Busy Night

Big meetings tonight:

I don't have time to write all that I want to say aboust these right now, but I'll try to post an update later...



Re: Skywriter's questions about collaborative learning.

I've watched with interest the convergence of learning theories, the influence of business expectations on education, and new communications technologies over the past 15 years. Here's probably more than you want to know.

Learning Theories

During the 1990s the shift from rational theories of learning to more social theories became much more prominent in teacher education. In the hard sciences, the assumption was and is that 'knowledge' is located outside the individual--there are immutable truths about all kinds of things, some of which are fairly inconsequential. Social scientists, such as educators, accept the existence of some immutable truths but most also believe that a great deal of our 'knowledge' is the result of interaction. In other words, there is a social construction of knowledge. Collaborative groups are an instructional strategy consistent with that philosophical belief.

Business Expectations

The first President Bush sponsored the SCANS report (What Work Requires of Schools) which identified the competencies individuals need to perform in the workplace. Many educators interpreted these competencies to mean that students needed to be skilled at working in teams. http://www.academicinnovations.com/report.html

Business books on teaming were abundant in the 1990s.

Technologies--probably doesn't need any explanation.

So that's the background for my response to Skywriter:

1. "do we have to have kids LEARN in groups in order for them to learn how to WORK in groups?" You are asking if children can transfer what they learn individually to a group application. The research says probably not. People need to learn in the context in which the skills will be used. Of course, the context can be broad and some generalization will always occur.

How People Learn: Learning and Transfer http://www.nap.edu/html/howpeople1/ch3.html

2. "Are CHCCS teachers properly TRAINED to guide children in working in groups? etc." Some are, some aren't. I do think the district makes an effort at training on these skills, but since teachers are so totally overworked, the question should be (IMHO) "do teachers have the time, energy, and resources needed to master what they learn in professional development workshops."

Johnson and Johnson are probably the most active researchers in the area of structuring effective work groups: http://www.teach-nology.com/currenttrends/cooperative_learning/johnson_and_johnson/

How People Learn gives some good examples of effective teachers' use of collaborative learning: http://www.nap.edu/html/howpeople1/ch7.html

3. "CAN children LEARN in groups and if so, how well?" Depends on how the group assignment was structured. Evidence is that children learn a lot in some groups. Those group work very effectively and are very satisfying to the group members. Other groups fall flat on their face.

Parents used to have a wonderful resource called the ERIC Clearinghouse to help answer these kinds of questions, but the Bush administration closed it down last year.

One interesting application of collaborative learning theory and technology is called WebQuests: http://webquest.sdsu.edu/

Lots of good stuff in the How People Learn book

Number One: do we have to have kids LEARN in groups in order for them to learn how to WORK in groups ?

I dont' think so. There are many opportunities in schools where it should be possible to work as a group, without having to sacrifice so much learning time to this nebulous goal.

SMACKED! Totally back-handed. Thank you, Mr. Mc Bride. Nicely done. BTW--did you NOTICE that I included myself in my post? I DID say "we..."


Melanie See writes: "I just re-read this entire thread. BIG mistake. Doomed. The children are definitely doomed--we can't even argue alike adults."

By my count, almost one-fourth of the posts are yours.


I can't recall seeing one person's statement, much less more than one as you alluded to, saying that public schools should be eliminated altogether. Did I miss someone's post on that? Or could this be an example of the overly sensitive nature of people's responses when the taboo against critiquing the school system is broken.


I've got class in just a few minutes but before I leave....

First, we need to distinguish between how schools are administered and how students are taught. I agree with Will that administration may be following a K-Mart model, but I really don't agree that classrooms are like that. Teachers have a lot of control over what happens in their individuals classroom. Although NCLB is sapping some of that control, classrooms are still fairly autonomous. Class sizes are a little too large in CHCCS (over 20), but that gets to the administrative issue--how many schools do you want to build (and redistrict for) in order to ensure smaller class sizes.

Will--not sure about the presentation. Wasn't much time for the council to ask questions.

Terri, I don't know how I got involved in what turns out to be a more contentitious issue than the RLCs, so......

It seems like the 'factory' or 'industrial' approach to education is not effective. There are models we could follow to 'down-size' public schools and improve the overall educational experience. These models are drawn from both public and private sources.

