A pilot program in mathematics at Evanston/Skokie District 65’s two magnet schools will need another year of testing before it is expanded to the middle schools, even though it shows early signs of success.

That was the prognosis of Board President Tracy Quattrocki after the board heard a report on the program at its meeting this week from the district’s mathematics director, Suzanne Farrand.

The board’s consensus was at odds with Farrand’s suggestion that the pilot be expanded next year to the middle schools. She reasoned that little information would be gained by running the program only at the magnet schools for a second year.

Before the pilot, there were two algebra courses taught to middle-school students—Algebra 1 and Algebra 8. Students in Algebra 1 were primarily from the top two quartiles, while Algebra 8 was fairly equally distributed among the three lower quartiles, with few students in the top quartile.

When the pilot course was implemented, at King Lab and Bessie Rhodes magnet schools, about a quarter of the students were from the bottom two quartiles.

The district’s primary objective was to qualify more students to enroll in geometry when they reached the high school in the ninth grade, as that would position them to be on a path to Advanced Placement classes in their junior and senior years.

At the end of the year, some 77 percent of the pilot students were tentatively placed in high school geometry courses for next year, including 70 percent of the black students, while only 35 percent of the Algebra 8 students qualified for geometry, including 23 percent of black students.

Farrand’s report said these results were a “strong indication” that the multi-level pilot course “is a powerful strategy for accelerating the learning of minority children and placing them on a pathway that leads to Advanced Placement mathematics in high school.”

Some board members expressed concern that there were no students in the pilot class from the lowest quartile, and they felt that more data was needed to determine the effect that it would have on that subgroup.

At the outset of the discussion, there was a bit of friction exhibited between Quattrocki and Superintendent Hardy Murphy. The board president said that the pilot was implemented last year before the board had a chance to examine the data, which is why they were looking at it now.

Murphy expressed regret that she introduced the discussion in that vein and said “we are presenting what we think is an exciting pilot to make sure that all students have the opportunity to excel in our district.”

Murphy added that “we think the results are encouraging…intriguing at the very least.”

For heaven’s sake, D65For heaven's sake, D65 Board–get with the program and stop stalling on something that clearly works.

Why would you need more students with scores in the bottom quartile in the pilot classes to make a decision about whether to expand the program for everyone else? You're only going to adopt it if it works for more students in that quartile, regardless of how it works for everyone else? The data presented seems pretty stark: the pilot classes (and the curricular expectations and instructional adjustments that presumable go with them) showed a remarkable difference for many black students who were enrolled as compared to those in comparison classrooms.

What are you afraid of?

Let’s not let ideology limit accelerationThe pilot collapses Algebra I (viewed as an honors or accelerated math program) with Algebra 8. The pilot thus limits acceleration in the math program. On Sept. 24 of last year, several Board members expressed concern about limiting acceleration in this manner and whether students would truly be best served by this program which necessarily relies on differentiated instruction in classes that might consist of 30 students.

So why limit acceleration for those students who are ready for more challenging math? Hardy Murphy made clear that he is opposed based on ideological grounds. He suggested that it sets low expectations for students in the non-accelerated classes and that he wants "the ideological goal [to] shift so that it’s not predictable who goes on to be scientists or engineers and who doesn’t." He added, "The students who are accelerating are by and large not African American or Latino or on free- and reduced-fee lunch. What we’d like to do is change the distribution so, if we can do that, all students are accelerating. That’s obviously the goal. But if we can’t do that, we can at least change the disparity between what types of students are accelerating and those that are not."

absolutely nobodyis opposed to accelerating more minority students if teachers determine that a particular student will benefit.Significantly, the only data that exists on the pilot program is that more students in the collapsed, magnet school classes qualified for geometry at ETHS as compared to the Alegrbra 8 classes at the larger middle schools. And no students in the pilot class were in the lowest quatrile. And there is absolutely no data at this early stage showing how students have performed at ETHS beyond the pilot program (or how this program may have impacted students who would otherwise have been accelerated).

Lowest quartilesData is limited because it is a pilot. The idea of a pilot is to try something and if it looks good, expand it.

The report shows that 13% of the students in the pilot were in the lowest quartile.

In the meeting, it was stated that acceleration and curriculum and instructional grouping are not the same. This was a discussion about curriculum and grouping, not acceleration. It is not beneficial to confuse the topics.

The teachers who actually taught in this configuration think that the pilot approach is optimal.

I did not hear anything about limiting acceleration.

Enlighten me: what magicallyEnlighten me: what magically changes after 5th grade that suddenly makes separate and leveled classes necessary–and what research can you cite to support any such claims? The Common Core State Standards in Mathematics strongly caution against systematic acceleration for students prior to 7th grade, if at all. That of course doesn't preclude (and in fact calls for) teachers to use a variety of flexible groupings within their classrooms in order to move all students forward from their individual points of growth.

Sorry, but phrases like "more targeted instruction" and "teachers who can focus on their specific needs" are euphemisms for "I don't want my child in class with those 'other kids.'" The blunt truth is that when students are separated into leveled classes, teachers are MORE (not less) likely to treat and instruct those students as though they are the same student and use one-size-fits-all methods, rather than to teach more responsively.

You misspeak when you assert that the "only" data from the pilot is related to Geometry placement. By my read, the data reveal that the achievement and growth profiles of students in pilot and comparison classrooms were virtually the same. That IS a significant finding. Because many parents and Board members offer as their number one objection to any kind of de-leveling "it will hurt the other kids", I think this result is hugely important.

But back to the likely Geometry placement differences for Black students…why are you dismissing as trivial the finding that demonstrably more Black students from the pilot classrooms than the Alg 8 classrooms will be placed into Geometry? I get that there weren't a ton of students from the lowest quartile in the pilot, but so what? That means we can't be sure the pilot worked? Huh?

