; something must change to determine if we can get better results moving forward)
  4. How will we respond when some students already know/can do? (We want to spend more time on answering this question next year with the acceleration for all model, in which we insist on 6th standards as floor for all, yet the ceiling for none. How can we individualize/personalize 6th grade math instruction to make sure the ceiling is limitless for kids)
 

Internally we shared some of the following background information and resource collection:

There has been a lot of discussion, thinking, review and reflection about the administration’s goal to reduce tracking at the sixth grade math level next year. Our aim is to raise expectations and remove limits to student growth by making all or just about all math (except TAP/gifted) accelerated. Our “acceleration for all” philosophy is driven by research, best practices, literature, experience, professional judgement, resources available to us, and the performance on the achievement test of children in the “regular” class for the past two years. One hypothesis for the poor performance is the ill effects of ability grouping/tracking as has been in place. In addition, the past few years offers us incredible gains and growth – never before seen or experienced in the district. Our student performance K-5 is impacting needed changes in models at grades 6-8.

Please see these videos for perspectives from experts on tracking and ability grouping:

This is a complex and multifaceted issue that tracking alone does not explain. We believe that raising expectations for all students in the current “regular track” will improve student performance.


Additional literature/research information on this well researched topic:

According to Mary Fletcher, there are many benefits to expect when instructional staff are conversant with and dedicated to differentiated instruction and detracking:

  • Differentiation allows more students to feel invested in the lesson, thereby decreasing behavioral problems. Students who previously opted to be viewed as “bad” rather than “stupid” will have their learning needs met and other talents explored, allowing them to drop the “bad” act and become instead a valuable member of the class.

  • Students who might have been considered less intelligent because they learn in a nontraditional way become invaluable contributors to the heterogeneous classroom.

  • Differentiated instruction encourages flexibility. Teachers thus become adept at adapting lessons to fulfill each student’s individual needs.

  • Detracking removes the limits that come with rigid thinking about how learning should and does occur. Fair does not always mean “the same.” For example, allowing a student who struggles with the physical act of writing to type his notes can benefit that student and the rest of the class. Not only does the student get access to the material, but the entire class has a reliable set of notes that can be used for those who were absent. This student now becomes an expert—and essential—note-taker who takes pride in his responsibility and sees himself as a member of the class.

Eliminate the Lowest Track First

There is little doubt that tracking does the most harm to students who are consigned to the lowest track. According to the National Research Council (NRC), low-track classes have an especially deleterious effect on learning, since such classes are “typically characterized by an exclusive focus on basic skills, low expectations, and the least qualified teachers” (Heubert & Hauser, 1999, p. 282).

The preponderance of research regarding low-track classes was so overwhelmingly negative that the NRC concluded that students should not be educated in low-track classes as they are currently designed (Heubert & Hauser, 1999). It makes sense, therefore, to begin by eliminating the classes that do the most harm to students.

Why Ability Grouping Doesn’t Work by Shirley Clarke

Detracking for Excellence and Equity compilation of research findings from several sources

Moving Beyond Tracking by Wm Mathis

From: The Mathematics of Hope: Moving from Performance to Learning in Mathematics Classrooms– Jo Boaler:

Other changes need to happen as well. Mathematics teachers need to stop frequent, timed testing; replace grades with diagnostic feedback (Black et al. 2002; Boaler & Foster 2014); and deemphasize speed, so that the students who think slowly and deeply are not led to believe they are not capable (Boaler, 2014). Perhaps most significantly and most radically, schools should also remove fixed student groupings that transmit fixed mindset messages and replace them with flexible groupings that recognize that students have different strengths at different times (Boaler 2009; Boaler & Foster 2014).

Keeping Track: The Policy and Practice of Curriculum Inequality (Oakes)

Current DPS 109 5th Grade Data to review for Placement Discussions

Potential Resources for teachers:

Jo Boaler’s Online course for Teachers

Why Do Americans Stink at Math by Elizabeth Green

The American Math Crisis– Forthcoming Math Documentary

The Stereotypes that Distort How Americans Teach and Learn Math by Jo Boaler

How Math Should Be Taught – Jo Boaler

When You Believe In Your Students They Do Better -Jo Boaler


As always we welcome comments, thoughts, challenges, examples, etc!