Sent: 6/9/2010 7:57:32 A.M. Central Daylight Time
Subj: SLPS Watch by Susan Turk Back to the 3 R's for 14 Schools June 8, 2010
St. Louis Schools Watch
Back to the 3 R's for 14 Schools
June 8, 2010-- St. Louis--According to a May 6 email to the 14 SLPS principals, whose schools are participating in the Rensselaer Institute's School Turnaround program, SLPS Superintendent . Kelvin Adams "has okayed" a "resource alignment – in particular staffing, scheduling, and programs….Scheduling this year needs to include a minimum of 2.5 hours of math and 2.5 hours of communication arts. (italics ours) This means you will need to either exchange staffing allocations by replacing teachers who are exiting anyway with these subject areas or by cutting certain positions (in SS, science, PE, arts, computers)."
The email came from School Turnaround Chief Academic Officer Gillian Williams, a Teach for America alumna. The motivation for implementing such a huge chunk of the school day to math and com arts may be inspired by this statement from their website.
"School Turnaround is the one academic improvement program that is so confident that we can help you achieve, we offer a money back guarantee for failing school districts."
If they fail, they return the money they were paid and there would go their jobs. So,........... Not that it's the SLPS' money. They are being paid through a DESE grant.
During the 2009-2010 school year, the first year of this program, a minimum of 90 minutes of daily instruction in com arts and math was the practice at these schools. School Turnaround encouraged more but not all schools complied. It was reported that at L'Ouverture, the science teacher taught math all year and a history teacher taught communication arts even though they are not certificated in those subjects. No science was taught this year. Benchmark tests have probably alerted School Turnaround personnel to not expect much improvement in this year's MAP test scores. Consequently, they are resorting to a draconian measure, mandating a 66% increase in time spent on com arts and math.
From their website again,
"Under performing schools don't need more programs, committees, ideas, or even more money to improve. What failing schools need are leaders equipped with the tactics, focus, and energy to break the cycle of under performance and dramatically improve academic results."
"School Turnaround is a leadership development initiative that helps principals and superintendents immediately improve academic achievement at persistently low-performing schools. Our program is designed specifically for schools and districts where someone in power perceives a current failure that requires urgent intervention. While most educational initiatives are geared toward demonstrating student achievement that takes place over a long time period, School Turnaround is designed to bring about urgency and time-compressed change in one year."
"We offer this warranty: If the school does not achieve the specified student achievement targets that constitute initial turnaround success, we will refund the full cost to the district."
"School Turnaround is an intensive intervention and leadership development initiative that helps principals turn around failing or under performing schools. Here's what to expect:
"Before beginning any training or consulting, School Turnaround staff undertake initial research in the form of data analysis, school visits, and conversations with the principal. This allows School Turnaround to gain a deeper understanding of the current state of the school so that none of the work to follow is generic or "one size fits all"."
But all 14 schools are being subjected to a one size fits all regimen of a minimum of 2.5 hours a day each of math and com arts!
"Each team is assisted, supported, and challenged by a Turnaround Specialist. This partnership is the foundation of our work with schools.... Principals and Turnaround Specialists engage regularly through site visits, email, and phone communication. Unlike traditional mentoring programs, Turnaround Specialists maintain a low profile. Turnaround Specialists are clear that their feedback is important but that ultimately it is the principal and his or her team who will make the turnaround a success."
"At the end of the first year, participants attend a conference where they assess their initial targets and how well the results have met or exceeded them. Turnaround Specialists and other School Turnaround staff assist in looking carefully at this information. From the lessons learned, principals create a design for the next year that will continue the upward trajectory of academic achievement.....A core focus is on the principals' role in classrooms to help teachers modify teaching and learning to increase achievement."
Most of these schools are losing their principals. So the training expended on them this first year of the grant program has been wasted, although it reportedly didn't teach them anything they didn't already know. They will not be creating the design for their schools next year. School Turnaround will have to start from scratch with the new principals next year. Changing horses in mid race is not a strategy for success. Why is Dr. Adams doing that? To satisfy the call for blood among those who blame the teachers and principals for the low achievement of their disadvantaged students?
"Turnaround Leadership Development is based on the core School Turnaround belief that there is no change in the world that has ever been driven by a program or an idea or a mandate. All great changes in the world have been driven by individuals."
To a certain extent this is true enough. But there are a number of competent and capable veteran principals who are being removed from their posts. The only apparent reason is the requirements for the School Improvement Grants even though DESE has told Dr. Adams that they will only fund SIG's for 11 of the 21 schools which qualify.
The 14 schools participating in this program are Adams, Busch AAA, Carr Lane VPA, Cole EMINTS, Dunbar, Fanning, Gateway Math and Science, Hickey, Langston, Long, L'Ouverture, Monroe EMINTS, Stevens and Yeatman. They entered this program at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. Nine of them were subsequently named to the list of lowest performing schools in the state, eligible for federal School Improvement Grants, and assigned to the Transformation model to meet SIG eligibility. MAP scores at Adams, Busch, Cole, Hickey and Monroe were not low enough to qualify them for that designation.
