Featured post

One-stop Shopping for the 2017 ICCSD School Election

Chris Liebig is still on the ICCSD school board, so I’ve agreed to host a one-stop shopping election post again this year. Candidate filing won’t begin until Monday, July 10th and won’t end until Thursday, August 3rd at 5 pm. However, with the ballot issue language set, and with information presentations about it and advocacy to pass it already underway, it makes sense to get this post up and running sooner rather than later.

I will be using this post as a collection point for information about the 2017 ICCSD regular school election scheduled for Tuesday, September 12th. I will continue to add information here as it becomes available. If you see that I have missed something, as surely I will, please suggest additional links in the comments, by e-mail, or by Twitter.

THE BASICS

Three four-year school board seats are up for election, as well as one two-year school board seat, to fill the remainder of Director LaTasha DeLoach’s unexpired term which became open with her resignation effective July 14th. There will also be a general obligation bond (GO bond) ballot issue, intended to fund the remaining projects on the district’s ten-year facilities master plan (FMP), which was last updated in January of this year. There is also an effort underway to petition for a ballot question related to demolition of the Hoover Elementary School building (see new section added below for more information).

CANDIDATES

Candidate Statements and Profiles

Candidates for the four-year seats

  • JP Claussen: News coverage here; Gazette profile, P-C profile
  • Shawn Eyestone: News coverage here; Gazette profile, P-C profile; To Bond or Not To Bond, That is the Question
  • Janet Godwin: News coverage here; Gazette profile, P-C profile
  • Ruthina Malone: News coverage here; Gazette profile, P-C profile
  • Laura Westemeyer: News coverage here; Gazette profile, P-C profile

Candidates for the two-year seat

  • Charlie Eastham: News coverage here and here; Gazette profile, P-C profile

Campaign Websites, Social Media, and Campaign Reports

Campaign reports filed with the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board may include a short form attribution filing (DR-SFA) or a DR-1 Statement of Organization. Candidates who exceed $1,000 in donations, expenditures, or debt must file a DR-1 Statement of Organization (candidate’s committee) and a DR-2 Disclosure Summary Page, with attached reports, will be due five days prior to the election, and January 19, 2018. DR-2 attachments may include information about contributions (Schedule A), expenditures (Schedule B), debts (Schedule D), in-kind contributions (Schedule E), loans (Schedule F), or consultants (Schedule G).

Candidates for the four-year seats

Candidates for the two-year seat

  • Charlie Eastham:

Candidate Questionnaires

Debates and Candidate Forums

  • Political Party Live! Roundtable: One Community. One Bond, hosted by The Political Party, in partnership with Mission Iowa City; Thursday, July 27th from 6 pm to 8 pm at Mosley’s, 525 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City.
  • Community Rocks! Rally for the School Board Vote,  hosted by Kelly Garrett and Rachel Korach Howell and sponsored in part by Fourth Room Theatre; Saturday, August 5th from 5 pm to 9 pm at 901 Melrose Ave, Iowa City.

GO BOND BALLOT ISSUE

Shall the Board of Directors of the Iowa City Community School District in the County of Johnson, State of Iowa, be authorized to contract indebtedness and issue General Obligation Bonds in an amount not to exceed $191,525,000 to provide funds to address health, safety, and accessibility issues in all school buildings, including air conditioning all school buildings, reducing the use of  temporary classroom structures in the District, addressing classroom, lunchroom, and gymnasium overcrowding, and dedicating rooms to art, music, prekindergarten, and science by constructing, furnishing and equipping a new building, constructing additions to and/or remodeling, repairing, and improving the school buildings remaining in the District’s Facilities Master Plan, as follows:  Mann and Lincoln renovations, Liberty High athletic facilities construction and site improvements, new elementary school construction in North Liberty and site improvements, West High renovation, South East and North Central Junior High additions, Shimek renovation, City High addition and upgrades, Wood addition, Wickham upgrades, Garner and Northwest additions, Liberty High addition, Horn renovation, Kirkwood addition, Borlaug, Alexander, and Lemme additions, and Tate High addition and upgrades?

