Open Letter to the PWC School Board

Dear School Board Members,

Staff have presented the proposed 2011 – 2017 PWC Mathematics Curriculum which limits instruction to the SOLs.  I believe that the SOLs represent the minimum our children should learn.  Unfortunately the late date prevents us from having a serious discussion about the extent of instruction in PWCS and deficiencies in the VA SOLs, which I believe does a disservice to PWC students.  I’d like offer an approach which I hope will enable our division staff to do what they need to do over the summer while addressing what I see as deficiencies in the proposed Mathematics Textbook Adoption Criteria and PWC Mathematics & ELA Curricula.

(1) Mathematics Textbook Evaluation Criteria

Because of the VA DOE was late in presenting the state recommended texts, we’ve lost a good portion of the time we would typically commit to the textbook adoption process and are stuck with little time to revise the timeline or proposed evaluation criteria.  While the proposed timeline is fine, I’m less than thrilled with the proposed textbook evaluation criteria because they lack context and are too vague to be measurable.  What was presented two weeks ago as the Textbook Evaluation Criteria appear more like a framework through which specific, measurable criteria will be developed, not actual criteria.    Unfortunately, we’ve got the time crunch to deal with and don’t have time for debate over whether the criteria are or are not appropriate.

As I see it, the proposed process / timeline and evaluation criteria are two different things.  To move forward with the textbook evaluation meetings we only need to approve the process as the committee will develop the rubric which will actually be used to facilitate selecting an appropriate text.  Would it be possible to approve the proposed process and timeline, but not the criteria?  Could we request that the Math Department report back to the school board for approval of the textbook evaluation rubric, once the committee has met and developed it?  Since committee meetings aren’t scheduled to being until August, it isn’t likely the committee will have a rubric ready for board review until September, which conveniently aligns with the resumption of public school board meetings in September.

To me that would allow the process for selecting an appropriate math textbook to proceed, but would still afford the school board oversight of the process as the committee would have to report back to the board for approval of proposed evaluation rubric once it’s developed.

(2) PWC / SOL Mathematics Curriculum

Our core instructional program has always been and will remain the SOLs.  That’s by law in the state of Virginia.  Because the proposed Mathematics Curriculum for 2011 – 2017 is the SOLs, there is nothing for you to approve as we are required by law to teach the SOLs.  This means that approving the PWC Mathematics Curriculum tonight is unnecessary as staff will have to make sure our teachers are prepared to teach the SOLs next year.

The PWC Mathematics Curriculum, until now, has been designed to exceed the SOLs.  It was the additional “stuff” we added to the SOL Curriculum Frameworks that set our instructional programs apart from the SOLs and resulted in the PWC Curriculum.  Staff have proposed an instructional program for 2011 – 2017 which proscribes nothing more than the SOLs, a major shift from the position we’ve held since 1998 when the SOLs were mandated in Virginia schools.

Typically we’d have time to consider such a recommendation, but, like the Textbook Evaluation Process, we’re running into time problems because the curriculum wasn’t proposed until June and there are no more public meetings until the Fall.  As tonight is the last public board meeting and central office staff and teachers need time this summer to prepare for the 2011 / 2012 instructional year, there is simply no time to consider staff’s proposed shift in our instructional objectives.

I think there might be a way to ensure that instruction in our schools continues to meet the high standards we’ve set while still affording teachers and central office staff the ability to prepare for next instructional year.  You have several options tonight:
(a)  Approve the proposed Mathematics and ELA Curriculum as is, which means you will have decided that the SOLs will be the extent to which PWC students are taught; or,
(b)  Reject the proposed Mathematics and ELA Curriculum and task staff with examining the programs of study in neighboring jurisdictions to determine what, if any, additions or clarifications should be incorporated into our curriculum to ensure that our students meet and exceed the SOLs.

Approving the proposed curricula will mean that you think our students should only be taught to the SOLs.  While staff may appreciate that, I’m not sure the public will be overjoyed to learn that our school board has decided the SOLs are adequate for our children.

Rejecting the proposed curricula means you think our students should be taught to a level that exceeds the SOLs.  Rejecting the proposed curricula doesn’t mean we won’t have Math or ELA curriculum, because the core curriculum that we must teach our students is the SOLs and the SOL Curriculum Frameworks were approved by the VA BOE in February.  So our staff will still be able to provide professional development and develop planning calendars and pacing guides for the 2011 / 2012 school year that are based on the SOLs.  But they will also have to take the time to gather information from other jurisdictions and external experts about where the SOLs can be improved and determine whether those improvements are appropriate for our students.

I suggest you reject the proposed Mathematics and ELA Curricula and ask staff to report back to you at the first public meeting in the Fall with suggestions on where the SOLs should be clarified or improved for our students.  That information is readily available from neighboring jurisdictions like Fairfax and from external experts who have assessed the VA SOLs and identified weaknesses in them.  That will enable you to review and approve the real PWC Curriculum which will ensure that our students meet and exceed the SOLs.  As it will still be early in the instructional year, any changes or improvements could be easily incorporated into the existing SOL based instructional programs, planning calendars, and pacing guides.

(3)  A complaint

This time crunch we’re facing right now didn’t need to happen.  The review process Ms Knight described two weeks ago was done at the state level and completed when the VA BOE approved the SOL Curriculum Frameworks in February.  As the instructional program for PWCS that staff are proposing is the SOL Curriculum Frameworks, they could have presented their proposed curriculum to you in February.  That would have given you more than sufficient time to task staff with examining the instructional programs followed in neighboring jurisdictions to determine what changes they and our teachers felt would be appropriate for our students.

The same applies to the Textbook Evaluation Process.  The state did delay providing the list of recommended textbooks, which set things back a bit.  I called the VA DOE in March and was told that the draft list would be presented to the VA BOE in May.  I’m quite certain staff could have made the same phone call and, once the date was learned, could have presented the proposed process, begun forming committees and developing the rubric long before now.  Unlike Prince William, Stafford, Loudoun, and Fairfax Counties have already begun their process.

Waiting until June forces you to make two important decisions in little time.  That’s not fair to you or to the public who are focused on other things now that the school year is nearly complete.

(4) A warning

When asked whether we’d be considering textbooks that are not recommended by the state two weeks ago, Ms Knight responded that the committees would consider state recommended textbooks but would consider any textbook they wanted, as per state law.  She’s correct, but an important point wasn’t explained to you.  When the state revised the state textbook review process in the wake of the Five Ponds controversy, it added in several key protections for Virginia school districts that did not exist before.  Textbook publishers are now required to affirm in writing that their materials have been developed and reviewed by competent professionals in that field of study and have to agree to compensate school districts for the cost of replacement materials should errors or omissions be discovered in the materials they submitted to Virginia.  Publishers who were unwilling to agree to those requirements were not recommended for use in VA schools.

That means that if we select a textbook that was not recommended by the state, we lose that protection from loss if errors or omissions are discovered in the materials we select.  That’s something we need to seriously consider.


One Response to “Open Letter to the PWC School Board”

  1. Blame the Teachers, Part (2) « PWC Education Reform Blog Says:

    […] could exceed the SOLs, and I provided her and the school board with detailed examples (see here and here). My efforts were a waste of time as the School Board ultimately voted for the PWC […]

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