Recently, the Board of Education voted 4-3 against the budgeted update for the elementary math resource, refusing to update a 10-yr.-old curriculum resource, and creating lasting impacts. In their Q&A to district leaders regarding iReady, board members did not hide their distrust of FHSD educators and administrators or of current best practices (inquiry-based learning). Though Francis Howell Forward has read and listened carefully to the concerns of these board members, we believe their objections are unfounded, and that their votes are a classic example of government overreach.
Key steps for a thorough resource adoption*
FHForward believes it is important to consider all opinions. We were curious about this idea that FHSD’s process was flawed, so we went to work. We researched the steps of a thorough resource adoption process:
Gather feedback from staff about the benefits/drawbacks of the current resource.
Convene a committee of district stakeholders, including educators.
Guide the committee in determining priority standards** and current best-practices by conducting a thorough review of state learning standards, district data, and current education research.
Reach out to vendors to gather multiple options.
Ask the committee to narrow selections using a scoring guide that weighs cost as well as the criteria mentioned above.
If possible, have effective teachers pilot (try out) one or more options with their students; gather feedback from educators, students, and families.
After analyzing/synthesizing all data, present the top choice to district stakeholders and consider feedback.
Present your chosen resource to your board or superintendent for purchase approval.
How does FHSD Measure Up?
Then we compared the steps in FHSD’s process to the ideal. As Dr. Buckman described in her presentation of the new resource to the board of education meeting,*** this FHSD’s process was robust and thorough—a 2-yr journey centering teacher and community voice, as well as learning standards and academic outcomes. Consider these details:
The cost of an adoption process and resource purchase are included and approved in FHSD budget projections.
Every elementary teacher was sent a survey asking for their needs/ opinions around a new math resource.
A committee of 22 teachers and 3 instructional coaches was convened.
They carefully reviewed MO learning standards, current best practices, and teacher feedback.
Using this information, they created a scoring guide and narrowed 15 resource options to 5.
Vendors of the 5 materials were invited to present their materials; afterward, the committee narrowed the options to 2.
Both final options were piloted by a sweeping 54 teachers from every elementary school in the district. 71% of them selected the iReady resource as the best option.
FHSD’s Academic Advisory Committee, (including parents) offered feedback on accessibility and voted to move the resource forward.
The district addressed iReady publishers concerning feedback from the Academic Advisory Committee. iReady agreed to necessary adjustments
Dr. Buckman presented iReady to the board, explaining the process and sharing evidence of improved Math scores from 6 similar districts who adopted the same resource.
So what is driving the board’s concerns?
A review of board docs and discussion*** leads us to believe the board (a) wanted more evidence that the resource is effective (b) had some questions about which teachers were chosen for the pilot, and (c) had concerns about inquiry-based learning (IBL) practices featured in the resource. Director Bertrand‘s post via his official Facebook page also speaks to these concerns.
Let’s consider these objections. First, while it may sound reasonable to expect a proven track record and quantitative research before making a large purchase, curriculum resources simply are not researched to this extent. In fact, studies show that when any new resource is introduced and as teachers and students are asked to use new tools, achievement scores are likely to temporarily decline. Medications may be rigorously tested and approved through a federal governing body, but education is overseen by the states. Director Bertrand's analogy regarding airline equipment is similarly faulty.
Because learning is a very subjective, individualized process, and education research centers human behavior and thoughts, it is often qualitative instead of quantitative. You can imagine that isolating variables in whole groups of individual children would be a significant challenge. Even if this weren't true, the funding for such research is scant compared to federally regulated chemicals and flight technology. In any case, literature reviews outside those offered by publishers themselves, as well as control groups, are almost never included in an adoption process. The board is essentially asking the district to meet and unreasonable standard, far outside the norm for districts across the country.
Next, while no board members publicly shared why they had concerns about which teachers were included, it should be noted that publishers will only offer a limited number of materials for teachers to sample/review and that not all educators have the experience or capacity to teach from new or multiple resources from one grading period to the next.
The last concern has to do with ideology. The majority of the board favors traditional learning over inquiry-based methods. They feel IBL models provide too little structure and rely too much on students to guide their own understanding. While these concerns have some merit, researchers have overwhelmingly found inquiry-based methods to be more effective long term and that, when properly trained in facilitation of IBL, students of teachers using these methods score higher on achievement measures than those taught with traditional instruction alone. (Be sure to look for a future post to address this concern in more depth.)
What can be done now?
Email your board members. Copy all of them (see addresses below). Tell them you understand that they are not education professionals and that this may be a learning curve. Tell them that a quality education requires updated materials and that we want our students to learn from teachers using best research-based practices. Encourage them to trust our highly trained staff and the quality service they provide to our district. Consider this wording:
Dear board members,
In the future, please place more trust in our education professionals and carefully weigh the consequences of delaying or denying resource purchases. We do not want our students using outdated materials or our teachers to use stale teaching practices. Please guide Francis Howell forward.
– Concerned patron
*See these sources for descriptions of quality resource adoption processes:
FHSD policy regarding the adoption process (6000 section)
Kansas (pg. 3)
**Because each state may have different learning standards/terminology, curriculum must be evaluated to be sure it meets our state’s standards. For example, Texas's state policy requires only 50% of state standards for a particular subject to be covered by a resource.
***To see the discussion of the iReady curriculum, go to the 1:01 time stamp of May's Board of Education meeting.
This post is the second in a series concerning the board’s refusal of the district’s recommended resource. See the first post here.