Committees

Ballot Issue PACs have different reporting deadlines than school board campaign committees. DR-2 Disclosure Summary Page, with attached reports, will be due May 19, July 19, five days prior to the election, October 19, and January 19, 2018. DR-2 attachments may include information about contributions (Schedule A), expenditures (Schedule B), debts (Schedule D), in-kind contributions (Schedule E), loans (Schedule F), or consultants (Schedule G).

Other Links

POTENTIAL HOOVER ELEMENTARY BALLOT QUESTION

Save Hoover Elementary is collecting signatures to petition to have the following language included on the ballot for the September 12th school election:

Shall the Iowa City Community School District in the County of Johnson, State of Iowa, demolish the building known as Hoover Elementary School, located at 2200 East Court Street in Iowa City, after the completion of the 2018-19 school year, with the proceeds of any resulting salvage to be applied as specified in Iowa Code section 297.22(b)?

Other Links

NEWS COVERAGE

Articles and posts substantively discussing the school board election. See Candidate Statements and Profiles for articles about individual candidates announcing campaigns, candidate profiles, and candidate statements.

COMMENTARY

We’re the Grown-ups, Part 2

This video of a panel discussion of behavior in schools, with Tom Bennett, Laura McInerney, Maria Arpa, and Katherine Birbalsingh is worth watching. Seclusion rooms are in the news right now, but we should also be having a broader discussion about behavior and behavior management in our schools–like this one:

See also Tom Bennett’s blog post on the panel discussion, Good classroom management isn’t violence- A behaviour panel at the Wellington Festival of Education.

School, Not Schools

In her guest opinion, “Bond is the solution Iowa City schools need,” Kelly Gallagher Terrill writes:

Passing the bond will allow us to drastically reduce our use of classroom trailers by adding capacity to our historic schools in older neighborhoods and by building new schools in our newer and rapidly growing neighborhoods.

The GO bond language, in fact, proposes to fund construction of only one new school–a new elementary school in North Liberty.

It Is Most Definitely Political. So What?

It’s already shaping up to be a long school election campaign season and I may spend it fruitlessly pushing back against nonsense, but I can’t let a few things in KCRG’s coverage of One Community – One Bond pass without comment:

“This isn’t a political issue. This is a public school issue. If you believe in education you believe in the bond,” Pilcher- Hayek said.

Totally weird, right? Because if it isn’t a political issue, why is she speaking on behalf of a political action committee?

Political action is how those of us who choose to be involved participate in the governance of our public schools. Maybe we pay attention and vote. Maybe we speak and/or write about issues. Maybe we attend meetings. Maybe we put up yard signs. Maybe we give money to candidate committees or political action committees. Some of us even run for office or organize political action committees. There is nothing weird or shameful about political activity. And I guess I’ll just keep repeating that as needed.

But there’s also the framing of the bond issue in Pilcher-Hayek’s comments and Kirschling’s comments:

School Board member Brian Kirschling says community support is necessary.

“It’s no secret in the last year, we’ve seen some changes in the national level, in the state level that don’t necessarily support public education, and this is our community’s chance to up or down a vote on education,” he said.

People have all kinds of reasons for voting (or not voting). Maybe the ballot issue for some people is a referendum broadly on (public) education or whether we care about kids or the district administration or the current (or previous) school board. But people can support public education and care about kids and still reject this particular bond proposal. And people can support this particular bond proposal without supporting the district administration or the current school board.

But, ultimately, after the votes are totaled on September 12th, all we will really know is whether or not the district will be authorized to issue GO bonds as specified in the approved bond language.

We’re the Grown-ups, and We’re in Charge*

In the interest of closing out a few more open tabs in a hurry, we’re going to take a quick look at behavior and school culture. As Tom Bennett says (this time in his book The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers p. 72):

If the class can’t behave, then they can’t learn, and that is our first priority and duty to them.

The Behaviour Guru is a fun read, but Bennett has recently authored an independent report aimed at school leaders (rather than classroom teachers, who can only do so much–no matter how talented–without administrative support): Creating a Culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour.