And why in the world do you need data on what math courses those students eventually take and/or how they perform in order to expand the pilot? There could be any numbers of reasons that those (or ANY) students end up taking the full sequence of high-level math courses at ETHS, not the least of which include student interest, competing academic and extra-curricular obligations, and bad teachers who turn them off to math.

Does D65 follow-up with ETHS on the math course selection and grades of all (or ANY) students in D65? Why the extra measure of insistance for this pilot?

How many students who take Geometry in middle school (whether in D65 or at ETHS) end up taking four years of math at the highest levels? And what percentage of students who take the highest math courses at ETHS were enrolled in Geometry in 8th grade? In 9th grade? Let's see THAT data and THEN we'll have something to talk about.

And if you want to talk research, then please don't tell us that acceleration is ostensibly available to any and everyone if and when a teacher deems it appropriate. Especially when it comes to poor and minority kids–and any kids in "lower level" classes–teachers are notoriously limited in the expectations they have for students, and kids have to practically jump over the moon to switch levels or get recommended for a more advanced class (unless, of course, their loud and privileged parents engage in any and all mantter of jockeying and "advocacy").

I have an idea: Why not give up the obsession with trying to pigeonhole and limit kids by grades and test scores and practice open, interest-based course enrollment? Go ahead, offer two classes: and let any kid who wants to take an accelerated class take it.

Or are we still afraid that the "wrong kids" will be in the "wrong class", thereby contiminating other students and rendering the class unteachable?

No one is limiting acceleration here. And kids who are outliers and are candidates for whole-grade acceleration in math are, as far as I know, still considered for this kind of movement.

P.S. Yes, I wrote this post assuming that Anonymous above is, in fact, a D65 Board Member.

I’m not a D65 board memberPutting that aside, I like your idea about practicing "open, interest-based course enrollment" so that "any kid who wants to take an accelerated class [may] take it." You suggest this approach is objectionable because some people fear that the "wrong kids" will be in the "wrong class." Speaking only for myself, that's hogwash. Kids don't accidently sign up for accelerated classes and I'm in favor of open-based enrollment for all accelerated or honors courses in D65 and D202. There's nothing inequitable about that.

The school districts, however, have shied away from this approach because Murphy / Witherspoon contend that white parents (or "privileged parents" in PEG-speak) will vigorously push their kids into these classes and create the same disparity that exists with test-based selection.

With respect to some of your other comments, I greatly respect Eileen Budde who is a former math teacher (and current District 65 board member) with far more experience on this issue than either of us. Here's the RoundTable's report of what she said last Fall:

Eileen Budde, a School Board member and member of the Policy Committee, told the RoundTable the Board has not seen student achievement data over the long term that shows whether students who accelerate take higher level courses at the high school and how they perform, whether students who skip Math 6 do better than those who skip Math 7, and whether some students who were accelerated need to repeat a high school course. "We need to see these data to know whether there is a problem," she said. "Otherwise, there is no reason to consider limiting assessment for acceleration.""The District has worked hard to make the assessment process transparent and open to all," Ms. Budde continued. "This may mean we assess more students than in the past, but that is a positive thing. Maybe we need to put more resources into math instruction in the earlier grades so more students meet the criteria for acceleration. But there is no evidence that we should put the brakes on our students in 5th through 8th grades."I concur.

Indeed, we need to see a larger focus on early education, which is a focus of President Obama, and on developing math skills in grades K – 5. If we're truly serious about the achievement gap, then this must be our focus.

Finally, you state that "teachers are notoriously limited in the expectations they have for students, and kids have to practically jump over the moon to switch levels or get recommended for a more advanced class." Why is that? If true, isn't that the real problem that must be addressed? There is a prevailing view among some that students in non-accelerated or non-honors classes are getting an inferior education and provided with low expectations, such that the "only" solution is doing away with different classes. I say, let's focus one early education, challenge everyone to the best of their ability and provide options for all students as they mature that will appropriately challenge them. In this regard, limiting class options is not the answer.

Speaking of Eileen BuddeWasn't she the board member encouraging parents to hire tutors to ensure their 8th graders get into high school math when she was one of those tutors? Sounds like conflict of interest to me.

Final thoughtsJust as you don't want me to assume you're a Board member, don't assume that you and I are on the same level of understanding and perspective on this issue. Suffice to say that the people I would cite on this matter are national experts and my professional & scholarly peers–not school local board members.

It appears the Board wants to keep the system as-is, regardless of who wins and loses, until they see numbers they can understand and/or find palatable. Very well: the data Ms. Budde speaks of should be pretty straightforward to get. All the D65 Board has to do is ask ETHS for names of all D65 students from the past 15 or so years, what math courses they took, and what grades they earned. Assuming the data is provided in a organized form, the analysis would take about 10 minutes, tops.

Has Ms. Budde followed up on her comments? Does she really want to know how students who are accelerated and/or who take Geometry is 8th grade perform and what math courses they choose to take?

Isn't it ever-so-interesting how when we're talking about granting more students access to something that has been reserved for the few, two different lines of thinking are applied, depending on what we're evaluating?

When it's the current Geometry pathway, the Board says, "We have no evidence it's not working, so we're going to keep it as is." When it's the Algebra pilot, they say, "We don't believe the evidence that this does work, so we're keeping things as is." I guess it makes sense if change is the last thing you want to see. So when the subject is high-achieving kids, we don't need evidence, but when it's everyone else, we do?

Drs. Witherspoon and Murphy are correct that parent advocacy in an open enrollment system would be tough to manage. But no tougher than it is now. It would be simple enough to use a Geometry-readiness assessment for all students so that students and parents can together make an informed decision based on results and interest/motivation. And don't close the door to anyone who said he/she wanted to give it a shot.

Teacher expectations are a huge and well-documented problem. But what do you expect when you separate kids into levels and tell their teachers, effectively, "you have the kids who are capable and you have the the kids who really aren't–and there's no way they can learn in the same room from the same teacher."

