ELA 6-12 Work Group Report Card – Does Not Play Well With Others
Continuing our report of the HB1490 hearing testimony, we offer the testimony of Kasey Brzycki, an active middle school classroom teacher who was appointed to the 6-12 ELA work group. Mrs. Brzycki was one of the members of the minority group who broke away from the main group because the majority of that group continuously shut them out of discussions. Her testimony was provided in response to questions that were raised at the October 26th hearing. The group has been publicly referred to as dysfunctional. From the testimony below, you can see why.
Kerry Skeeters gave a stilted terse report to the Board from the official 6-12 ELA work group. She admitted that they did not meet with K-5 but offered no reason why. The Board strongly suggested they work to correct the lack of vertical alignment. She also reported that they considered a long list of other standards, including the Massachusetts 2000 and 2004 standards. What she didn’t mention was that the group literally set a timer for 20 minutes to discuss the MA standards and, when the timer went off, all discussion of those standards ceased. She also didn’t mention that, when they had an author of those standards in the room, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, they refused to allow her to speak and did not allow the group to ask her questions. This begs the question, what did Skeeters mean by the group “considering” the work of other states? Further, since many of the changes to the standards they did recommend to the board consisted of verb changes, like switching from “understand” to “grasp,” did this group understand the meaning of the verbs they were recommending?
Heaping more irony on this situation is the knowledge that collaboration is the buzzword of 21st century skills that schools are supposed to be fostering in our students. The statement was made during the meetings, by one of the 6-12 ELA work group members, that they “were all professionals” at the table, intimating that they were well aware of the expectations of professional teachers. However, these professionals who, if they actually worked in a classroom, would know the importance of modeling behavior and should have modeled collaboration with the K-5 work group, actively refused to collaborate.
They also did not seem to understand the meaning of “autonomous” operation of the work groups. They were allowed to have any process the group agreed upon to guide their meeting schedule, discussions and document development. What they were not charged with, according to HB1490, was the selection of the work group members. They did not have autonomy over who was on the group. Their failure to understand the meaning of this word meant that when Speaker Jones replaced Nick Kremer, because it was found he did not possess the required credentials to be on the work group, with Lou Ann Saighman they refused to acknowledge her appointment. She testified to the board that the only way they would listen to her is if she wrote her question or comment on a piece of paper and passed it to one of the work group members whom they did recognize to speak.
The Board is trying to recognize the autonomy of the work groups by merely “strongly suggesting” that they continue to work to develop the necessary vertical alignment between K-5 and 6-12 ELA. It will be up to the groups to determine whether they do that with the document submitted by Skeeter’s group or the minority report. The minority 6-12 ELA report contains a set of standards developed from the pre-Common Core Massachusetts standards. Those initial standards were graded A- by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The set of standards included in the minority report contain changes from Dr. Sandra Stostky meant to address every point in Fordham’s critique that they said made the standards only an A-. The resulting standards should be graded A by Fordham. The final collaborative effort of the ELA groups will have to consider whether they work on vertical alignment to a set of A graded standards, or B (or less with the MO changes) standards which is what Fordham graded the Common Core ELA standards.