Here’s Bennett talking about his report in his article ‘Developing a school-wide culture of good behaviour is way too important to trust to luck’:

I didn’t just want to see schools where behaviour was gorgeous because the intake was statistically advantaged; I wanted to see schools where the intake suggested higher-than-average rates of poverty, challenge and difficulty, but that had still thrived. I wanted to see schools that had turned behaviour around in a few years. I wanted to see schools where great results and behaviour had been maintained over long periods, rather than bought in a gulp of unsustainable exertion or administrative legerdemain. I wanted to see primary. I wanted to see secondary. I wanted coastal, inner city, rural, remote, alternative provision. And I got it.

And what I saw gave me more hope than I think I’ve had in years, for what we have in education, and what we can achieve. Because everywhere I went, for every school under siege, I found a school where law, kindness and industry were the norm; for every Ofsted-chasing bureaucracy digging itself deeper into a slough of workload despair, I saw a beautiful engine of people where everyone was valued, and ambition, compassion and cooperation were the call to prayer.

It was clear to me that how these schools were run was crucial to their success; their cultures didn’t happen spontaneously. Someone – or a group of someones – made them happen. And while cultures are made of their participants, how they are led and what levers are applied to them, are desperately important. The culture of a school – or “how we do things around here, and the assumptions we have the underpin that” in short form- became my obsession. How did it happen?

Leadership was key. That was what they all had in common.

I’m not in schools often enough to speak to the quality of school culture, but cell phone policies are one issue that I am aware that secondary principals and central administrators are still working on. Here is a discussion of cell phone policies from the February 14 board work session:

For what it is worth, here are Bennett’s findings on technology, starting on page 50 of the behavior report:

All the schools visited had precise and fairly restrictive codes of practice relating to student use of personal technology, such as, tablets and smartphones. All had a minimum default of ‘no visibility’ for smartphones and only permitted their usage in closely prescribed circumstances. While some teachers found utility in their integration, this was only in classrooms where high levels of self-regulation and restraint were already evident. Most teachers and school leaders interviewed believed that the possibility of distraction outweighed the possible benefits, and many expressed that their usage was largely unnecessary.

This is supported by 2015 research from the London School of Economics[17], which found that after schools banned unrestricted access mobile phones, the test scores of students aged 16 improved on average by 6.4%, and time lost in classes that permitted free access to smartphones was equivalent to around five days of schooling per year.

Smartphones should only be used in circumstances where the teacher has clearly defined a specific learning need they can satisfy. Many students find them irresistibly distracting, and this has a damaging effect on their focus and learning. While some students can reliably avoid using them irresponsibly, unless all students are equally mature then some students will suffer from their availability. Research has shown that this group is predominantly composed of the least able and furthest behind.

School leaders should decide for themselves where the line lies, but should be cautious about the dangers as well as any perceived opportunities, weighing up the benefits and costs.

Added: another school’s take on cell phone policies: Kindness – Why phones don’t work, and why disruption-free classrooms do. And that’s one more tab closed. 🙂

*This post title is a borrowed from p. 61 of The Behaviour Guru. Original quote is “You’re the grown-up, and you’re in charge.”

“We’re Not Entertainers, and This Isn’t a Bouncy Castle”*

I have sometimes heard that curriculum and instruction should be left to the professionals, sometimes as a reason school boards should stick to setting student achievement targets and leaving how to get there to the superintendent. So,  a few thoughts.

To talk about curriculum and instruction is to talk about the purpose of our schools, about our educational values. The curriculum and instruction offered by public schools–publicly funded and publicly governed through an elected school board–is, inescapably, a matter of public concern.

You wouldn’t know it from the lack of debate in our community, but there are public debates about curriculum and instruction going on in many other communities. The math wars, phonics versus balanced literacy, 21st century skills versus knowledge, and so on. It isn’t impossibly hard to get up to speed on these debates. Bennett’s Teacher Proof: Why Research in Education Doesn’t Always Mean What It Claims, and What You Can Do About It and Christodoulou’s Seven Myths about Education are particularly good places to start, as they both speak directly to the evidence basis of some current educational practices and guiding ideas, which matters as we aim for evidence-based universal instruction.