Enough with pointing the finger at early childhood. That's policymaker talk and a non sequitur in this discussion. Good teachers who steward the mathematical capabilities of all children by making accessible to all the highest quality curriculum and instruction are the answer.

This isn't about limiting class options–it's about providing only the best options to all students AND (as I've suggested) presenting them as OPTIONS.

Stop with the sorting. It limits student growth and gives teachers and schools the power to determine a child's educational, and possibly vocational, pathway. And when that pathway is predictable by race and family income, such a practice mechanism is nothing short of deplorable.

Kudos to the D65 and ETHS leaders who are pressing forward with a bolder vision.

Final, final thoughtsYou underscore that presenting students with "OPTIONS" is the ideal. As you know, this isn't what's happening. Instead, as indicated in my first post, Hardy Murphy doesn't like the fact that most students who are accelerated are white. Criteria in this regard is entirely objective and, notably, more white students are

accelerated than are accelerated. But, as we all know, lower income students are under represented in the accelerated math courses, which is sadly consistent with national data. So the question is, what if anything do we do about that?notApparently, even though students have all been grouped in the same classes from K – 6, Dist. 65 believes that the gap in math achievement that exists at the end of 6th grade should be addressed by continuing to group students in the same class room, with some rare exceptions. That "solution" — let's just continue doing what isn't working — is a non sequitor.

Instead, we should focus on having "high expectations" grades K – 3 with additional focus on pre-K. All relevant data shows that this is critical for addressing the achievement gap. This isn't mere "finger pointing" as you oddly label it. If Evanston as a community seriously wants to address this monumental issue, then this has to be a focus. Instead, there is "finger pointing" in grades 7 – 12 with teachers and class structure being blamed for an already existing gap.

To come full circle, if all students are provided with the "best" options then that's great. But too many people have the knee-jerk reaction that higher-level courses are the "best" and decry that "white" students are over represented in those classes. That view is simply hollow rhetoric used to stir the passions. The "best" class for some students isn't always going to be the higher-level class. And the best teachers should often be in the non-accelerated classes so they can focus on raising the bar and transitioning as many students as possible to the higher-level course. You seem opposed to the one-size-fits all class room structure, which is the current trend at D. 65 and 202. If so, then let's actively work to create more options for students rather than limit them, which is what is happening now.

What about kids who take Algebra in 7th grade?There's a whole cohort of kids who get accelerated early, and wind up taking algebra in 7th grade and then geometry — either at ETHS or at the middle school — in 8th grade. Would this new approach wipe out the opportunity for those kids to get accelerated?

Not as I understand itNot as I understand it. I think the movement is toward two math levels: one Algebra course and one Geometry course. Students can still be accelerated.

Someone can correct me if I'm mistaken.

Don’t ignore the reality of middle school in D65Not another change in the already ridiculous math program at D65!. Despite all of the math programs problems (and there are many), it is the only opportunity for any type of advancement in D65. The – only – one for D65 students for nine years (K through 8th grade). Let me tell you why that's opportunity is needed.

Unfortunately, a significant percentage of my student's midlde school cohort is disruptive in class. My child has been forced to sit in class after class while teachers yell at the entire class because 4-5 students out of 20-22 constantly talk during the class, don't do homework so they don't have homework to discuss, review or grade when they come back to class, don't make any effort on tests, refuse to work in small groups in the class, play on their iPods or other electronic toys during class, etc. There is frequently "group discipline" for the misbehavior of one student or a few students so that an entire class must stay in the classroom during recess period or is denied their fine arts class that day.

Teachers are discouraged from sending students to the office so they are left with uninterested, unengaged students day after day. As I understand, D65 administration discourages principals from imposing discipline lest the "numbers look bad."

My child has told me many creative ways in which teachers have tried to engage students in class work. My child has also told me about teachers who are effective in maintaining a learning environment in the classroom but those teachers are the exception and not the rule.

Put yourself in the position of a 12-year-old or 13-year-old student who has to sit in a classroom like this. My student has asked me why so many students don't know how to behave in a classroom by 6th or 7th grade. My student is frequently frustrated by other students who are, by their choice to behave badly in class, denying my student and others the opportunity to learn.

The advanced math class is the only place where my student gets to work with other students who pay attention to the teacher, do their homework, are expected to move their material at a quick pace, work well in small groups in the class, etc. The math program has plenty of problems but I hear no complaints from my student about students who act up, refuse to do homework, don't make any effort on tests, etc.

I do not know the race(s) of the students that cause the repeated disruptions. Nor is it material to me. What matters to me and my student is that these disruptive students exist in virtually every classroom. But not in advanced math classes. I want my student to have one refuge from the chaos of virtually every other classroom.

Here's the biggest problem with advanced math in D65 — almost no content is taught by the teacher in the classroom. Instead, students are left to "free range" and work out solutions and find math formulas with little or no guidance. I understand that it is an advanced class but there should be some actual teaching by the teacher in the classroom. Under the current system, as a parent of a student in an advanced math class, I must devote time to answering my student's questions and working through some of the tougher problems after my student has spent considerable homework time working through most of the problems.

Does anyone think that the disruptive students would fare well in this environment or would benefit the other students who are doing well in this environment? It's reality in my student's D65 middle school, not a science lab. Please don't ignore the reality of what students must put up with and take away the only chance for a classroom with students who want to learn.

The new segregation?Seems to me that your complaints are not endemic or specific to math, right? You just want the "bad kids" in another classroom–or perhaps another school altogether? Not sure why you live in Evanston if you're (presumably) here for the many kinds of diversity (racial and otherwise) but want your child to only have to learn with and alongside students who are like him/her. Is "let's separate students by behavior or motivation levels" the new, more socially-acceptable form of segregation when arguments for other forms have been exhausted?