Three of the schools are magnet schools. Busch AAA has an athletics emphasis. Busch students have traditionally had gym daily. One wonders how Busch parents will react when they learn that what they thought was an athletics emphasis school is now a math and language arts emphasis school.
Gateway Middle has had a math and science emphasis. Carr Lane is the Visual and Performing Arts Middle School. Past practice at Carr Lane has been for students to take 2 arts classes daily and also 2 com arts classes by the way. In response to the scheduling requirements set out in this email, the two visual arts teachers at Carr Lane have been eliminated. Plans are for the dance and music programs to continue to be offered but students will only have one of them for one day a week, less than would be offered at a non-magnet school where both music and art are offered once a week. As has been recently noted in the Watch, a fine and performing arts charter school is opening this fall in Grand Center. It will begin by enrolling students in grade 6. When parents from the Ames and Shaw Elementary VPA magnets learn that Carr Lane is no longer going to provide a VPA emphasis, what will happen? This mandate is a birthday gift to the Grand Center Arts Academy.
There are 7 hours in the school day. Half an hour is scheduled for lunch. Another half hour has been scheduled for movement between classes in middle schools. Many of these schools do not schedule time for recess.
If a minimum of 5 of those hours are spent on math and communication arts at these 9 middle schools and 5 elementary schools that will leave precious little time for instruction in anything else. As little as one hour a day might be available for the other required core subjects, science and social studies and the related arts subjects of music, art, computers, industrial tech, family and consumer science, and physical education.
The DESE, which provided the grant that is paying for these consultants, criticized the SLPS is last year's MSIP review for not meeting the following requirements in a few elementary schools for these subjects: 50 minutes per week of music instruction, 50 minutes per week of art instruction and 50 minutes per week of physical education. MSIP resource standard 1.1 states, "Each elementary student receives regular instruction in language arts, mathematics, social studies, comprehensive health, art, music and physical education."
In middle schools, MSIP resource standard 1.2 states, "Each junior high/middle school student will receive regular instruction in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, career education, health and physical education...art and music. Students in grades 7-8 will have regular instruction in United States and Missouri Constitutions and American History." SLPS were criticized in the MSIP for not providing 900 minutes per week total of the four core subjects of language arts, math, social studies and science for the eighth graders at Yeatman, one of the schools in this program. That amounts to 45 minutes per day for each of those four core classes. Being required to spend 150 minutes per day, 750 minutes per week on both math and com arts will ensure that the other core requirements are neglected. Yeatman was also cited in the MSIP for not providing physical education for 90 minutes/week to 7th grade students. Busch was cited for not offering 900 minutes of core classes for its 7th grade. Carr Lane was cited for not providing 900 minutes of core classes for its 8th grade. Fanning was cited for not providing 900 minutes of core courses for its 8th grade and not providing 90 minutes of physical education for its 7th grade. Long was cited for not providing 90 minutes of physical education for its 7th grade. L'Ouverture was cited for not providing any language arts classes for its 7th grade. Perhaps the failure to provide adequate time for core subjects at these schools contributed to the low performance that got them selected for this program.
Why is DESE paying for consultants who are ignoring their requirements? One well informed source reported that DESE has waived the need for the district to meet the requirements for the schools in this program. So, children are only entitled to a well rounded education when it suits DESE. It will be interesting to see whether they bother to mention that in their next MSIP review of the district.
One veteran teacher called the blind eye being turned to giving SLPS student required courses, "Disturbing from the point of view of wanting to do better and needing to do better for a population that suffers disproportionately from obesity and high blood pressure. Physical education is needed," he said. He continued, "This is a population that disproportionately doesn't vote. They need social studies. And they need science and technology for future jobs. If they aren't learning in the time given, adding more time won't improve learning." It would be one thing if they already didn't have double periods of math and com arts. But adding more than that because that isn't working, there is a point beyond which time on task isn't the issue. Carr Lane's com arts scores were on the rise until 2006 when the effects of the new curriculum imposed under the Williams/Spampinato/Mayor's school board administration began to be tested.
And why is Dr. Adams willing to take such eminently bad advice? Could it be because despite what DESE says about the subject matter students should study, they hypocritically only test students in math and com arts and those tests are the only indicators that count towards our regaining accreditation and meeting federal NCLB/RT3 requirements? Could it be that educating the whole child doesn't apply to low income/low performing children? Are we becoming a lab experiment for how much bad advice and bad practice urban families will allow their children to be subjected to? And how are we going to compete with charter schools which offer a full range of subjects?
It is noteworthy that this is happening at the end of the school year and that parents have not been notified. But they will find out eventually. Some of them, especially incoming magnet parents will feel they have been subjected to a bate and switch scheme. And some of them, out of anger and frustration, will remove their children from our schools.
