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We Predict the Next Big Park City Battle…

…teachers versus district…

Now that Vail VS PCMR is settled, with the only loser being a coffee company (and perhaps a community), we thought we might chime in on the next big Park City battle. It’s funny how one test, in this case the SAGE test, can upset the apple cart. As Rahm Emanuel says, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

SAGE is the latest Utah standardized test that attempts to gauge student understanding of key concepts and labels students as proficient (or not) in those subjects. The results were not what most parents expected. Overall in the district, 57% were proficient in language, 52% proficient in mathematics, and 55% proficient in in science.

So, the school district set goals of increasing each student group’s (i.e. 3rd grade Hispanic kids) proficiency by about 6%. So, for instance, “By May 2015, 3rd grade Hispanic students will increase proficiency from 17% to 23% in English Language Arts.” The next SAGE test is spring 2015 and there isn’t much time to actually do anything other than set goals. So, that’s what has been done.

Yet, the process for long-term change is what interests us. It’s shaping up as school administration versus teacher. The School District is pushing for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) as a solution to low test scores. PLCs have been called “the most powerful professional professional development and change strategy available.” Yet, the PLC concept requires that teachers work together to find the optimal education path for each student. That sounds great, but can you and your husband completely agree on the best path for your own kid? How are 5 teachers, who have different backgrounds, opinions, and strategies going to come together to prescribe the optimal strategy for every child? They likely can’t but that’s not the point of this piece.

The point is to say that many teachers are going to hate this. They, much like they’ve forced their students to do, will begrudgingly work together because of edicts from above. Many teachers are artists, they find the right mix of paints to put on the canvas in order to create a “Bob Ross.” Artists create masterpieces but 5 artists rarely enjoy coming together to make a masterpiece (with the exception of We are the World, of course).

Will multiple teachers be able to work together to find the best solution for each child? Will they have time for the additional meetings that this will require? Will they feel this takes away from “learning”? Will each teacher feel they own the process or will they feel they are forced into this experiment? Will teachers compete against each other rather than work together?

Will a group of teachers be able to come together and provide a better educational experience than each individual teacher did alone? In some ways it’s a challenge to teachers. Park City has some of the highest paid teachers in the state but SAGE test results were sub-par. In many industries the highest paid can adapt and make success out of about any situation. Teachers are being told “from above” that they will work together and children will get better test scores. Can they achieve that? What does that pressure feel like? Does salary equate to success when the direction is provided from above?

If it’s like most industries where management tells the employee what to do, we can anticipate the results. It’s not going to be pretty. You won’t read about it in the Park Record. You may hear a simple question that alludes to it on KCPW and not much more. However, you’ll really hear about it at dinner parties and at Hugo Coffee on weekends.

One of Bob Dylan’s songs is “The times they are a changing.” That seems pretty apropos for the Park City School District. The district feels test scores need to rise TODAY. The only people that can influence that are students and teachers. So, the district devises a plan for the teachers. Was it well thought out? Did it get teacher buy-in? Will it ultimately be successful?

The process may be more entertaining that HBO boxing on Friday nights. It should be interesting to watch.


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