- Try the standard curriculum with the kids. It will work for most of them. Check to make sure.
- It won't work for some, so, just for them, try something else that's more their speed. Check to see if that works.
- If that doesn't work then try something more. Check to see if that works.
So why is Seattle Public Schools having such a hard time implementing it?
It turns out that every part of this is hard.
Try the standard curriculum with the kids. Teachers do not have any kind of standard practice. Ever since the introduction of the state standards over fifteen years ago the District has been working, without success, to get the teachers to teach to the Standards. There are a number of excellent reasons for this failure, but don't ask the District. They have chosen not to think about the root causes, therefore they have never been able to adequately address them. A lot of it has to do with the fact that the teachers are creative professionals, so they are exercising their initiative. People like that typically don't respond well to top down direction on how to do their job, which is how a lot of them see this step. Also the teachers naturally adjust their instruction down to meet their students. Some of them can also adjust their instruction up to meet their students, but the system is failure-focused, so it doesn't encourage them to do this. So the District is failing in the first step. They would do better to engage the teachers and earn their buy in. Some of the leadership gets that and does it, some don't.
Check to make sure. This calls for frequent assessment. I don't mean MAP tests three times a year. This is more like a chapter quiz every week and lots of examples of student work all through the week. This will, of course, generate a lot of data that will have to be interpreted. Moreover, it means teachers collaborating in the review of this data to keep everything calibrated. This takes time, which are teachers' most precious resource.
It won't work for some, so, just for them, try something else that's more their speed. This is going to require a lot from teachers, schools, and the district. From the teachers it means delivering multiple curricula in a single classroom - not easy. It means some kids will be using one book while a few kids will be using a different book and, maybe, a few other kids will be using a third book. For the school it means that they have to have these books on the shelf. This might also mean Walk to Math, which will require a degree of coordination within the school. The District, for their part, will have to identify and approve not just one curriculum, but three or five. Please don't anyone pretend this is easy.
Check to see if that works. Now the teacher is not only doing a weekly quiz to see how well 20 kids are doing with curriculum A, they also have to assess how well 5 kids are doing with curriculum B and how 5 others are doing with curriculum C. Depending on the results, kids will be shifting from one curriculum to another. Some kids will need more support, some will need more acceleration, and some will be just right and that will change over time and from topic to topic. So there should be easy mobility forward and back.
If that doesn't work then try something more. This is a referral to Special Education for some kids and a referral to HC for others. Of course after getting that referral most of the kids will be returned to the general education classroom. Now the teacher has an even broader set of instructional strategies and materials to juggle. Remember, this is a teacher who wasn't that crazy about sticking to the standard curriculum back at the beginning.
Check to see if that work. And now the teacher has an even board set of assessments to deliver. And now there is even a broader range of mobility for all of the students. It has exploded into a nightmare of 30 kids doing 30 different things and the teacher trying to manage, deliver, track, assess, and interpret it all - plus document all of that work for their principals and the District. Oh, didn't I mention that they have to document it all?
Oh my gosh. I'm sure you're all thinking that teachers must love this idea so much and be so eager to do it that they are trying to wrestle it away from the District. Well, not really.
The MTSS process may sound simple or even just sound like good teaching practice, but it is not only really hard, it is a huge amount of work. While the district and the school have a part to play, the bulk of the work falls on the teacher. And that's a bit harder for the teachers to accept when the school and the district are trying to dictate how the work gets done, aren't listening to the teachers, aren't supporting the teachers, and aren't doing a very good job of holding up their end by prepping the inventions and acceleration pieces, providing the technical support, or coordinating the work.
Seattle Public Schools started in 2012 with a three-year plan to implement MTSS. See MTSS is the future (for now) from June 7, 2012 and Status of MTSS from September 3, 2012. It was supposed to be fully implemented by the 2014-2015 school year. It has been a Board Priority and an item on the Superintendent's To-Do list every year since, but this week Dr. Nyland is coming before the Board and talking about it as if they are just getting started on the work with no mention of the past four years' effort. Apparently the past four years' effort has not brought us any further than the starting line.