Kids, who already don't like school, will like it less. "As they become increasingly bored and frustrated, there is the potential for discipline issues to emerge and then no one learns," one teacher said. "This is going to kill their interest," said a parent who asked to remain anonymous. "I want my children to get social studies, science and recess. If all they are doing is cramming for the MAP tests, the kids are going to rebell and parents are going to pull their kids out. This is going to drive everyone out of the system. If you are looking to have an educational experience comparable to the suburbs, it is evident you can't in the SLPS. This is a remedial, dumbed down program."
Board of Education President Peter Downs said, This is not a school improvement program. It is a school destruction program."
Staff are demoralized and experiencing outright anger and frustration, especially those who are certified to teach science and social studies. They don't know whether they will have jobs next year, and through no fault of their own. No one knows if there will be music classes in these schools next year. The decision has not been made public if it has been made. There is an expectation that PE won't be eliminated entirely.
A veteran administrator familiar with the program said that, "If scores do increase it would be because of good teaching and our curriculum coaches, not anything School Turnaround said or did. To the contrary, the students are being deprived of a well rounded education. It has become all about teaching to the test."
Local 420 is opposed to the extension of some courses at the expense of others. Union President Mary Armstrong told the Watch that, "We believe it is going to be a problem holding classes that long and eliminating crucial courses. It is a big mistake," she said. She has registered her objections with Dr. Adams and is hoping to negotiate changes in these plans.
Armstrong raised the issue of block scheduling, which is used in many of our middle and high schools. Under block scheduling students see core teachers every other day, not every day. Armstrong said this does not work for students who are behind. Some parents have complained about block scheduling even in successful schools like Metro HS, where it makes learning foreign languages and math more difficult for some students. There are other untried alternatives to raising student achievement, such as eliminating block scheduling, which the district has not tried and which are more likely to have positive results than the "bombarding" of students with com arts and math. Hopefully, Mary Armstrong and others will influence Dr. Adams' to modify this program.
A Teacher Responds
The following is comprised of excerpts from a letter from Fanning Middle School Social Studies teacher Nick Metropolis to fellow teachers, printed with the authors permission.
Hello brothers and sisters,
Many of you expressed that you were upset and even appalled at the letter given to us on Monday about School Turnaround's plan for next year. That letter was my snapping point. I had just went to Minneapolis that Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to a American Federation of Teachers conference with Dr. Adams, Sharonica Harding, and other administrators. With Local 420 we learned about how the federal government was looking at basing 51% of teacher evaluations on student standardized test scores. One essential point of the conference was for administrators and the unions to work collaboratively in effort to better education for students. In no way, shape, or form did we learn that eliminating social studies, science, art, music, or band and bombarding the students with and math would increase learning or test scores. That is why on Tuesday I made a speech that I believe represented the overall sentiment of the Fanning community and that's underline goal was to educate the children not improve test scores. That speech was as follows:
"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically... Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I just came back from Minneapolis, Minnesota where AFT 420 and the administration were there for a conference on evaluating teachers. What data and case studies found was that distinguished teachers were teachers who approached education by using holistic learning and
These consultants, whose primary objective is to make a financial profit for their personal gain, are advising our administrators and our superintendent to eliminate essential core subjects of social studies, science, art, music and physical education from our middle school curriculum. These consultants ignore the fact that our students have multiple intelligence's, various talents and can excel in various disciplines so long as they have the proper academic foundation to do so. While math and communication arts are important, they are only a part of the equation. These consultants ignore the fact that people do not only apply for jobs as writers and mathematicians. In fact, graduates of St. Louis Public Schools are notable lawyers, economists, scientists, doctors, athletes, musicians, architects, and yes-teachers. . They target every child with the belief that every child can learn and deserves the opportunity to do so. In other words, they taught their content by using all kinds of learning strategies; differentiated learning; and collaborated within all subjects on projects.
Think about when you decided that you wanted to be a teacher. Did you think that you would only target a fraction of the kids in your class and leave the others to fend for themselves. Did your teachers remove some of the students in your classroom and drill you with questions, looking for the right answer? Are we going to extinguish our students' desire to learn for the sake of learning simply so we can save our jobs? Any person who is willing to go along with this School Turnaround plan has clearly lost sight of the goal of education. When did schools become an assembly line process producing test takers like Ford produces cars? Intelligence plus character is the goal of true education. A teacher, administrator, or a superintendent that cares more about getting a paycheck every other week than to help students meet their goals is not truly an educator and has lost sight of the purpose of education.
Our students cannot advocate for themselves and many of the parents are unaware what is happening in their schools. That is why WE must advocate for the students. Otherwise we are not teachers and administrators, but babysitters.
United we stand,
6th Grade Social Studies Teacher, Team Leader
Building Steward/ AFT Rep.
Fanning Middle School