The race of the students you're describing is NOT immaterial. FYI, behavior and ability have little to do with one another (and in fact, many students with diagnosed behavior disorders, which may or may not be what you're referencing here, perform well on achievement tests). In fact, many students who act up are doing so as a response to tedious, teacher-centered, or low-level instruction–the kind that's problematic for EVERY learner (versus more problematic for students with higher readiness in mathematics).

And why is your child–or any child, regardless of achievement level–more entitled to a positive and productive teaching and learning environment? If, indeed, the "honors" math classes are a refuge from drudgery and/or chaos, are you asserting that children with higher math scores should be privileged with an escape hatch, whilst everyone else is left behind–including those students who might be labeled "behavior problems"? Please.

We can at least agree on one thing: Neither an advanced course–nor ANY course–should be an independent study left to the students.

Jump, jump, jump to racism — the Evanston mantraOnce again, the Evanston response. If you don't want your child to have to put up with poorly behaved students, you are a racist. What illogical rot!

As I wrote before, I don't know and do not concern myself with the race of disruptive students. Why do you assume that they are minorities? Perhaps it is you who is the racist.

Where did you read that I only want my child to learn along side children who are like my student. Once again, the Evanston jump, jump, jump to racism as the answer to every (legitimate) complaint. I said that I am tired of my child's education being hijacked by students who are poorly behaved.

Some students act up in class because they are poorly behaved and have had no discipline in their lives. I make no assumptions about their race. If you make assumptions about what race they are, I leave you to ponder your own assumptions and the baseless reasons for them.

You say that behavior and ability have little to do with each other? So should every classroom just be up for grabs and hope that geniuses emerge from the chaos? If that's your opinion, please tell me that you aren't involved in education. Other students' disruptive behavior has EVERYTHING to do with the learning environment for the rest of the students in the room. Please, as you say.

Right now, for my student, math is the only relief from a system that allows disruptive students to rule the roost. That is wrong but it is the system selected and perpetuated by District 65. Given that I cannot change District 65's system, I will fight tooth and nail not to allow that goofed-up system to eliminate the only refuge for my child which is advanced math. Any parent who feels the same way should speak up for his or her child.

I want my child to get the high-quality education which my child deserves. And yes, my child and every other child has a right to a high-quality education without the disruptive kids hijacking virtually every class. I can't imagine why anyone would quarrel with those statements but, as a true Evanstonian, you have found a way to label them as racist.

Sometimes I do question why I live here when every time that you raise an issue, you are labeled by the ever present, finger-pointing, know-it-alls as a racist. But look at the assumptions you made and you will see that, while you are pointing one finger at me, the rest of your fingers are pointing back at the true racist.

Not racist but still wrongI didn't link your comments to racism per se. I said that the race of the kids you're talking about as behavior challenge does matter, even though you claim it doesn't.

My points are not even about race, although race can be included. Note that I'm asserting that the line of thinking that says, "I don't want my kids with kids who might act up," is still a form of elitism that calls for a kind of segregation (which doesn't have to be race-based).

I'm contending that it's just as bad to want your child in a classroom only with other kids who behave, think, achieve, or are motivated in the same ways or by the same thing. If that's what you want, exit the public system.

It's not racist or wrong to want your child to have a high-quality education. But it's still a form of bias, discrimination, whatever you want to call it, to think that certain children are more deserving of refuge.

NO child, including students who are disruptive, should have to learn in a chaotic environment. If classrooms are ruled by students with behavior issues, that's a problem for every chlid. No more for high-achievers than for anyone else.

Still calling names and misconstruingSo if we don't like disruptive students hijacking virtually every class, your advice is to leave District 65. Why do you give District 65 a pass (is that you, Hardy Murphy?).

I said that EVERY student is deserving of a high-quality education without the disruptive students being allowed to interfere with others' education. You describe these disruptive students as part of Evanston's diversity. Hmm…sure sounds like you are lumping them as diverse students and that is wrong on your part.

District 65 is wrong to allow disruptive students to be in charge of many classrooms. Teachers need better training to deal with disruptive students and the involvement of school social workers and other resources may be needed. And yes, school discipline may be needed, too.

I don't know why you keep taking offense at something that should be a given — students cannot learn to their fullest potential when their classrooms are constantly disrupted by a few students in the room. My child deserves better as does every other child who also does not disrupt their classes.

It is not bias. It is not racism. As a true Evanstonian, you want to label every criticism of District 65 or otherwise put it into a neat little box. So I will respond with a label — enabler. You and those of your ilk allow District 65's administration to ignore this problem that is harming many, many students, includng those diverse students that you lump together as the disruptive ones. That's the problem. Many in Evanston are quick to point fingers alleging racism, bias, segregation whenever District 65 is criticized. But you refuse to see how District 65 provides a lackluster education for many, including minority students. One major problem: students who are allowed to disrupt classrooms on a daily basis.

I never said that any children are "more deserving" of refuge. My student liked the math class that my student was in. It was not disrupted on a daily basis by students who hijacked the class. I will do everything that I can to keep a math program that has been a positive force in my student's education. Any other parent is welcome to do the same.

My guess is you don't have any students in D65 middle school now. But feel free to advocate for those disruptive students. D65 will probably side with you because, like you, they lump disruptive students into the category of diversity so the bad behavior must be tolerated. D65 and you are wrong to mindlessly and recklessly draw those conclusions about our minority students. Instead, address the bad behavior, regardless of race, income or other grouping.

WowWhen my child started middle school the 6th grade music class was disruptive. My child, and others in the class, were interested in music. The principal told the teacher to stop sending the offenders to his office.

After a few weeks, she advanced the non-disruptive sixth graders to an advanced class and allowed the sores to fester among themselves.

Another child just finished 6th grade math. Came home virtually every day complaining about the disruption and the fact that half the class was spent the previous night's homework on the board, because a third of the students did not do the work and the class could not progress until the other students were caught up.

