A new teaching approach that shifts classroom control from teachers to students in the Higley Unified School District has parents worried that it is negatively affecting their children.
“My kid is a lab rat until they get this system down,” said Paul Cappello, a parent of a sixth-grader at Coronado Elementary School.
The district started training its teachers this year on “Total Quality Learning” by international consultant David Langford.
His tools and methods aim to make students more aware of the specific concepts they must learn, and require students to keep track of their own progress.
Instead of asking teachers when they don’t understand something, students are first directed to their textbooks or other classmates for answers.
In addition, students grade one another, and have multiple opportunities to achieve a perfect score on an assignment.
In a previous interview with the Tribune, Langford said some teachers will interpret the transfer of control to students “foolishly” by throwing their learning material at students and having them try to understand it themselves.
According to several Higley parents, that’s happening in their children’s classrooms.
Cappello noticed a “huge change” in his son’s attitude toward school this year.
He started having trouble with homework after the beginning of the year and has slowly been giving up, his father said.
Cappello added that his son is not getting the help at school that he needs because he is discouraged from approaching his teacher.
“I thought it was my kid and it’s not,” he said. “It’s the way these kids are being taught.”
Cappello and about 20 other Higley parents concerned about the district’s new direction attended one of its training seminars in March. They say there is no consistency throughout the district on implementing the new program.
District officials say the training is voluntary and teachers are not required to use Langford’s techniques — as long as they demonstrate their own methods are improving students’ academic performance. Officials said roughly 10 percent of the district actually uses Langford’s techniques.
Higley Superintendent Joyce Lutrey said “at no point is the message ever that we don’t support students or expect them to solve problems without teacher help. That makes no sense.”
“Improvement is hard,” Lutrey said.
“When you look at a change cycle, there are natural curves and progressions. Nor do I expect that we are doing anything that radical and new.”
Lutrey said more parent and teacher training seminars are scheduled this summer.
The district has paid Langford at least $209,000 to date for his services.
But several parents said the miniseminar they attended left them even more concerned.
“I think most of us walked out of there more agitated than when we showed up in the first place,” said Kim Wendt, a parent of a Coronado second-grader. “No questions were answered. If they had come to the parents in the first place and told us these drastic changes were happening, they wouldn’t have these problems.”
Tommie Byrd, a sophomore English teacher at Higley High School, said the method “gets kids to problem-solve more. It’s not so much about dumping information into their head.”
But she acknowledged “it is definitely different than what we are used to using. . . . You have to really step outside of your comfort zone.
“It’s literally giving these students control and that is a little scary to do. I think it is easy to blame it on the Quality Learning (technique) because it’s different. We are all kind of jumping the gun on attacking it. I think we need more time with it,” Byrd said.