I grew up in a different era - so maybe I'm Polyannic on this - but it seems like our schools are more on a scope of a WalMart than Knight-Campbell.

I don't think public education should be eliminated - just changed. In that I sound like every generation over the last hundred and forty years.

ps. How'd the presentation go?

Sorry--mis-understood the context. Mark--missed the nasty editorial. How would any of you suggest "broadening the debate?" Iam more than willing to have an open, honest debate AND willing to admit that there are (many) things the schools could be doing better. BUT--so often those who don't like/aren't happy witht he status quo frame the "discussion" in such sweeping terms, that it makes it difficult for the rest of us to see past the broad generealisations. I could go cite specific examples, from this very board, but I don't have the time right now to dig back through hundreds of posts. Perhaps if we ALL exercised a little rhetorical restraint, we could HEAR one another better?

just wondering...


Will, Could you explain what you mean by more decentralization of the public schools? I'd also be interested in knowing whether you think like others on this list that public schools should be eliminated altogether or whether you are interested in debating how to improve/restructure public education.

I just re-read this entire thread. BIG mistake. Doomed. The children are definitely doomed--we can't even argue alike adults.



Here is a place to start in broadening the debate:

Right now, public schools in general work on the premise that kids need to learn to work in groups. Maybe someone will want to post the history on where this idea came from.

But whaetever the history, we are having the kids do one heck of a lot of learning in groups. And that seems to be the final point on the matter. The schools seem to say "the kids need to learn to work in groups, and therefore, we are having them learn in groups and that is that. End of discussion."

I propose the following as points of discussion for the whole idea of working in groups.

Number One: do we have to have kids LEARN in groups in order for them to learn how to WORK in groups ?

Number Two: Are CHCCS teachers properly TRAINED to guide children in working in groups? Is this training constantly updated? Do teachers learn more and more about how to help kids learn when they are in groups and do they bring that knowledge back to the classroom? How effective are the teachers in guiding children in the groups? How often do kids having trouble in group work hear the words "you will have to work that issue out yourselves".

Number THREE: CAN children LEARN in groups and if so, how well? I would like to see studies which compare children learning in groups, to other children learning the same material individually. Which is more effective? Does the average kid in a group learn as much as the average individual, learning individually, would learn? Are there some kids for whom group work is not useful?

These are just a few of the questions we should be asking about group work and whether we should keep on doing it.

?????In what way has this debate been anything but honest and open? I certainly have followed the rules of debate--even cited my sources--and researched others statements...

AND posted under my own name.


I did not get the impression Will R was speaking of THIS message board or this DEBATE , when (s?)he longed for "open and honest debate". I was thinking he or she meant more of an open-minded community discussion--, where various viewpoints are considered worthwhile and listened to carefully , even if they don't happen to fit in with the status quo handed down by the school board and the person who happens to be superintendent at the moment.

Thank you SkyWriter, you nailed it.

Melanie, I didn't realize anyone would take what I said as a condemnation of this board's debate. It certainly hasn't lurched into that knee-jerk negative kind of reaction you might've seen elsewhere when alternatives are proposed.

From now on I should send my copy to SkyWriter for proper editing.

There is no question, though, that debating schooling and education can be a pretty tricky thing. There are parameters to the debate that most people want to stay within and areas of discussion that are virtually taboo for most people. The fact that the thought police at the CH Herald ran that nasty, ill-stated editorial on me because I had the temerity to question some of the orthodoxy of modern, compulsory, state-schooling is proof of that.

Will is right. If we are to make any progress on the ever-present troublesome issue of how to educate our kids, then we need to broaden the debate.



I was under the impression that Jerri was aksing about High Schools--that is why I left out the Montessori schools. Last I heard--Montessori Method only went through eighth grade.


ASKING about High Schools. ASKING. Must make a point of proofing before I hit post...

"I guess it's too much to wish for - a honest, open debate on having a post-industrial approach to education in Orange county. Who knows...maybe in our lifetime?"

I hope so. Sometimes I feel like we are already very much post education in this district.


You left out a number of the Montessori, etc. but rather than try to list them all I'd like to throw in a really great school you missed, Community Independent School http://www.cisnc.com/.

