Algebra: Tracking or Not… Communication and Accountability Could Use Some Improvement
SFUSD Board of Education Commissioner Rachel Norton just posted a guest post by Matt Brauer, a parent of two girls who attend SFUSD schools addressing some of the questions parents are raising about SFUSD’s new Math Sequence. (If you’d like to know more, read this and this.)
The article describes Brauer’s concerns as a parent with the implementation of the district’s new Common Core aligned math sequence:
Some time ago I wrote a letter to Board of Education member Rachel Norton. I was concerned that my daughters were expressing boredom with math, and worrying that the in-class experiences they were having would diminish their joy of learning the subject. I was especially annoyed at some of the district rhetoric about differentiated instruction and an end to tracking. Also, I told her that while I’m a fan of what the CCSS is trying to accomplish, it was not clear to me that the curriculum necessitated heterogeneous classrooms, and that I felt like the district was using the curriculum change as an excuse to pursue other agendas. Finally, I wrote that the district has been notorious for talking a good game but not following through with the resources needed to implement the plan. (Differentiation is hard, and it’s not clear how much buy-in there is from the teachers, or if they have the training and prep time to do it well.)
What we SHOULD be Talking About
His post is well thought out regarding math some of the questions and challenges our district faces regarding both implementation of the new Common Core standards, as well as the difficulty many teachers are experiencing in differentiating for our students. More importantly, it and brings up some underlying issues in our district that deserve our attention:
- How can the district improve its communication with families about district decisions? We can’t support implementation of new systems if we don’t understand them.
- What happens when parents and students aren’t satisfied with implementation of new systems? I’m perfectly happy with the differentiation going on in my girls classroom. My girls’ teacher is great. Apparently this is not happening in all classrooms. What happens when differentiation is not working?
Aside from complaining to the teacher and principal, there is currently no clear system for addressing problems in our schools. I have had similar issues in dealing with inadequate instruction in my one of my daughter’s art and music classes provided by VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts). I have been working WITH the principal for over two months now, and yet it feels like many of my concerns are still not addressed. And I KNOW the system. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for non-educator families to navigate our system. We could go a long way to improving “customer service” throughout our system.
I believe a lot of the impetus for this algebra discussion is due to the fact that the district is not doing as well as it could to work with parents as problems arise. For example, currently we don’t have a very clear system for capturing parent feedback (both positive and negative). I know we have a district complaint system. Unfortunately, MANY parents do not. In addition, it is unclear what happens to complaints once they are made. There is also no clear way to view parent complaints in a collective way. If only one parent complains about something, it’s an individual problem which may or may not get addressed. But if lots and lots of parents are complaining about a similar problem, then it’s and indicator of a systems issue that needs to be addressed. Finally, there is no reporting mechanism to hold the district accountable for resolving parent complaints. It is clearly not appropriate for the public to know every in and out of every parent complaint. That said, if 100 parents are complaining about facilities problems at the their school, it seems there should be some sort of public accountability for resolving them.
What about creating a 311 for parents? This could be similar to the city 311 system, where families could complain or ask questions directly to the district (instead of trying to figure out our current confusingly bureaucratic system.) Currently, we have a parent complaint system via the Office of Family Voice, but as far as I know, complaints are not being tracked. Even if they are, they are not publicly reported. If we had a more robust system, the district could track where it’s getting the most complaints and address problems more effectively. Is there one school that is getting more complaints? Maybe it’s a site leadership issue. Are lots of middle school families complaining about math? Maybe it’s a teacher training or support issue.
Whether you support a the current math sequence or another plan, it’s clear our district could do better when it comes to LISTENING and RESPONDING to families when there are problems… especially where system-wide issues are concerned. Even if the district choses to implement a two-track system, it doesn’t guarantee every child will get the best teacher or kids will never be bored in math again.
With no clear plan for addressing parent concerns/complaints, we have still not addressed the primary problem: clear TWO-WAY communication systems between district/schools and families and clear systems of accountability for effective implementation of district programs.