No More Silos

Here is the master schedule I shared with my staff before everyone left for break:

20130611-205504.jpg

This is driven mostly by Response to Intervention. Starting December of this year, all schools have to ensure that interventions that may lead to a special education referral for reading or math take place outside of that respective subject area. Where you see “I/E” stands for Intervention and Enrichment. Kids that are either below the line or above the line should receive additional support in their specific area of need. This is based on a template by Dr. Michael Rettig.

I had a number of teachers come down and speak with me after I sent this out. “So, reading and content should be taught separately?” was one of the more common questions. I explained that, no, this is just a schedule that your grade level should do their best to adhere to over the course of the year. Integrating the subject areas is highly encouraged. We only want to ensure that students’ needs are being met through Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. Scheduling in an intervention block is the best way we know how to make sure this happens. There has been good discourse about this, and we will continue to talk.

Yet I bring this up here because I have concerns. Not about Response to Intervention (RtI). Besides soon becoming law, John Hattie, researcher and author of Visible Learning, has found that RtI has one of the largest effect sizes on student learning. I take comfort knowing that “grey area” kids, those that don’t qualify for special education services because their cognitive abilities are too low, may now get the necessary support. In addition, RtI has been called “the last, best hope” for literacy education by Richard Allington.

No, I am more concerned that all of these initiatives coming at us – Common Core, Smarter Balanced Assessment, and new teacher evaluations based on students’ test scores (on top of RtI, but without the research base) – will further fracture our already chopped up days at the elementary level. Many secondary schools already suffer from this. “They are everybody’s kids”, and therefore nobody’s kids. Leaders thinking in black-and-white terms might start to believe that continuing to departmentalize the core areas will lead to better gains in student achievement. Specific interventions can be used to zero in on targeted literacy and numeracy skills. Words such as “hard” and “rigorous” are often used to describe these interventions.

But this is not what kids, or most adults, comes to school for. They want to be engaged. They want to see the connections between their lives and what they are learning. Making connections throughout the day will only enhance instruction. The thinking required for this type of work comes before the instruction actually happens, as well during the teaching-learning process using ongoing assessments. It doesn’t happen when we are inputting progress monitoring results into a spreadsheet. It doesn’t happen when we are solely aligning our instruction with standards instead of with our students’ needs. It doesn’t happen when we are forced to think about our own livelihoods instead of our students’ futures.

Giving students the best opportunity for success starts with engaging and evidence-based classroom instruction. Separating subjects and skill areas into silos is not natural. The further we pull away for learning as an authentic experience, the more we risk disengaging our students because it doesn’t represent what is real and what is meaningful.

Voucher Expansion Would Be an Enormous Mistake

May 28, 2013

Dear Senator Lassa and Representative Krug:

I am writing regarding the Governor’s 2013-15 Budget proposals relating to K-12 education. Specifically, I strongly encourage you to:
• Support removing all private school voucher expansion proposals from the budget.
• Support removing all charter school proposals from the budget.
• Support the Ellis/Olsen plan to increase the revenue cap by at least $200 in each year of the biennium.

Voucher Expansion
Voucher expansion would be an enormous mistake because:
• Vouchers do not improve student achievement. These are the findings of numerous studies over the years, including the most recent five-year longitudinal study conducted by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau.

• Vouchers eliminate public accountability. And this stands in stark contrast to the strong controls placed on public schools in many areas, including teacher certification, instruction/assessment requirements, graduation requirements, student admissions and due process protections, and financial oversight. (Click here for Disability Rights Wisconsin’s informational flyer that explains this further.)

• Vouchers take resources away from public school students and increase local property taxes. Two school districts that currently have voucher programs, Milwaukee and Racine, have experienced state aid reductions and property tax increases. Private school voucher expansion means property tax increases and reductions in student services at the local level. (Click here for the Green Bay Area Public School District’s informational flyer that explains this further.)

Charter School Oversight Board
The Governor’s budget proposes to create a state-level Charter School Oversight Board (CSOB) to approve contracts with persons to operate independent charter schools.

Stripping the power to open and fund schools from locally elected school boards and putting it in the hands of political appointees in Madison violates principles of effective governance and public accountability. Furthermore, independent charter schools are funded from a first draw on the general aid appropriation. Therefore, the independent charter schools authorized by the CSOB would siphon state aid dollars from all local districts regardless of where the independent charter schools are located, causing many school boards to raise local property taxes to make up the difference.

I encourage you to remove all private voucher expansion and charter school proposals from the budget. Major changes in education policy do not belong in the budget bill but rather as separate legislation that is debated in the light of day and stand, or fall, on their own merits.

School Funding
A strong public school system has been a civic and economic priority in Wisconsin since we ratified our Constitution in 1848. The Governor’s budget proposal would freeze school district revenue limits while increasing state spending by $1.7 billion. If enacted, this proposal would literally and symbolically end the Badger State’s emphasis on quality education. Specifically, class sizes at Howe Elementary School would most likely rise, while student services would probably decrease. My school is not experiencing declining enrollment. Even so, the support needed to help all kids reach their potential may be reduced.

I encourage you to support Senators Ellis and Olsen’s plan to increase the revenue limit by at least $200 in each year of the biennium.

Thank you for your service in the Legislature and for considering my thoughts on these issues of critical importance to our State.

Sincerely,

Matt Renwick
Principal
Howe Elementary School
Wisconsin Rapids, WI

Note: Thank you to the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA) for providing the framework and much of the language in this letter. I couldn’t have written it better or agreed with it more.