Between the many vibrant home schooling communities and all the great local private schools, Chapel Hill parents have an incredible selection (really incredible considering our size) of quality schools to chose from - CSI is definitely one.

I'd like to see more decentralization of our schools instead of the centralization merger would bring. Imagine having public schools on the scale of any one of the schools you mentioned. Even the costliest ones have per capita expenditures way below the public schools yet deliver a personalized experience hard to match. So, it's not about the money - it's about the approach.

I guess it's too much to wish for - a honest, open debate on having a post-industrial approach to education in Orange county. Who knows...maybe in our lifetime?


Check out:



I think that us parents of very, very average kids are also rapidly joining that foot-race to private school. I am having trouble figuring out why people speak so highly of these particular public schools. . . .so far, I am not impressed, but I can't really put my finger on why.

thanks for the private school links!

Thank you.

PBS will present the series "America Beyond the Color Line" airing

Tuesday, Feb. 3 and Wednesday, Feb 4.

Any particular time?

9:00 PM. That's channel 4 on broadcast TV-- channel 9 on Time Warner Cable--and goodness KNOWS on sattelite. Any further questions?


"They do a good job with Spanish as well...but then I also think they do a good job with American History, Math, Chemistry, Physics, and English . . . ."

Can anyone recommend a good private school in the area? I am sorry to say that the above is not exactly descriptive of my experience with the Chapel Hill Schools...........

Jerri--I'm sorry that you haven't been happy with the public schools. Durham Academy has a good reputation. I believe SAS's Cary Academy also has a good rep. If yo don't like the way CHCCS teaches math and science, then I woudl probably avoid Friends' or Emerson Waldorf--Friends' doesn't issue grades--and Waldorf is a Steiner school--interesting ideas, but not very heavy on the traditional Math and Science curricula. BUT--you should judge for yourself. Here are links to the schools' web sites:

Durham Academy:


Cary Academy:


Waldorf's website: http://www.emersonwaldorf.org/high_school/high_school.asp

Carolina Friends School :


I hope that helps.

A friend of mine had a great comment on this debate. She says whenever people start in on how their brilliant kids aren't being challenged by the schools she wants to stand up and shout:

"It's PUBLIC SCHOOL. It's a giant foot-race and we are all holding hands! Get over it--or send your kids to PRIVATE SCHOOL."

I may start quoting her...


highly recommend the following for your viewing and educational pleasure.

Harvard Prof hosts PBS special on Black America

PBS will present the series "America Beyond the Color Line" airing

Tuesday, Feb. 3 and Wednesday, Feb 4. The series will feature interviews and comments from African American newsmakers including Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones, Colin Powell, Chris Tucker, Alicia Keys, and Morgan Freeman among others.

The show will be hosted by Harvard prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., examing black America in the 21st century. The series is made up of four one-hour films, as Gates travels to four distinct regions of the US to discover what, if anything, has changed for black Americans socially, politically, and exonomically.

The four shows are titled, "South: The Black Belt," "Chicago: Streets of Heaven," "East Coast: Ebony Towers," and "Los Angeles: Black Hollywood."

Oh I forgot to add that the few clustered students are in groups too small to influence the class dynamics, and that it wouldn't matter anyway because the teachers decided they should not have any structured peer time. I verified that piece of information with the AG specialist who defended it.

So you see, there are no gifted services, no advanced classes, no peer work time, inadequate clustering, teachers who had not wanted this trying to do it with a couple of working months notice and a lot of really angry parents who say this is wrong. Parents who are then characterized as resisting change, or not appreciating what could be created down the road somewhere, maybe, or as racists who really are objecting because they don't want to share. Parents who are told that if the system isn't working it is the teachers fault and we should be talking to them. Teachers who will tell you they are working 110% and can't do anymore. I don't blame them as they have a right to be human and to choose not to dedicate every waking hour to their job.

Is the magnitude of the problem getting any clearer?


