Have you noticed that just about any time Melissa or I write something about APP or Spectrum or advanced learning in almost any way two things happen: the thread gets about a hundred comments and the comments get nasty.
Have you noticed that school board candidates - like all other politicians - prefer to speak in vague platitudes and evade any discussion of specifics? It's a funny thing, but in their pursuit of a decision-making job they appear incapable of making any decisions at all. That's because having positions on any issue will alienate the people who have the opposing view. To prevent alienating anyone, they don't espouse any position at all. Sure they will assert their strong stance in support of motherhood, the flag, and apple pie, but the more contentious and heated the issue, the less likely they will take a stand on it.
So we shouldn't be surprised that the School Board would prefer not to take a position on advanced learning which, according to the evidence presented by this blog, is the most heated and most contentious of all district issues.
We shouldn't be surprised that they don't want to express a view on advanced learning but that's their job. The time to weasel is when they are candidates, not when they have been elected to govern.
On January 29, 2009, the School Board suspended the Policy D14.00, the Highly Capable Students Program policy. On that day the Board voted to direct the superintendent and the staff to review the policy and recommend revisions. The superintendent refused to do so, which, by itself, was grounds for dismissal.
That was nearly five years ago. There has been no advanced learning policy for all of that time. The failure of subsequent superintendents to recommend policy revisions has been grounds for dismissal for them also, but most of the blame lies with the Board, which never followed up on their direction to staff to recommend policy changes. The Board has also failed to take any action of their own to write a replacement policy.
During the five years that we have been without any policy on advanced learning all of the advanced learning programs have gone un-managed. This absence of management was revealed during the Board’s work session to oversee the management of Teaching and Learning. There has been no measure of the quality or efficacy of any of the advanced learning programs - as required by policy. There was no measure of their quality or efficacy this past year either. Spectrum, in its un-managed state, has spiraled into chaos. ALOs were always in chaos - typically existing in name only. The chaos of these programs and the absence of reliable support for students working beyond standards in general education classrooms has created a stampede into APP, bloating the program and distorting capacity management. APP has been no haven. Commitments made to APP students and families at the time the program was split were all broken. The APP Review performed by national experts from the University of Virginia has been utterly ignored - the recommendations neglected when not explicitly violated. All of the advanced learning programs have suffered greatly from the absence of any governing policy. Advanced learning stands as an abject failure of governance.
Now, while there is no program manager for advanced learning, critical decisions are being made about all of the advanced learning programs. The superintendent is making decisions about changes in the student identification procedure, the delivery method, even the very programs themselves. He is very likely to decide to disband Spectrum completely. Decisions are being made about program placement and capacity management. The allocation of feeder elementary schools for the middle schools has been driven by presumptions about APP - presumptions that may be proven false before the new school boundaries are even enacted.
The District is in desperate need of policy leadership from the Board on advanced learning, but the Board is refusing to do its duty and provide that policy leadership. It is the Board’s job to set policy and the superintendent’s job to implement that policy. It has to happen in that order. But the Board has abdicated its responsibility to set policy in advanced learning and the superintendent, who cannot wait for the Board to fulfill its duty, is stepping forward to make his own policy and implement it. This is not the healthy function that the District leadership claims to strive for.
The decisions about why we need advanced learning programs and what type of students they should serve are policy decisions. They should be made by the Board. Then the superintendent can implement that policy by determining how the students should be identified and how the services should be delivered. But the Board has refused to do its job. Not failed - refused. The Board has had five years to write a policy and numerous reminders that the policy is needed. The only explanation for the continued absence of a policy is the conscious choice by the Board not to write one.
How can we convince them to do their job? What will it take to get them to write a policy for advanced learning? They need to make a statement about why we need these programs and services and clearly state the types of students who need them. Are these services needed by students with high cognitive ability? Are they needed by high performing students? Are they needed by students with high cognitive ability and high achievement? Are they needed by every student? Should the growth of these programs be encouraged or discouraged? Only after these decisions - which are policy decisions - are made can the superintendent do his job and implement that policy.
If this Board wants to focus on policy and governance instead of administration and management, the first step is for the Board to focus on policy and governance. I have yet to see that. Five years is too long to wait for a policy revision.