Christodoulou’s book is really focused on the importance of knowledge and evidence that facts and subject content knowledge are not in opposition to, but in fact support conceptual understanding, critical thinking, creativity, or whatever supposed “higher-order” thinking skill one prefers to facts. Christodoulou organizes her chapters into evidence establishing the myth is influencing practice and then examines modern research or evidence that demonstrates why the myth is a myth.

In Part I of his book, Bennett provides an overview of the difficulties of social science and educational science research and translating that research into practice. In Part II of his book, Bennett examines the research or evidence basis of currently or recently popular educational practices and ideas.

Spoiler alert: There isn’t much, if any, evidence supporting the educational practices and ideas discussed in these two books, as you might guess from the use of the word myth in Christodoulou’s title or if you knew that Part II of Bennett’s book is titled “Voodoo teaching.” There is far too much good material in these books for me to tackle in a blogpost or two, so instead of trying to summarize all of the arguments, research, and evidence presented in these books, I want to try to collect some links here to demonstrate that some of the educational practices and ideas described in these books are alive and well in Iowa. [Note: I’ve read both these books on a Kindle reader with no page numbers, so I’ll be making references to chapters.]

Christodoulou’s Myth 1: Facts prevent understanding [Chapter 1]. Christodoulou presents evidence of facts and content knowledge being stripped out of standards, with a focus on skills or understanding, as if we could have those without facts and content knowledge (we can’t).

This is a problem in Iowa, too, starting at the top with the Department of Education (DE). See for example, the proposed draft social studies standards, focused on “civic competence” as understanding and skills–light on content, but kids, starting in Kindergarten, are going to get a lot of practice writing letters to the editor. Here are two statements from the DE website subtly disparaging acquisition of factual knowledge as “rote memorization”, the first one about social studies instruction,:

It goes without saying that Iowa’s History Teacher of the Year knows a thing or two about history. But he may know even more on how to make history come alive, engaging students to pursue a subject that in the past emphasized rote memorization of dates and places.

And a second one about science instruction:

The new science standards are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. They don’t put as much emphasis on content facts that teachers need to deliver to students in a classroom, but instead focus on what students should be able to do with the content they have learned.

The standards focus on student application of science content and skills versus the rote memorization of content facts. The standards are written to focus on teaching students how to be scientists and do science versus separating out the skills and content from the standards. By teaching students in a manner that makes them feel like a “real” scientist, we will be able to foster a sense of curiosity, increase creativity, boost confidence, and strengthen critical thinking skills.

Christodoulou’s Myth 2: Teacher-led instruction is passive [Chapter 2]If you are skeptical of the value of facts, you will probably also be skeptical of the value of the teacher-led instruction that effectively assists students to acquire factual and subject content knowledge in favor of teacher as facilitator, discovery or minimal guidance instruction. [See Nick Gibb: the evidence in favour of teacher-led instruction for a short run down of the evidence.]

You don’t have to look much further than our district’s motto (child-centered: future focused) for evidence that skepticism of teacher-led instruction is also an issue here. See also, for example, the district science curriculum review report that lists the following two points among the strengths of district science instructional methods:

  • Teachers are utilizing a student-centered, activity based approach to teaching science.
  • Students at all levels are involved in inquiry investigations and collaborate with their peers.

Christodoulou returns to this theme in chapter six, where she examines the myth that projects and activities are the best way to learn.

Christodoulou’s Myth 3: The 21st century fundamentally changes everything [Chapter 3]. It just doesn’t. If you are paying attention at all, it should be obvious that ideas about 21st century education are driving an awful lot of decision-making and spending in our “future focused” district right now, from 1:1 Chromebooks at the secondary level to serving as part of the FMP/GO bond sales pitch:

Christodoulou has some important commentary in this chapter that this idea about the 21st century being fundamentally different, and the actual technology difference, can be used to push content knowledge out of the curriculum, and thus deprive children of the opportunity to learn what they need to know to develop 21st century skills (which are actually not unique to the 21st century). However, here we’ll pop over to Bennett’s book, Teacher Proof, for some of his pull-no-punches words on 21st century skills and technology.

