Friday, October 9, 2009

Beyond the "Seven Keys"

I am Dr. Lisa Beaudet, parent of a [student] at Takoma Park’s Piney Branch
Elementary School.

Members of the School Board, Dr. Weast, assembled parents and members of the community:

The mission of MCPS’ strategic plan is “To provide a high-quality, world-class education that ensures success for every student through excellence in teaching and learning.” Yet, we have heard in the roll-out of the “Seven Keys to College Readiness” that MCPS’ grade level instructional program falls short of being world-class; indeed, MCPS itself has shown that on-grade-level instruction provides inadequate preparation for a successful college experience.

Though MCPS has waved the red flag, it has been largely left up to the parents, rather than the school system, to ensure that our children are on-track, enrolled in appropriate “advanced level” classes so they will be ready for college. But no matter, if they do not reach that level, MCPS can stand behind the “on-grade-level” mantra and claim success for all students. Well, it’s time for those of us who really care about all our students to speak up! Every child can succeed only if every child is brought to a minimum level of competency, and in MCPS, this should be college-readiness. If college-readiness is not the goal of a 12-year elementary and high-school education, then I ask you, what is? I believe it is the duty of MCPS to ensure that all children are indeed ready to succeed in college if they choose to go.

In these difficult economic times, the MCPS strategic plan should focus on its’ second stated goal, to “provide an effective instructional program”. As part of this, I strongly feel we must raise the bar starting in Kindergarten (and earlier, in head-start programs), rapidly phasing in the 7-Keys criteria as the new standard for an "on-grade level" curriculum.

How can this be accomplished? In my son’s classrooms, I have observed some very talented teachers, skilled at providing differentiated instruction, continually multitasking to reach children in three different reading levels within a single classroom. It is exhausting to watch under the best of circumstances, and amounts to a 90-minute block with only 30 minutes of instructional time allotted to each child. Wouldn’t it be better if each teacher were assigned only two reading levels, or better yet, only one? Why not regroup students for homogeneous reading and writing, just as MCPS does in mathematics instruction? More focused instructional time is the only way to provide adequate instruction for all children, and in these difficult economic times, increased instructional time can most readily be had at the expense of a bit of heterogeneity. Increased quality and quantity of instructional time is especially needed for those children at the two extremes: the truly struggling students and those who are highly able. Maybe if we stop expecting our teachers to be superhuman multitaskers, we could use their gifts more wisely and truly address the needs of all our students.

Finally, in order to regain “world-class” status, it is very important to continue to provide challenging material for our highly-able students. We must maintain robust magnet programs in middle school and high school, that can accommodate the increasing levels to which our elementary students will be prepared. In elementary school, a combination of generally raising the bar, increased classroom homogeneity and generalization of the highly gifted (HG) center curriculum to at least a few high-level classrooms in all schools (for example, the piloting of the HG center reading curriculum at Piney Branch Elementary, now in its’ second year) would go far in educating our most able learners, at the same time this strategy addresses the needs of all.

In these difficult economic times, I strongly urge MCPS to do the sensible thing: expect higher grade-level standards of all our students (patterned on the 7 Keys), increase quality and quantity of instruction to ensure students meet these higher standards, give them the incentive of tantalizing magnet courses and the ultimate reward of true college readiness, at and above the new “grade level".

Dr. Beaudet's testimony was presented to the MCPS Board of Education on September 17, 2009 at the Community Forum held at Quince Orchard High School. The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland thanks Dr. Beaudet for permitting us to post her testimony. Click here for previous public comment from other MCPS parents on the "Seven Keys".

1 comment:

  1. I commend Dr. Beaudet for speaking out. I especially commend Dr. Beaudet for recognizing the talented teachers in her son's classroom. Unfortunately, we cannot meet the high-quality, world-class educational system that Weast is professing we are without weeding out the teachers and administrators who are not highly dedicated. I wish I could say all of the teachers and administrators at my sons' school are as highly dedicated as those at Dr. Beaudet's son's school, unfortunately they are not.

    The high expectations and rigor, buzz phrases of MCPS, are not prevalent in all of the classrooms across the county and it is truly sad to see children, especially boys, not meeting their potential. My oldest son who was 5 points away from advanced on his math MSA would have been in the highest level math class in most other schools because his teachers would have seen his potential and encouraged it. Instead at his school he is in the "middle" class because he is only "proficient" in their eyes. (A similar response to his Terra Nova scores in 3rd grade.) In a county where we are trying to "accelerate" our children through math, you would think you would want a child that close to advanced to be moved up and challenged, but not here where everything is good enough and rigor is not really that important.

    For those of you who may think I am a parent who is just pushing my child, this is not the case. This is more than a one time incident, this is a pattern of continued low expectations for children at this school as I am not the only parent who has seen these issues. However without a PTA advocating for children (it is solely interested in organizing activities, I tried that route already), with most parents happy with the status quo and those not happy getting shut down, it is near impossible to affect change. Plus, there is little concrete evidence to prove what is happening as this is a culture that comes from within.

    Mr. Weast, feel free to tell me about your world-class education, it must be happening at other schools in the county because it isn't happening at my sons' school and trust me, I have not been quiet about it and no one at MCPS is listening.

    By the way, Mr. Weast, I know what a "world-class MCPS" education is, as I attended Montgomery County Public Schools as did my parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmother, and great grandmother. I understand MCPS high expectations and where they can take you and right now, my sons' school isn't going to get them there unless I do a lot of outside work.


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