In parent-teacher conferences we asked the math teacher who has 15+ years in D65 if the "flattening" was working/could work and were told "no."

We raised concern about our child's learning being "slowed" and were advised by the teacher to put our child on Kahn Academy.

The vast majority of D65 teachers are not idiots and are genuinely committed to education. D65 can do all of the social experimentation it wants, but at the end of the day, the teachers are going to problem solve and deliver a solution for the students who show an interest in learning.

Whether public or private, there is no space in a classroom environment for disruptive behaviour. Higher-achieving children do not have a greater right to a classroom free of disruption. And, high-achieving children may be disruptive themselves.

The obtuse suggestion that if you want a disruption-free environment you should pull your child from public school is beyond amazing.

If a non disruptive learning environment is correct, should that not be the focus?

As a parent, my experience is that tolerating and condoning bad behavior encourages more bad behavior.

If children — white or black, boy or girl, gay or straight — consistently misbehave they have given up certain rights. Tell them now while there is still a chance to turn things around, or condone it and let them learn later on that they are unemployable and cannot function in society.

What are you smoking?To want a non-disruptive classroom is elitist. What District 65 trolls are here when they should be doing their jobs. The classroom management is unfair, punishing the entire class for the misbehavior of a few is not how life works in the work world. Don't we want our students to be career-ready when they graduate? And it patently doesn't work. Not punishing those individuals is reinforcing their behavior. The underlying problem is that students are diagnosed as emotionally or behaviorally disabled and allowed a lot of extra accommodations including not making them feel bad for their behavior or punishing them. The diagnosis is flawed in the first place. How much of our special education budget is for BD and ED students?

My kid survived District 65… at least I hope he will.

Mr. Bartling fails to mention that high achieving kids previoulsy went to the High School to take Algebra 1. A few years back, D65 wanted to change that – and offered a competing "more convenient" Algebra 1 in the middle schools. (Note: this is a perfect example of vitual consolidation versus duplication of effort and wasted tax dollars)

Folks at the time said that the move to duplicate Algebra 1 in the middle schools was just the first step in eliminating an opportunity for advancement. They were right.

I have a kid with an IEP. He underperforms his potential.

What I don't understand is why everyone seems so convinced that the best way to improve achievment for underperforming kids is to have them in a class that has a larger range of learning abilities and styles?

I don't understand why we've never explored putting the best teachers against our more challenged students.? Why we haven't explored a more progressive education that focuses less on standardized testing and egages the kids to a greater degree?

Ken Robinson has a great new TED talk on education and he addresses why we fail our children when we think one size fits all, when we focus on standardized testing.

Instead of getting more kids into honors classes and Algebra 1 by redefining the class – get more kids into the classes, by producing more engaged students.

Check out Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk.

We can do better than providing a one track school district.

Pretty much every schoolPretty much every school district in the U.S. has or is moving toward offering Algebra I to most, if not all, students by the end of 8th grade. This has been the case for awhile now and it's not about eliminating opportunities for advancement. It's about recognizing that most students are much more mathematically capable than we often deem them to be.

Algebra is often treated as a gatekeeper course. Notably, the Common Core standards (and probably soon the state of Illinois) are suggested that middle and high schools move toward more integrated math courses that would render artificial and traditional math course sequences, organization, and titles moot.

Algerba 1 in the Middle SchoolsI think that Algebra 1 has been taught in the middle schools for about 30 years. In fact, most of the algebra classes in Evanston are in District 65.

You may be thinking of Geometry, where parents have the choice of enrolling their kids in D65 or D202 for the same course. That has been going on for about 5 or 6 years. I understand that most famlies choose to keep their kids in D65.

So I am not sure how advancement is affected. Only location is.

Further thoughtsI can see why the pilot needs to be expanded before being fully implemented. Magnet school students are students whose families have self-selected into those schools. That implies a student body with a greater degree of engagement in education. It will be helpful to see how the pilot goes in the catch-all middle school environment, particularly in that bottom quartile.

The flip side of "why must your privleged child be sheltered from the badly behaved" is "why must kids who are doing all the right things always be expected to bring up the level of those who do all the wrong things." My kids don't go to school to inspire someone else's kids toward better learning. They don't go to school in order to do more than their share of the work on those many, many group projects. They go for their own education.

If you insist on flattening the middle school math curriculum, be fully prepared with strategies for dealing with the disengaged and those who struggle, because they come in all colors and income levels. Be prepared to offer academic supports other than "put the struggling kid in a group of three others who understand the material". Be prepared to truly differentiate. Go ahead and have the high expectations, but do not punish or hold back an entire class when some kids don't meet them. Inevitably, for all manner of reasons, some kids will not.

Got that right! D65 math program contributes to the gapThe District 65 middle school math program (accelerated and not) is much less rigorous than it needs to be. Here's what goes on (sorry that it's long but the details will demonstrate why the program is far off course):

— teachers do not teach math except in passing. You ought to see the books. They are a joke. They read like a mystery novel with every other page ripped out and the last page missing. You can't find any helpful content in them. Instead, the books include printed dialogue between students who talk about doing a problem and they may or may not get it right. In that dialogue, the students drop clues on how to complete the problems that follow. Nary a formula or explanation for a formula is found anywhere. The textbooks provide minimal helpful content but instead are packed with lots and lots of problems. Yuck.

— What goes on in the classroom when teachers don't teach math except in passing? Students are left to figure out much of the content on their own without a teacher's guidance and without a usable book. They come home with little or no understanding of the material that should have been covered that day in class. Remember, these are 11, 12 and 13 year olds, not college students or even advanced high school students.

— students are assigned to work in groups with the idea that the more advanced students must "teach" the students who are behind and/or are disruptive. My student was the recipient of this approach to "teaching" in a non-accelerated class in the past. Here's an example:

My student and one other were paired for weeks on end with a disruptive student who had no interest in the material being covered. But it was up to my child and another child to try to "teach" math to this peer.

