A Parent's Dissatisfaction With PLCs

Last week, in part one of a series about Professional Learning Communities’ (PLCs) in Northfield, I wrote about my conversation with school board member Ellen Iverson. Ms. Iverson provided several cogent arguments for the use of PLCs in Northfield schools. This week, I feature comments from the other side of the fence. Kathie Galotti is a Carleton Psychology Professor and the parent of two children in the district, one a second grader and the other a high school student.  Though Ms. Galotti herself has had significant experience in the district as both a classroom volunteer and as a PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) Vice President in the past, she has also been a highly vocal member of the anti-PLC contingent. Ms. Galotti initiated a lengthy, and heated, online discussion and a number of other posts about PLCs on Locally Grown Northfield, which I encourage readers to peruse.

A Parent Speaks Up

Galotti initially got involved in the discussion on PLCs when she heard that school administrators were going to introduce PLCs and “keep the proposal under the radar.” It was at this point that she wrote an editorial to the Northfield News in addition to posting on Locally Grown Northfield.

Although a few of the bloggers on the Locally Grown Northfield forum questioned Galotti's arguments, many echoed her sentiments, and Galotti asserts that she is not alone in her concern about the implementation and efficacy of PLCs. Most of the parents she has spoken to, Galotti says, “are either neutral or feel that PLCs have been oversold. We’re not seeing tangible benefits, but our kids are losing a lot of instructional hours, so it’s not clear what’s going to be in it for the kids."

She also noted that while she has not been inconvenienced as a parent by PLCs as much as she “feared,” (she has been able to avoid morning traffic jams by driving her children early) she wrote that her daughter, a second grader, will next year be joining the approximately 150 other 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders who remain in the gym during time set aside for PLCs. Galotti wrote that she had heard “reports of inadequate supervision… or kids in the gym getting injured, or kids really being unhappy,” but said that thus far the district has done nothing to address these reports.

Transparency and Putting A “Fad” to the Test

Ms. Galotti, who corresponded with me via email, addressed the lack of transparency which Ellen Iverson also acknowledged had initially “turned off” many parents. Ms. Galotti said that she doesn’t feel there is “much information at all. I have no idea what my kids’ teachers are doing beyond having weekly meetings. I have no idea how the progress of different PLC groups will be assessed, or even if it will.” While “teachers sing their praises,” Galotti wrote that the literature and studies she has examined simply doesn’t provide the evidence “supporting the claims.” 

Ms. Galotti said that greater transparency- and the very sort of “empirical data” that Ms. Iverson emphasized in her interview- would go a long way in making her feel more comfortable with the continuance of PLCs. Galotti wrote, “I think I’d feel a lot better if I were confident that PLCs would be rigorously assessed. That is, if this ‘fad’ as I see it, would be really put to the test- is it working- or not, and discontinued in the latter case. My read is that PLCs will stay in place whether or not they work, and that we’ll never actually dig deep enough to know whether or not the work- we’ll just assume they do.” 

Thus far, Galotti says she has seen no “specific changes” in her children’s education that might be the result of Professional Learning Communities. 

Other Methods, Assessing Teachers

I asked Ms. Galotti if she thought there might be other ways to reform educational practice that would be equally or more effective than PLCs. She strongly felt that there were, and said that positive educational change had to begin with a change in certain teachers’ mindsets and also in the willingness of school administrators to implement significant change based on parents’ input. 

Galotti wrote of a small minority of teachers who have “lost whatever love of teaching… they once may have had.” This “small core” of teachers, Galotti felt, though  “small in numbers,” continue to have “disproportionately negative effects on kids… they turn kids off to whole areas of study. They undermine self-confidence… these teachers do a lot of long-lasting damage.” In cases like these, Galotti said, it is imperative that the administration be responsive to parents’ requests for intervention or even the removal of these teachers. Yet, she wrote “the destructive teachers stay employed… very, very few administrators in our district will address the problem, or even acknowledge that there is a problem. If you go in and talk to them they nod, smile, and take furious notes on what you are saying and then… nothing.”

Ms. Galotti said that while teachers “should be given information and the time and space to make changes,” she believes the most effective reform would be to “identify and remediate the practices of these teachers… starting with coaching, and working our way up to termination if the teachers absolutely refuse to address their issues.” Ultimately, for Galotti, educational reform is not about assessing children and their ability to learn, but instead is about “assessing teachers and responding to lapses.”

“Hoping to be Proven Wrong”

For now Galotti sees PLCs as just the “latest educational fad,” but says she is “hoping to be proven wrong.” If PLCs were able to produce “tangible concrete changes in the education my kids are getting… more differentiation of instruction in elementary and the middle school level… more useful feedback on written work given to High School students than what they get now,” Galotti believes even she could become “a big fan.”

 


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Parent's Dissatisfaction with PLC's

After reading the article above, I have several questions and comments:

-Were any other parents contacted to provide feedback on PLC's for this article?

Prior to being interviewed for this website, Ms. Galotti was afforded the chance to discuss her opinions in ways that others are not necessarily allowed, such as having an editorial in Northfield News and a podcast available on Locally Grown.  My concern is that only one parent voice is being given such attention by the local media.  Now, by saying this I am not attempting to demean Ms. Galotti's opinions, rather asking that others' opinions be given equal "preferential" coverage (other than board members).

-Did the district ever state that "tangible benefits" would be immediately evident?

The current PLC program, coupled with the Wednesday late-start days, began in September.  My understanding is that teachers are working on a variety of methods to assist students.  However, I would imagine that some of these measures will require more than 2-3 months to be implemented and produce "specific changes" in the schools.

-Is "educational reform... about 'assessing teachers and responding to lapses'"?

I agree that teachers need to be assessed and that "lapses" should be addressed.  But, is this all that educational reform entails?  Personally, I believe that too many people think that no matter what, teachers should be able to "reach" all students, thereby allowing every student to learn.  Yet, doesn't some attention need to be paid to the issue that numerous students come to school ill-prepared to learn, often due situations outside of school that are beyond teachers' control? 

 

More to Come

Thank you for your comment, and for the important questions you raise.  Please stay tuned to Northfield.org for further installments in this series.  Maia "will be providing responses to such questions from a number of individuals, including teachers, a district curriculum coordinator, a parent, an anti-PLC “activist,” and, this week, a school board member." 

Stay focused on the PLC issue...

The anonymous commenter asks "doesn't some attention need to be paid to the issue that numerous students come to school ill-prepared to learn, often due situations outside of school that are beyond teachers' control?"

 

Well, sure, of course it does -- and I hope it is.  But, what does that have to do with PLCs?