Good points, Melanie, about statistics. And Serena, thanks for telling us more about the Fairfax district. I vote we follow Sechrest's lead of looking to Fairfax county for guidance, and immediately reinstitute the "Full-time center programs for the highly academically gifted (which) are located at selected elementary and middle schools, grades 3-8. "

I also am so glad that there is a district somewhere which believes that minority students are capable of high achievement. This has always been my feeling too. "Fairfax also has a special program for "high achieving minorities": "QUEST is a three-year science, mathematics, language arts, and technology enrichment program for high-achieving minority students in grades 6-8."

Sechrest is onto something in looking at Fairfax !

I am trying to follow the Fairfax discussion but I cannot see any basis for comparison. I would take Fairfax’s system in a minute and send thank you notes every single day. The level of services there is extraordinary compared to ours.

I want to answer Terri’s question about what is being cancelled. The reason it seems that the advanced classes and gifted services are being used interchangeably is because advanced classes were the last remnant of gifted services. Dr. Pedersen and the BOE have decided that all educational needs can be met in the heterogeneous classroom with differentiated instruction. There are no other services. It is possible for a small number of children (the number was cut by more than half this year) to take pre-algebra in sixth grade. There are extracurricular bowls you can join but there are absolutely no gifted services. I am on the Academically gifted Services team at Culbreth.

Gifted Education was already eliminated. You now have students leaving the self-contained classroom and going to a school that has no services available and sitting in classes without appropriate clustering and with teachers who are working hard but who cannot become masters of DI overnight.. This is why the parents of gifted students are also complaining over and over that not having planned the transition to heterogeneous classes with differentiated instruction matters. The parents keep saying don’t take Advanced classes because there isn’t anything in its place. That was why I quoted the teacher who said that his year they were starting with the advanced course curriculum and adjusting it down for the new class structure. .


This discussion got me curious about SAT's so I searched (amazing how the web lets us all search immediately - and usually for something that bolsters our particular perspective...) & found out a couple of interesting things.

1) My SAT scores were higher than Al Gore's. I'm hoping that qualifies me for something.

2) Interesting article about the increasing importance of the SAT's. I guess the best result of the use of SAT's this way is that a lot of really talented people get pushed to the outside where they will have to express themselves through work which does not serve the narrow corporate interests of those who rejected them.



Mark--I think this article, which I had already read, points to an abuse of testing data. First, the SAT is just one predictor of success in college. Per the CollegeBoard website: "No test can accurately predict with 100 percent certainty what your grades will be in college. That's because many factors, including personal motivation, influence your college grades." Second, using test data that predicts college performance is clearly invalid for predicting success on a job. This society is so test happy! Bah humbug to tests...especially standardized tests!

A caveat about statistics--someone once said "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." While I would NEVER sufggest that people on this board would lie--one can come up with stats to back ALMOST any position--so we should all just take things with a grain of salt. And I will put in a plea for citing statistics and statements. If you know where it comes from, please include theat info. It makes life easier for those of us who have a need to know sources. An annoying compulsion--but one bred into me during school---so, if you can, SITE THOSE SOURCES!



It would seem that the Fairfax district has opted to have the self-contained middle and elementary AG classes. CHCCS eliminated the middle school self-contained AG program that was at Culbreth. That was done a couple of years ago, and I believe was the first part of the differentiated curriculum.

Fairfax also offers the International Bacaulaurate program (grades 6-12), which CHCCS opted not to do, but instead implemented two work force training academies: "Academy of Finance and Academy of Information Technology", I believe both are funded by NC state's work force development program. (anyone know for sure?)


"Programs are available for gifted and talented students, kindergarten through grade 12. School-based programs for identified students are located at each school, grades K-12. Full-time center programs for the highly academically gifted are located at selected elementary and middle schools, grades 3-8. The gifted and talented program at the high school level is open and includes preIB, honors, and gifted courses for ninth and tenth grade English, mathematics, science, and social studies. The AP and IB programs for 11th and 12th grades are available in English, fine arts, foreign language, science, and social studies."

Fairfax also has a special program for "high achieving minorities": "QUEST is a three-year science, mathematics, language arts, and technology enrichment program for high-achieving minority students in grades 6-8. It is funded by a grant from the FCPS Education Foundation from contributions by the business community. Minority students participating in the program receive instruction in mathematics, science, and language arts, and technology is integrated into each subject area. The curriculum is interdisciplinary with a major focus on science. A variety of special enrichment sessions, presentations, and field trips related to science, technology, and other areas of the QUEST curriculum are provided throughout the program."