The two students tried to involve the disruptive student in their discussion of the problem and how they could approach it (with little content instruction from the teacher and the textbook providing virtually no information, just a few clues.) The two students would come up with ideas and ask the disruptive student for his thoughts on how to approach the problem. If the disruptive student even responded to the other two students, it was to say curtly "I don't know." The disruptive student would, however, turn to other tables and try to talk to other students about what they were doing for the weekend, their latest favorite game on their electronic toy, etc. As always, the teacher paid no attention to this disruptive behavior.

The two students would work on the problem, discussing it as they went and asking the disruptive student what he thought about their progress, if he thought that they should be doing it a different way, etc. Again, typically no response from the disruptive student. Instead, on several occcasions, he pulled out his electronic toy to play with. The two students asked him (quietly) to put it away so that they all wouldn't get in trouble. No response and the disruptive student did not stop playing with the electronic game concealed under the desk.

When the teacher caught sight of the disruptive student looking under the desk and not working with the other two students, the teacher yelled at my child and the other student for not keeping the disruptive student "engaged" and admonished them in front of the entire class for not "involving him" in their work. In the teacher's eyes, it was their fault, not the disruptive student. Now, how screwed up is that? My student was very discouraged so I scheduled a time to speak with the teacher.

I explained that my student was not familiar with the teaching methods that she would like my student to use with the other student. So the teacher told me how the teacher wanted my student to interact with the disruptive student who the teacher recognized was "not easy to work with" and was clearly far behind the other students, acknowledging that it was my child's responsibility to work with the disruptive student so that he could catch up. (That's the teacher saying that the teacher wants an untrained 11-year-old student to take on that responsibility.) I took detailed notes. I then went home and informed my child exactly what the teacher wanted in working with this disruptive student.

My student and the other student followed those instructions exactly but the disruptive student did not respond to any of the teacher's instructions and the disruptive student continued to ignore the other two students. So my student and the other student continued to get yelled at by the teacher for not "engaging" the disruptive student. Again, this went on for weeks and my student and I had to discuss the frustration and how best to work with this student. Finally, I spoke with the teacher again to convey my student's frustration with this arrangement but the teacher told me that the teacher was planning on making new group assignments as they had just finished another chapter in the book. That just meant that two other students in the class were made responsible for teaching the disruptive student. But at least my student could be done with the frustration and get back to learning at my student's pace.

The disruptive student never had homework completed to review in class so the other two students would need to spend enormous amounts of time on homework that they had already completed because the disruptive student had no idea on how to complete the homework. They would try to explain it to the disruptive student so that the teacher wouldn't yell at them when the disruptive student did poorly on a homework quiz.

And my personal favorite — the group quiz where your grade is wholly dependent on someone else's test score. The teacher would have each student take a paper-and-pencil quiz. But you didn't necessarily get the score that you earned. Instead, each student would get the score of the lowest scoring student in their group. So when the disruptive student who refused to work with the group got a D on a group quiz, my child who did the homework diligently, worked hard to understand the content, asked me for help when needed, spent time on the weekend reading information on the internet that was helpful to learning the content, etc. got a D as well, even if my child's grade on the test was an A. Again, how screwed up is that? My child earned an A but his record reflects a D. Completely indefensible except in D65.

This is just one example of how no teaching takes place in D65 middle school classrooms and how disruptive students are the focus of what happens, giving them the power to rule the roost at the expense of other students' education.

This teaching by students takes place in accelerated middle school classes as well. But without the disruptive students, at least the students can focus on trying to figure out math, rather than standing on your head, trying to get another student interested and involved with the result of getting yelled at for not teaching the disruptive students to the liking of the teacher.

The student group approach to teaching also takes place in third, fourth and fifth grade classes as well. The teaching by the teacher was also minimal there but more students could keep up because the content was pretty simple. Some teachers made an effort to provide some accelerated work to students who mastered the basic material easily by sending worksheets home.

Perhaps if the D65 math teachers actually TAUGHT math to the 11, 12, 13 and 14 year olds in District 65 middle school (and, I would argue, actually taught younger students as well), we would not have a "gap" in students' math education at ETHS. It is D65's approach to teaching math that leads to the "gap" in scores between higher income students and lower income students.

Any guess on who more consistently "figures out" math under the D65 system in which teachers don't teach math and the books read like a mystery novel (and then use that knowledge to score well on tests)? No surprise, here's the answer: the students who have parents who have the educational background and time to teach them at home and/or whose parents can afford tutors to teach them at home. That's what we have done and guess what, my child is in accelerated math.

D65's math program contributes to the gap in math scores. That means that D65 contributes to the ETHS situation of having mainly high income students entering the accelerated math program there. Change the program so teachers teach and get books that don't leave students wondering what they are supposed to learn.

Evidence?I have not seen any evidence in achievement reports for what you write.

It sounds like you are describing a textbook that was abandoned 2 years ago. But that you are bound to math teaching that was the way you were taught. THAT created the achievement gap.

And maybe you need to talk with your student's teacher and principal if things are as you describe. They should be held accountable.

Goal needs to be student learningThe achievement reports indicate that an achievement gap exists. That's my evidence. In my opinion based on years in District 65 with regular and frequent communication with other parents, the current approach to teaching math in District 65 contributes to the achievement gap as it disadvantages students without academic support at home.

Nope, the book that I describe was used last year (2011-2012). I don't know anything about a book that was abandoned two years ago.

I am not "bound" to math being taught the way that I learned. But riddle me this — why do I remember the algebra and geometry that I learned in high school many decades ago (and the last math that I took was a bit in college and I don't use algebra or geometry regularly in my work) when I see District 65 students coming home who learned NOTHING that day in math class and must come home to learn it?

