Adams 50 and SBS: Balancing the Equation with Some Parents' Serious Concerns

Not too long ago I wrote about my Education Policy Center friends’ visit to Adams School District 50 for the Standards-Based Education tour. Some seem to have taken the posting as an unqualified enthusiastic endorsement of the district’s SBS program, or maybe they thought I was being too one-sided and generous with praise.

The intent was to provide a descriptive summary of what my friends saw from the official tour. Okay, though, I own up for not making it clearer, and maybe I gave the district too much benefit of the doubt. But that’s also what happens when my friends let a 5-year-old do their blogging for them. (Not that I don’t like doing it, I’m just saying….)

Anyway, a few facts are plain: 1) Adams 50’s SBS system is new and untested. 2) Buy-in from schools and teachers certainly isn’t universal across the district, and implementation has been rough — at least at times. 3) Test results so far haven’t been encouraging.

Some people out there from Westminster challenged my statement that SBS should be given a couple more years to see if it succeeds, including parent and community member Sharon Rahne. Based on her son’s middle school experience, her interactions with administrators and school board members, and on hearing the experiences of fellow parents and community members, she has identified some additional problems, including the following:

  • Insufficient accountability for teachers and principals to get results in advancing students through the performance levels
  • At least at one school site, weeks worth of time wasted at the beginning and end of the school year
  • Substitute teachers, unfamiliar with the SBS approach, supervising activities that do nothing to advance learning
  • Insufficient district communication to parents (especially to the many non-English-speaking families) about problems with the system that need to be addressed and fixed

I want to be clear I’m still not coming to any conclusions on one side or the other, nor do I want to get entangled in internal district politics. Nevertheless, many of the concerns Mrs. Rahne has raised are serious and should be addressed. To her credit, even though her son is moving on to an area charter high school, she has expressed her desire to stay engaged with District 50 on behalf of friends and neighbors.

As I see it, the issue boils down to how much time should district leaders be given to prove some successful results for SBS. That is ultimately a question for parents and community members to decide. While there definitely are some hopeful signs, there also are some serious valid concerns with implementation and vital gaps to bridge with the community. For the sake of the kids, I hope they all figure it out correctly soon.

If any other school districts the size of Adams 50 decide to pursue SBS in the near future — which in large part will depend on how things play out in the suburban Denver district — they certainly will find important lessons to be learned from this whole scenario.