River Forest school board candidate Steve Lefko 'thrilled' with board's decision to reconsider block scheduling
Steve Lefko, candidate for River Forest D90 school board, commended the board’s decision last night to re-think block scheduling of classes at Roosevelt Middle School.
“I’m thrilled with the decision this board came to after carefully considering options and making time to listen to the community,” Lefko, a data and policy analyst, told West Cook News. “This shows they want to get it right, not just get it done.”
The board had proposed four 80-minute learning blocks daily to increase student exposure to math and other sciences. The change would have also lessened time for foreign languages and the arts.
Lefko objected to the proposed changes, calling them “unprecedented” at the high-performing district. He also said that the board had failed to adequately explain to parents why they were considering the changes.
Now he says changes will not begin until more scheduling options are considered, and the board hears new proposals from the administration, which are expected this fall.
“Among the challenges are addressing a math deficit, preserving full year foreign language and exploratory options in art and music and staff professional development,” Lefko said. “Reaching every child with what they need is crucial to improving outcomes. Using proven approaches with curriculum and instruction must be our top priority."
Lefko said that he first noticed the district’s tradition of excellence in education slipping away in 2018 when he saw that his youngest daughter’s fourth grade math homework was markedly easier than what his older daughter brought home just a few years before. He started looking into curriculum changes, some recently made and others under consideration, by the board.
“The K-5 math curriculum, ‘Investigations in Number, Data, and Space’ was launched last year,” Lefko said. “It’s described as student centered. The teacher facilitates student production of ideas compared to other popular curricula where the teacher explains or demonstrates the ideas. But I’m concerned because research suggests this ‘reform math’ curriculum produces significantly lower achievement for all ability levels.”
The “fundamental change in instructional philosophy” adopted by the board is part of a larger Vision for Equity initiative.
“As our world becomes more global and our communities more diverse, it is incumbent on District 90 to prepare all our students for the multicultural world that awaits them,” the district’s website says. “The social science research is clear: diverse and inclusive classrooms, faculty, and workplaces benefit all children both academically and social-emotionally.”
Additional proposed changes include ending testing that identifies gifted students, eliminating advanced learning opportunities, and even dropping the use of A-F letter grades. The board was also considering reducing student exposure to the arts and foreign languages at Roosevelt. The Lincoln and Willard Elementary Schools are also in the district.
“While new teaching methods will pool children together for a better classroom experience, a legitimate concern is whether a host of initiatives might affect delivering academic excellence,” Lefko said. “I’m concerned that classroom curricula will no longer challenge learners of all levels to reach their full potential.
“Our schools have a long and amazing blue-ribbon track record,” he added. “Now the community is hearing phrases like group-work, inquiry and problem-based learning suggesting a shift in theory from direct instructional guidance to minimally guided instruction.”
The school board election is April 2.