It's because I was taught math and I learned math. I was not left to pick up clues and figure out a mystery novel disguised as a math book with group work assigned so that I could teach other students as the focus of much of my time. The teacher was actively engaged in discussing issues, answering questions, interacting with students. And the textbook had helpful information.

Use any approach you advocate as long as the middle school students are actually taught math rather than being left on their own on a hide and go seek mission every day. District 65 math teachers have told me privately that they find the current approach as frustrating and not helpful for many students' learning. But it's what they are told to do.

If the D65 students learned math from their teachers in school, I would happily say hooray and go forward. But I am sounding the alarm to the larger Evanston community from a representative parent who is disturbed by the current approach to "teaching" math. Every parent with whom I have spoken notes that most students must get support at home (from parents or tutors) to succeed at a high level in the District 65 math program.

I have talked to the teacher and the principal on many occasions. I don't know if you have students in District 65 but if you don't, I'll tell you that any one parent can talk until he or she is blue in the face and nothing changes. I would like members of the community to start asking questions about how students are taught (or more accurately are not taught) math in District 65 including the choice of textbook. Let's hear the answers provided to the community and let the community tell the Board what they think.

You ought to take a look at the math book that my student used in the just completed school year. If you were trying to learn anything from it as an 11 or 12 year old, you would pull your hair out.

You can’t differentiate math in middle schoolHigh-ability students teaching low-ability students is what passes for differentiation in District 65. This is not lost on the students, especially the underperforming ones. Would that motivate you internally to be knowingly paired with the student who can do this task better than you with minimal effort?

Computer math games are proving to be better than these socially motivated methods. The prejudice in Evanston is against high-ability students and that has to stop. The research shows that the achievement gap between races is narrowing.

But boys are falling behind girls in every educational category. Black girls outnumber boys in college two to one. The emphasis on pilot programs here in Evanston is not helping us. It helps the grant-funded education researchers for sure and we are their test population. Our children are sacrificial lambs to their pet projects.

http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/02/14/boys-fall-behind-girls-school

Move or private school?Anonymous1- With all your concerns, why do you continue to keep your kids in D65? I'm not saying that D65 is bad, but you continue to deeply critique the system. If you are very unhappy, there are other excellent alternatives in the area.

I have my own kids at St. Athanasius, and I am extremely pleased in every way. Yes, it is not cheap, but it's worth it. The St. A's community welcomes people of all faiths and colors, and there are need-based scholarships available.

While I've heard some outsiders call the curriculum "old-fashioned," I've found that everything that the school teaches is based on research based best practice. Starting in kindergarten, they use Wilson Fundations program to teach solid reading decoding and spelling skills. In addition, for reading, the teachers use leveled reading books with guided reading groups. The math curriculum is Everyday Math, like D65, with plenty of extra supplemental fact drills, including online resources such as extra math and ixl.com Over the summer, kids are required to complete many hours of math practice online, as well as reading logs. There are plenty of opportunities for more experential hands-on learning. Some of my past favorite examples include International Culture week at first grade and the annual science fair.

The school runs on a "unit system" with grades grouped. Unit A is grades 1-2, Unit B..3-4, Unit C..5-6, Unit D…7-8. . Starting in first grade, kids switch classrooms for core subjects with their unit(math, reading, religion, social studies, science). This allows teachers to specialize in one subject, and allows for better articulation between units of subject matter. The same teacher will teach the same subject for two years, ensuring that there are no gaps in learning for students year-year, teacher-teacher. In first grade, kids are grouped based on ability for reading, with the groups changing as kids needs change. In third grade, kids who are high performers in math are given advanced level work, while their peers review material as needed. The upper grades also differentiate for math. In third grade, one of the teachers this year provided free before school math tutoring twice weekly to anyone interested. While St. A's is not equipped to help students with more significant learning needs, there is an in-house learning specialist who provides additional assistance to children struggling in math/reading.

St. A's also has an outstanding fine arts department. Starting in first grade, children receive weekly art and music lessons. The art teacher intertwines art history with technique. My first grader has come home to teach me about Kandinsky and Monet. The art that the kids create is so good that I get my kids' work framed and hang it in my house- the artwork of ALL the kids is that good. The children learn to read music as well. The school has an orchestra starting in third grade..

Of course, St. A's also has a strong athletic department, with weekly gym classes for all grades and multiple after school sports options starting in fourth grade.

The main reason that I love St. A's, and main differentiation from public schools, is it's excellent character education program, it's strong focus on work ethic, and it's teaching of strict self-discipline. Many of the St. A's families feel, like I do, that religion (of any kind) provides the tried and tested stories to teach character. The bible (both old and new), like any other religious book, is full of stories that teach about how to live life fully and deeply while respecting others. St. A's creates a family out of the school, using older grade 6-8th students to act as mentors and coaches for the younger grade students. For example, each 8th grader is given a first grade buddy for the year. THey escort their buddy to various school functions, write encouranging letters, and plan holiday parties for the younger classes. The buddy also escorts younger students to weekly church. For some non-Catholic families, they may feel turned off by this aspect of the school. However, I look at the weekly church hour as a way to instill community and mental discipline, much like meditation is about training the mind to be still. I love that the school year begins and ends in church. With the teachings always being that we are one, under a greater purpose, and we begin and end together in recognizing this. For character building, each child is additionally put into a "family" that includes representation from all grades. The groups meet monthly (in lieu of weekly church) and participate in "Be FAIR" activities. These range from anti-bullying to self-respect. St. A's has clear and established disciplinary polcies, using faith as a reason why people should treat others (including teachers and yourself) with respect. I love walking into the classrooms and being greeted by "yes maam" from the older students. It is a joy being part of this community.

Like any school, St. A's is not without it's issues. However, overall, I could not be happier with the experience of my children at this school. It was also recognized last year as a Blue Ribbon Winner, which was given to only 50 private schools nationally. In order to even apply for the Blue Ribbon, schools must have 5 years of standardized test scores with a mean average of all students of 90% or higher scores.