From chapter 9, titled “Buck Rogers and the twenty-first-century curriculum”, Bennett sums up the evidence for the 21st century skills movement as follows:

21st Century Skills: nice rhetoric, but empty of any evidence to back up its terrifying, prescient claims. Every time I hear a claim made by the movement about the absolute, vital, and over-reaching necessity that everyone, everywhere suddenly adopt these practices, I check out where they get their opinions from and find that, yes, they really are opinions. Opinions, based on opinions, based on opinions and we’re back to the turtles all the way down again. It seems a tremendously shaky platform, by which to base a transformation of the entire education sector. It seems a bad grounding by which schools are turned upside down, classrooms flipped and content stripped from the classroom. But there it is; it’s how it’s been justified, and it’s still happening. I kind of feel it’s my duty to point this out as often as possible because so much is happening so fast and on such little evidence; in fact, no evidence. It is, in the clearest possible way, a scandal.

There is loads more where that came from, but we’ll dash over to Bennett’s chapter 10 now, titled “Techno, techno, techno, TECHNO: Digital natives in flipped classrooms”, described by Bennett as “the Temple of Doom to 21st Century Skills’ Lost Ark.”

I think here we can remember that district administrators have already acknowledged that research does not support an expectation that student achievement will be increased by our technology programs. Here’s Bennett’s take on IT:

Use IT if it suits your style. Use it if it helps you. But don’t use it because you must, and certainly (if you have a budget for such things) don’t buy it because you don’t know what else to do. Good teaching relies on things that have been around for millennia: good subject knowledge; good classroom control; good communication skills; heart and guts. You don’t need anything else. Maybe a pen, if you’re feeling profligate. Everything else is chaff. Everything else obscures the teacher. I don’t need a damn thing other than my voice and a room full of kids. The rest is bull, dressed up as Buck Rogers.

I’m exhausted, and we haven’t reached Christodoulou’s chapter 6 on Myth 6: Projects and activities are the best way to learn (which calls into question the underlying premises of our statewide science and proposed draft social studies standards) or most of Bennett’s chapters on voodoo teaching that may or may not be relevant to us, including:

  • Multiple intelligences: if everyone’s smart, no one is (chapter 5)
  • Group work: failing better, together (chapter 7)
  • There are no such things as learning styles (chapter 12)
  • Game over: the gamification of education (chapter 13)
  • Learning to learn to learn to learn . . . . (chapter 14)

In any case, I haven’t really set out to have the debate about evidence for our curricular and instructional decisions, but encourage you to consider the possibility that this debate is needed. So, I’ll leave you with two more local examples.

Listen carefully to the GO bond presentation above and you’ll hear a reference to an action based learning classroom (right about 1:07:19) followed by an assertion that kids learn in different ways and a comment about brain research. Based on multiple payments made for purchases of materials and training (accounts payable 2/24/15, 3/24/15, and 6/23/15), I’m guessing that they are Action Based Learning classrooms. Here’s the compelling articles and research page, here’s a reference (book description) that the program is based on–wait for it–multiple intelligences and learning styles, and here’s a handout explaining Action Based Learning.

Check out this recent ICCSD Innovation & Technology Blog post, listing a benefit of technology program upgrades as being able to “facilitate promising new pedagogical approaches such as blended learning and personalized learning,  among myriad other benefits.” [Links within the quotes are from the original blog post.] The personalized learning link leads to an ISTE article with this assertion:

Personalized learning capitalizes on today’s students’ almost instinctual ability to use technology, but it is so much more than letting them use iPads, smartphones, whiteboards and other devices in the classroom. It is the purposeful design of instruction to combine face-to-face teaching, technology-assisted instruction and collaboration to leverage each student’s learning style and interests for deeper learning.

Digital natives and leveraging learning styles? Awesome. We really need to talk as a community, sooner rather than later.

*The title of this post is taken from Bennett’s Teacher Proof, chapter 7 on group work. The downside of having to pick a post title at the outset, is sometimes (more often than not?) a post can end up looking quite different than you anticipated when you set out to write it (weeks ago now). But I like it and I’m too tired to cast about for something better. So here’s the quote with more context:

There is nothing wrong with injecting a bit of fun into an activity by putting them in teams or getting them to cooperate with each other in a way that they find pleasant. As long as you remember that fun is an extrinsic aim of education, not an intrinsic one. We’re not entertainers, and this isn’t a bouncy castle, and I say that because I take their education seriously, and won’t waste a moment of their time when they could be learning.

