kitchen table math, the sequel: Meet the new boss

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Meet the new boss

Our new $240K $250K superintendent, the one who was to bring accountability, college prep, and every-child-every-dayness to my district, is leading the annual fall effort to set goals.

(Fall is for goals; winter and spring are for threatening to cut Latin and Greek if we don't override the tax cap.)

Thus far, he is in charge of framing the discussion, and since the board no longer allows comments at the beginning of meetings, he may remain in charge. We will see.

Irvington parents aren't meek. A couple of weeks ago, the super attempted to push through, with just two days' community notice and on a consensus vote,  two "speech policies," the purpose of which was to sharply curtail (if not eliminate altogether) student First Amendment rights. That effort was crushed by a hardy group of parents and high school kids who shredded both the policies and the impetus behind them. It was a debacle and, judging by the look on the super's face the night everyone turned out, it may have been the first real parent uprising of his career.

In any event, the district is now the recipient of two letters from Adam Goldstein, the second of which a high school student read out loud during the board meeting. He did a fabulous job. Very witty.

But back to the goals of fall. The superintendent believes we should ask "challenging questions" (challenging questions constructed by him, not us). Last year the challenging question was: What does success look like?

A close reading of the above slide reveals a pattern in the use of evaluative adjectives:

Without the adjectives, we have:

Or, alternatively, adding evaluative adjectives to the first option, we get:

Et voilĂ :

So that was last year's challenging question.

This year's challenging question for parents and taxpayers to ponder is:
  • [Should our district goal be admission to] Ivy League vs. schools with top programs for the areas our students are interested in[?]
e.g.: So-and-so knows a student who is super-smart and could definitely get into a top college but he wants to be "X" when he grows up, so he's going to attend a lesser-ranked college because it has the top program in his desired field of "X."

That's what we want!

We shouldn't obsess over Ivy League schools!

Fine, I won't, but I know brainy kids with very high SAT scores who are not getting into Big-10 schools. That's a problem.

The super also reports that the district has put 'technology' on the back burner (wrong), so now technology is going to be on the front burner. I bet if we play our cards right, we can be the first kids on the block to invest in Smart Tables! (The sturdy pedestal prevents tipping by even the most enthusiastic learners....)

The board asked him if he could come up with a couple of "deliverables." Last year's goals, they said, were too broad; this year they'd like a deliverable. Or two.

That is a fabulous word, deliverable. I wish I'd thought of it.


Anonymous said...

"Deliverable" as a bizspeak noun started around 1980 and peaked around 2004. It is on its way out now.

lgm said...

My district is focused on 'School to Work'. I take that to mean the IB program will not be restored until the population changes as dramatically as it did after 9/11.

SteveH said...

My son helped start a "Student Union" group at his school this year because they clearly saw the difference between the language of the rules for students in their handbook versus the language used in the teacher contract. They clearly see teachers doing things that would give students detentions.

SteveH said...

"... but I know brainy kids with very high SAT scores, full-pay customers, who are not getting into Big-10 schools. That's a problem."

There is a big anti-AP crowd out there. You have to watch out when they use AP and Ivy League in the same sentence.

"How personalized can/should learning be?"

Is this a problem? Are class sizes a problem? Some might use "Ivy League" to reduce the number of AP classes to save money.

How many tracks/levels does Irvington have? We have AP, Honors, College Prep, and General. AP and Honors are equivalent to the "college prep" level I had when I was in school. Clearly, larger high schools are able to afford "personalization" more than smaller schools. You also have to watch out when they contrast AP and "happy, well-rounded students who are engaged in meaningful learning experiences."

Karen W said...

Irvington parents are awesome--I'd like to see parents push back more often around here.

Our local school board moved comments to the beginning of the meeting, and I think recently dropped the comments from every other meeting. There was an attempt to ban signs at school board meetings, but after public outcry, they decided not to pursue it.

Anonymous said...

Scarsdale parents forced their schools to switch to Singapore Math a few years ago. Yeah! This week, in, there's an article about kindergarten redshirting; a third of kids, and 70% of boys, born in the second half of the year are redshirted. Interesting article - particularly since the younger kids in their classes have higher GPAs as seniors. Sorry for the off-topic, but it's local

cranberry said...

APs and happy, engaged learners are not mutually exclusive things. I would expect an affluent community of professional parents to have more children well suited for academic study than the norm.

What does "meaningful learning experience" mean? This term is not defined. "Happy" is not the job of the schools, and yes, I believe that there are students who are happier when their courses are interesting and challenging.

I do not want my children's course of study "personalized" to the point that they are ineligible for admission to selective colleges. There is so much to learn before the age of 18, I don't think education can be tailored to individual interests. You really should know history, even if you plan to become an insurance agent or bicycle deliveryman.

Anonymous said...

Education starts out very personalized -- after all, it's delivered by parents, to individual children from birth. But it needs to end up not very personalized at all -- grad students in labs have to learn a discipline, auto mechanics have to know how to fix cars according to fixed protocols, musicians have to be able to make their fingers do what they need to do, high school students need to move from Algebra 1 to Algebra 2. Individual judgment enters into all of these activities, of course, but the goal is for students to not need the content of a learning experience to be fitted to them. They need to be able to learn from teachers they don't like, from lab experiments they find boring, from books written in difficult language or manuals with confusing diagrams. It's called becoming an adult.

cranberry said...

Anonymous @ 7:11, I agree with your assessment of the skills needed--but I don't think Catherine's school system's superintendent meant "personalized" in the same sense you cited.

I suspect the "provocative question" meant to lead to something like specialist diplomas for graduates--such as an "engineering diploma," or a "business diploma" for students graduating from high school. Such designations are intended to signal that students have taken a certain progression of courses.

I am personally unclear on why such designations are a good idea, as a typical "college prep" curriculum does not leave much time for specialization. I believe high school students are too young to decide that they will be engineers rather than biologists, because they don't know much about the world. They probably could say, STEM or not-STEM, or "working with people" or "working alone."

Or, "personalized education" could mean using a variety of computerized curricula, such as The Virtual High School Collaborative. I don't believe it's necessary for all students to take any particular course at the same time, from the same teacher at the same school. If one student wants to take AP Economics, another AP World History, and a third AP Statistics, why shouldn't they be able to, if it's possible to do it online?

However, I would object if "personalized" meant stinting on the standard high school curriculum. For example, if a high school student wants to be an artist, does he need to know how trigonometry? (Let's assume there are no cognitive barriers.) I would say yes, he needs to complete a standard curriculum, rather than tailor his preparation to his "dream career." For one thing, artistic careers are difficult and not well-paid, at best. For another, it is easier and more efficient, and free to the student, to learn trig in a school set up to teach trig, than to try to fill in that credential later, as an adult, while working a full-time job and raising a family.

There are some students who do not need college; they may have the programming skills to start well-paid, interesting work in high school. I argue they need a well-rounded curriculum, so that they're able to put together convincing elevator speeches when they're trying to get their start-ups off the ground.