To learn at their own instructional level.
Dear Dr. Lanoue and the Clarke County School Board:
My name is Brent Jackson and I am a sophomore at Clarke Central High School. I have spent my entire school career in Clarke County public schools as a gifted learner and am currently ranked 3rd in my graduating class. I have a younger brother who is a freshman at Clarke Central High School, who is also a part of the gifted program, and a younger sister who is currently in the fourth grade at Timothy Road Elementary School.
I am writing this letter because I have major concerns with the incessant changes in the Clarke County public education system that my peers, my siblings, and I have had to deal with over the course of our school careers.
The first change that I personally remember having a substantial effect on my education was the implementation of the Investigations math curriculum when I was in elementary school. I had been used to being taught one simple method of finding the solution to a math problem, only to be suddenly forced to learn multiple ways to solve the exact same problem. This caused some serious confusion for me, especially at first. Instead of being able to hone in and master solving certain types of problems, I had to stumble my way through the three, four, or even five ways I had been taught to do the same thing. As a child in elementary school, learning basic math is already a challenge of its own, and adding on the forceful teaching of ample methods of reaching the same conclusion simply made it more difficult. In addition, the Math I, II, III, and IV curriculum for high school students is simply not effective. Instead of learning, for example, algebra, geometry, statistics, and calculus as separate concepts, they are all mixed together and then split into four courses, each of which comprises bits and pieces of each concept. As an advanced student, the accelerated version of this math program is much worse. During my freshman year, I learned all of Math I, and then the first half of Math II. Now, as a sophomore, I have to learn the second half of Math II as well digest the entirety of the Math III course. This is extremely inconvenient because of the fact that the End of Course Test that I will be taking in December will include all of Math II, and none of Math III. In addition to the issues that I have personally had with the math curriculum, I have also seen how it affects my siblings. In my brother’s case, math is already a difficult subject for him to grasp, and the constant switching back and forth between concepts and curricula have made the issue only worse. I am also currently witnessing my sister struggle as her teacher is forced to leave a concept behind, even if the entire class has yet to understand it, because the standards must be followed without deviation. My sister has thus been left with minimal understanding of certain mathematical ideas with little hope of going back to master them.
The second change that I experienced in elementary school was inclusion. The fact that I had children in my class who had both special education needs and severe behavioral issues seriously detracted from my instruction time. The needs of these children forced my teachers to focus more of their attention on these few kids, rather than using the time to instruct all of the students, including myself. While I believe inclusion is good and important to the learning experience of all children because it teaches children without disabilities not to fear those who are different and it helps those with disabilities feel like they belong, it needs to be done properly. This cannot be accomplished by throwing them in a class together with 30 plus students with one or two teachers. It needs to be in smaller groups with adequate time and resources to ensure that every child is getting what they need out of their learning experience and that teachers are not overwhelmed.
When I moved on to middle school, even more changes began springing up. The three that affected me the most, however, were the uniform dress code, the rotating schedule, and the beginning of implementation of the International Baccalaureate program. The uniform dress code came as a complete shock to me, because I was never asked my opinion on it, nor was I warned before it happened. I found out the summer before my eighth grade year that I would be required to wear uniforms the following school year. Not only that, but the policy was never made county-wide (and I certainly hope it never comes to that). So, after the one year with uniforms, they were no longer required. The rotating schedule was even more of a shock, as it was reported to me the first day of my eighth grade year. The schedule was utterly confusing, and if the day of the week was unknown to me, then so were the classes I was required to go to. The last change in middle school I would like to address is the International Baccalaureate program. While I have no issue with gaining a “broader world perspective,” I absolutely do not believe that that includes being forced to take elective classes I had no interest in whatsoever. This was especially rampant for my brother in his eighth grade year at Clarke Middle School last year, where there were three different days (A, B, and C) on which a different elective class was taken. When the change of electives after the end of the first semester is taken into account, the result was that he was forced to take a total of six elective classes, the majority of which he met with utter discontent and an expressed lack of interest.
Most recently, there have been far too many changes at the high school level. We have been moved from GPS based curriculum onto a platform known as the Common Core Curriculum. Graduation tests were removed. While I am not directly affected by the CCSS curriculum because I am taking my core classes at the Career Academy through dual enrollment, they are adversely affecting my siblings and peers; much like the issues we had with Investigations except much worse. They also now have to take many more assessments than they used to such as 21st century skills which forces teachers to teach to the test and takes so much time away from class which could instead be used for fun enrichment activities and more recess especially for the elementary kids. I was put through an advisor change, and so have yet to actually build a relationship with an advisor. The requirements to take an Advanced Placement course changed from what they were my freshman year, and are changing again next year. There have been several teacher cuts, resulting in a loss of an abundance of electives from my school. A very close friend of mine was forced to have four different Spanish I teachers in a single semester last year. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the eight-course block scheduling is being removed in favor of a seven-course rotating schedule. This now means that I have to keep up with seven classes, instead of just four. Especially in someone like my brother’s case, organizational struggles will only be heightened once this schedule is introduced. The fact that there are only A, B, and C days means that Mondays will not all be the same, Tuesdays will not all be the same, and so on. Add on the fact that the morning, noon (with Glad Time becoming an entire period only attended every three days), and afternoon classes all rotate independently of each other, and the schedule becomes a recipe for disaster. The fact that the schedule requires students to take all seven courses throughout an entire school year removes the opportunities students had to double up on certain subjects, like math.
The final point I would like for you to consider is this: During the course of my education, I have had an incredible amount of support and guidance from my parents’ involvement at home. A lot of children in this county unfortunately do not have the same home support that I have. So if the constant changes and ill reforms have impacted me and my siblings this heavily, what do you think they are doing to the children who have little or no support from home? With the lack of stability at home, a similar lack of stability at school is far from helping them. I would like to ask you to please take the time to give all of the students and teachers in Clarke County a voice in our public schools and send a message to reformers that we prefer local control of our public education.