Ok, so we haven’t read ALL 550 pages of the JCPS Curriculum Management Audit. (Click here for the full thing.) We’re not fluent in wonk, so these things take time. But a couple hundred pages (two very dry eyes and one unintended snooze while reading) later, here’s a taste of what we know (in somewhat plain English):
1. The curriculum being taught to JCPS students varies, even if they’re in the same grade, and it’s too frequently based in rote, memory question/answer type work rather than critical thinking.
2. Sometimes, grade-level standards are repeated from grade to grade rather than showing progression.
3. Professional development for teachers is scattered and doesn’t always do much to give them dynamic, engaging ways to teach students what they should know for their grade level.
4. JCPS has 800 various programs intended to help kids improve reading, math, and other skills, but no one’s keeping tabs on which ones work and which ones don’t.
5. There are countless written district policies on the books, but they’re not followed.
6. Achievement gaps persist.
7. Data from tests and schoolwork isn’t being used uniformly to catch and help kids who are struggling.
Those are just a handful of findings.
The audit performed by Phi Delta Kappa is based on
a) 450 interviews with board members, administrators, parents and teachers
b) visits to150 schools
c) What had to have been the tedious task of combing through reams of individual school and school board policies.
A sample of concerns from interviewees printed in the full report released Monday:
“One of our problems is managing the information ﬂow. We have not been focused around a uniﬁed vision. Frankly, I could not tell you what our local goals are. We have not said what we want our schools to do.” (Board Member)
“This is the ﬁrst time in 27 years that I have been asked what I think. Most school level people don’t or won’t speak up (to the central ofﬁce) because they fear retaliation.”
“There are lots of wheels spinning but no gears connecting.”
“The former superintendent said, ‘Test scores don’t matter, kids matter.’ Now it’s back to test scores.” (Teacher)
“We have programs up the wazoo and no one really knows which ones do any good. It is all perception.” (District Administrator)
“Certain magnet schools select their students while (non-magnet) schools work hard with any students that walk in the door. It’s not fair to be ranked in the same way.” (School Administrator)
“If a student is failing, I meet with their parents and tell them that their child can continue to fail here, which would not be in his best interest.” (Traditional School Administrator)
“The have-nots don’t get their choice (of schools) and they have to travel the most. They don’t get to bring their lawyer to the meeting.” (Teacher)
So, let’s stop there for a moment. Auditors found that (no big surprise here) the least experienced teachers are in schools with the neediest kids. Suspension rates are noticeably higher among African American and poor students. Graduation rates are far lower at schools with high free and reduced lunch populations.
When it comes to AP classes offered:
“The number of Advanced Placement courses offered per high school ranges from zero at Iroquois and The Academy at Shawnee to 27 courses at DuPont Manual High School.
The four high schools offering the largest number of AP courses have the lowest percentages of economically disadvantaged students.“
So, what’s the audit’s recommendation for these long-standing inequities?
We believe it’s embedded in recommendation 5 (out of 10):
“…the district and schools will be required to use data that is focused on closing achievement gaps among subgroups, raising achievement for all students, and providing feedback for decisions about curriculum management, program adoption, implementation, continuation, expansion, modification and termination.”
(Raise your hand if this is broad.)
The purpose of this $300,000 audit was to: “acknowledge deficiencies and work together to ameliorate them,” said Dr. John Murdoch, lead auditor. He says it could take years to fix some issues. In November, auditors recommended a significant overhaul of a top-heavy central office.
Murdoch did say his audit found a perception problem — the public thinks JCPS is far worse than what it actually is.
How much substantive change will 550 pages bring? Who knows … That’s now up to the school board.