Smarter Balanced Assessments in Iowa Update

Since my last post on Smarter Balanced assessments, the two legislative funnel deadlines have passed and an assessment bill, SF 240, has survived.

SF 240, as amended and passed by the Iowa Senate, would strike subparagraphs (2) and (3) of Iowa Code 256.7(21)(b), which are the paragraphs creating new assessment requirements and authorizing the Assessment Task Force. It would also amend subparagraph (1) to allow the State Board of Education to approve a new assessment for the school year beginning July 1, 2018. It would also amend subparagraph (1) to change the required assessment grades to grades three through eleven for math and reading and grades five, eight and ten for science. The amended language also includes the requirement from subparagraph (2) that the statewide assessments be administered in the last quarter of the school year, but not the other requirements, which included alignment to the Iowa Core and valid, reliable, and fair measurement of student progress toward college or career readiness.

Some of the requirements from subparagraph (2) are included in section 3 of the bill, which outlines a request for proposal (RFP) process for a new assessment to be conducted by the Iowa Department of Education. Section 3 also outlines how the Department of Education must evaluate RFP responses.

The Legislative Services Agency has issued a fiscal note including a chart with estimated costs for the Smarter Balanced assessments, the Next Generation Iowa Assessments (with and without centralized scoring), and the ACT Aspire. A few things to note:

  • Districts are required to provide multiple measures (an additional assessment beyond the statewide assessment). The inclusion of multiple measures here helps to reduce the gap between the costs of the Smarter Balanced assessments and the other assessments.
  • The costs for the Next Generation Iowa Assessments and ACT Aspire already include a science assessment. Note that the cost for an additional science assessment exceeds the cost for the complete Next Generation Iowa Assessments.
  • I’m not certain if LSA is aware that ACT Aspire does not offer an exam for grade eleven students. If ACT Aspire were chosen, the ACT or another grade eleven assessment would be needed, the costs of which may not be accurately reflected here.

The Des Moines Register has published several articles recently about statewide assessments (links to the articles on the Press-Citizen website here, here, and here). In “Lawmakers take plan for statewide exam back to square one“, reporter Mackenzie Ryan describes the statewide assessments debate as “the slow-moving squabble over which test to use” and asserts that SF 240 could undo four years of work toward new statewide assessments. I would argue that SF 240 could undo almost seven years of work by the Department of Education to implement Smarter Balanced assessments in Iowa, though see Shane Vander Hart’s commentary on SF 240 at Truth in American Education (in short, don’t count Smarter Balanced assessments out just yet).

In a follow up article, State Board of Education member Mary Ellen Miller expressed frustration at the delays in implementing the Smarter Balanced assessments.

The Iowa Board of Education is so frustrated by the delay in adopting new state exams that at least one member called for ending the tests altogether.

Emphasizing her dissatisfaction, Mary Ellen Miller told the lieutenant governor Thursday that Iowa should “do something outrageous” and declare a moratorium on state testing. The move could save millions of dollars while nixing tests that are no longer relevant, she said.

“Political roadblocks” to implementation of the Smarter Balanced assessments were a foreseeable possible consequence of the decision of the State Board of Education to unilaterally move ahead with rules adopting the Smarter Balanced assessments after failing to convince the Iowa Legislature to take action.

Meanwhile, with the State Board having acted unilaterally to adopt the Smarter Balanced assessments, the Department of Education Director Ryan Wise is now left to take great pains to assure that the RFP process will be fair to all vendors.

If passed into law, the Department of Education would seek test proposals. It would take steps to ensure that “people don’t point at the department (and say) ‘You were in the bag for X vendor from the beginning,'” said department director Ryan Wise.

“Our whole objective is to run a fair process,” Wise said, explaining that officials should expect it to be ‘heavily scrutinized.”

If SF 240 is passed without substantial amendment, I would expect RFP responses for ACT Aspire, the Next Generation Iowa Assessments, and Smarter Balanced assessments (with a proposed companion science assessment) to be submitted. See the Assessment Task Force’s evaluation of the math and English language arts portions of these exams here.