If you or anyone is looking for an alternative to D65, I would highly encourage you to consider St. Athanasius. There is open enrollment for all grades.

Sorry — can’t afford itThe information that you present on St. A's is quite compelling. But unfortunately, our limited income dictates either stay in D65 or leave Evanston. Right now, we cannot move but are planning to do so when a couple of issues are resolved.

The main reason that we will leave: our lackluster experience with D65. The second reason: the violence near ETHS and the influence of the Pacific Education Group's teachings at D202. The demonization of one race and the bashing of another is no way for a community like Evanston to educate its children.

Can’t afford it either, but. . .Jen,

So pleased you're happy with Saint A's, but be realistic – many people in Evanston just can't afford to send their kids to private schools. And even if they can, they resent spending the bulk of their property taxes on the public schools and then have to spend still more to get a decent education for their kids.

Part of the problem with D65 (and now D202) is that parents do pull their kids instead of fighting the system. How many parents were at the meeting where this math program was discussed? How many spoke to the board about their children's experiences?

If people do nothing but post anonymously here, nothing will change.

Another OptionThis may be even less feasible for many/most than private schools.

In the western suburbs parents banded together to do home schooling—no religion or even politics involved just good education the public schools were not giving—even in Naperville. Parents share in duties whether teaching/tutoring in areas they know, monitoring, taking field trips, etc..

A friend of mine did this for his two children. They turned out alright. In fact one was in the Lyrics children choir, has commented on natiional TV on operas from the Met, one got all expense paid to MIT, the other to UIUC. Both passed out of 1st year calculus, learned Latin, French and German as well as getting arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences.

Given NU profs I hear complaining about Evanston Middle school [especially], parent might consider forming home school groups or at least realize they will have to be very involved in their children's education which might involved active tutoring [esp. in areas they are knowledgeable in] or forming neigborhood groups to supplement public school. Once children fall behind or lose interest because of bad schools, you can only hope somewhere along the line someone [parent, teacher or someone they look-up to can pull them 'back in.'

expensive- I totally get it-I totally understand this. It's expensive, and it is doubly expensive in Evanston to pay property taxes plus tuition. There are need based scholarships, but I'm not sure the cut-off to be considered in-need of assistance.

From my viewpoint, the school system represents the values of the majority in Evanston. People elect the school board and the school board extends the contract of Hardy Murphy, year after year. PUblic education, after all, represents the values of the public majority. The 202 new school board this year was split with half the candidates openly supporting PEG. This is the will of the majority, so I"m not surprised to hear that more people are not showing up to protest the math program.

Big Change at District 65Regarding, "the school system represents the values of the majority in Evanston" – I have high hopes that the new Board in District 65 will be responsible, thoughtful and use qualitative and quantitative information to make the best decisions on behalf of all students.

So far, so good. With the meeting i attended and the others i have watched on TV i am impressed that this board asks questions, and is willing to challenge the Administration that their proposals are well thought out and necessary changes will be likely to improve outcomes for students.

As another person mentioned, more parents need to take the time to be informed and involved in educational issues in Evanston so that the vocal few do not enable emotional decisions at the Board level.

I'm excited about the new board at District 65 and recognize that positive change will take time.

But parents, get involved – you have an important role to play – the board can't do it all.

Who is badly behaved?My experience as a D65 teacher does not compute with the assumption that high achieving= well-behaved. Their misbehavior is just quieter and often more harmful. Think mean.

The pilot teachers said one challenge was managing the "uppity" (my word not theirs) attitudes and behaviors of the accelerated 7th graders.

So where did those kids learn their uppity-ness?

The code word “uppity” — is that PEG talking?High achieving does not automatically equal well behaved. Here's my statement: there are fewer misbehaving kids in the accelerated math program than in the standard math program. That is our family's truth and the truth for other families with students in the accelerated program.

Can you believe that a D65 teacher posts that high-achieving students are "uppity" noting a report written by other D65 teachers? Wow. I assume that that's code for a certain skin color not hanging their heads for their accomplishments as PEG teaches they must do because that skin color only succeeds because of their race, according to PEG. Just Google Pacific Education Group and you can read about its baseless race-based view of educational success. Here's commentary on PEG from the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/142129013.html PEG's teachings are truly astonishing.

I have heard no reports of meanness or occurrences of being "uppity" in the accelerated math class at our student's school. From what I have witnessed, virtually no students know or pay any attention to who is in the accelerated math class as virtually every students speaks to my child as if that child is in the standard math program, asking about homework, mentioning an upcoming test, etc.

My child has offered to help and has helped students in the standard math program over lunch or after school when they have questions about their math assignments or test prep — not being "uppity" but instead being helpful. That's what my child is learning at home and other students see this student as an approachable resource who doesn't label them and they don't label our student, either. We teach that all students can learn and deserve a chance to learn.

Instead, I hear of a groups of preteens and young teens at D65 that struggle and work

to find their way to learn math with a hands-off math curriculum that is more like a hide-and-seek game. Sad.togetherDifferentiation doesn’t work for mathThese emotional outcries of elitism or racism are red herrings meant to move the discussion away from what ed research shows: Differentiation does not work for math. It usually devolves into the higher ability students tutoring the lower ability students, at the expense of the higher ability student having more time to excel.

Forget about your average ability or anywhere in the middle student. They are ignored, freeing the teacher to work with the lowest ability students to get them up to AYP levels. AYP levels are correlated to percentage of special ed (students with a "behavioral" disability) and non-English speaking students in the school.

Something for schools to strive forO.K., this 11-year-old college freshman is not average by any means, but contrary to those on one side who think black children can not excel because of genetics and those on the other side who think they cannot excel because of enviornment, this might be something to consider.

Not much is said/shown about the family as to income or social status. But one can guess that if nothing else they did not stand in his way.