Thursday, June 07, 2012

Listening Tour, Part 2

As I wrote yesterday, I met with schools' CEO Jean-Claude Brizard last week. The event, part of his ongoing Listening Tour series, was organized by Family and Community Engagement Officers from the O'Hare and Northside High School networks.

Not surprisingly, concerns about Common Core and true college readiness were brought up by more than one parent at the event.

I've known about Common Core for quite some time and I'm confident that the standards of teaching and learning at Disney II make it well-equipped to make the change. Therefore, the Common Core flurry hasn't penetrated my radar much beyond media mentions and blog chatter about the new standards and their implementation . However, in this i am again an anomaly. It would seem that despite the chatter and explanatory events hosted by Blaine PTA, Black Star Project, etc. many CPS parents remain, well, clueless, about the new standards and what they may mean for their students.

Brizard shed some light on the process, explaining first what the Common Core is on its most basic level. He then explained that the new standards will mean more advanced teaching practices that push academic rigor. Common Core will mean true college readiness at the high school level, and high school readiness at the elementary level. As an example of the kind of academic experience that Common Core is designed to encourage, Brizard held up an exchange he witnessed at Burley. He reported that he witnessed two 3rd graders arguing about an idea presented in a book; both were citing passages in the text to support their positions. This is the kind of academic rigor that CPS would like to see across schools in the district. 

He said that his office is spending time asking things like How can they change teachers' practices to promote rigor? How can CPS improve proficiency among students? He noted that although ISAT scores are up within CPS, joy within the district is down because ISAT does not prove the type of rigor expected out of Common Core. Chicago parents are "going to freak out" as their children's scores drop.

I'm less worried about what Common Core means for my own children as the kind of academic rigor in place at Disney II is the kind that encourages students to think critically, be curious, and assimilate information in a way that builds their academic careers. This also drives success on the assessments. (The Boy, for example, is scoring in the 99th percentile on math and reading.)

However, I'm concerned about what this means for the achievement gap, and what it will mean in school's where there is no curriculum (as reported by commenters on CPS obsessed) or instructional leadership supports in place. Brizard suggested that the longer school day could address the achievement gap. Certainly true, but it does assume that principal leadership is there to guide the process of the longer school day. Brizard did specify that the schools within CPS that work--and work well-- do so because their principals are committed stewards of the school community. I've seen this first-hand. He said that the people who are best-equipped to align goals with money are individual principals--not the bureaucrats downtown. 

But the problem--as even CPS may acknowledge--in this plan are those principals who are unable or unwilling to make the alignments--or worse, who are unwilling to be transparent in the process. What is it about Tchr's school that there is no money for  curriculum or books? What is the school spending its money on? Do parents or teachers have access to the school's budget? Would they know how to read it even if they do? Does the principal provide guidance as to what all the categorical numbers mean? 

On the curriculum front, a parent asked about implementing a common grading scale across the district. It's a good idea. But: no matter how you slice it, you can't remove the human (subjective) element from grading. Brizard said he tried to do a weighted GPA in New York and it was a "very difficult" and "complex" process. He said that it's more likely that CPS will create a standard or get rid of the policy altogether.

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