SkyWriter, I'm not sure how the census data can be used here. Educators frequently refer to Title I funding (free and reduced lunch) per school or by district. I spent a few minutes trying to find the data for CHCCS but failed--don't have time to pursue it further right now. For Fairfax Co, in October 2002, they had approximately 19% F/R lunches.


I think the point Skywriter is trying to make (and I assume will correct me if I am wrong) is that Sechrest should not have used Fairfax as a REASON for voting FOR differentiation, because it is wealthy and therefore not comparable to our district.

ACTUALLY--if you are using free and reduced lunches as a benchmark--CHCCS participation is 13.6%. Source:


page 8

SO--by that benchmark we are a wealthier system.


Checking the census, I find that Fairfax County has a three percent poverty rate (as counted by family). There is no comparable census data for the CHCCS district, or at least none that I would know how to find.(the raleigh durham chapel Hill data is the closest census info I can find)

If I am right in understanding that some 33 percent of our kids are on the free lunch program, that I think, would show a significant disparity in poverty rates in the Fairfax vs Chapel Hill. But I admit I am venturing out of my depth here, so do correct me if you about this stuff.

I have no idea why a board member would want to base decisions for this district on data from a huge and very wealthy county with a minimal poverty rate.

I think the comparison of Fairfax Co and CHCCS is that both systems have a fairly signficant disparity in performance between minority and non-minority students. The Fairfax Co strategy for addressing the gap is differentiated instruction(per Ed Sechrest), a program that has been in place for several (?) years. Therefore that is one of the data points he used in voting against continuing the Advanced Language Arts course for 7th graders in favor of differentiation.

The other interesting point I noted on the Fairfax Co website is that they clearly outline how a student is assigned to gifted education programs. One of the problems with the discussion here at OP is that gifted education is being confused with Advanced courses. All of the children who have been taking the Advanced Language Arts course are not necessarily "gifted" (except in their parents eyes--as should be expected). I know that some of the readers here understand the difference, but if you re-read the thread, you will find those terms being used interchangeably by some.

As I understand it, the gifted education program has NOT been eliminated in CHCCS for those "few" students who meet certain very high standards. The "some" students who consistently score high in certain content areas are the ones whose parents appear to be most upset.


The whole situation is very confusing thanks in part to vague, non-descriptive terms like "few" and "some" rather than the clearly understood indicators used by the Fairfax system. http://www.fcps.edu/dis/gt/resources.htm

If you would like to see the Fairfax Co VA SAT data, see http://www.fcps.k12.va.us/mediapub/pressrel/sat03.htm. What I find interesting here is that while their overall system score was slightly lower than CHCCS overall scores (per Melanie's report), they proudly advertise (and provide easily accessible details) that their minority students test scores are highest in the country. I can't figure out how to find the overall CHCCS district scores (individual data provided by school only) on SAT so I don't know how our minority groups compare.

Terri--I noticed those minroity scores as well andI wondered if those were the scores Sechrest was touting. Couldn't find CHCCS scores broken down by race for 2003--but found them for 2002...in a report on the Update on Minority Student Achievement, Feb 13,14, 2003: "We were pleased tha African-American SAT scores continued to increase last year. The average score was 988, up 45 points from hte previous year. The State average was 839, adn the nartional average was 857. Not enough Latino students took the SAT for heir scores t be reported. In Fairfax VA, for the same testing year it was 929--which is still lower--hmmmmm. Perhaps the 2003 scores were much higher?

site for Faifax county scores for 2020: http://www.fcps.k12.va.us/mediapub/pressrel/sat02.htm

site for CHCCS minority scores:


it's a pdf file--the info was on page 6.

Still haven't solved the mystery--


But NOT higher than ours--at least not for the graduating class of 2003. I wonder what year he was looking at?


I think it's a Charter school.

I believe Mr. Sechrest may have been misquoted. I wrote to him directly a week or so ago asking him what data he used to make his decision and one of the data sources he referenced in response was "Fairfax Co. VA. (One of the few school districts that out performs us.)." Per this quote, it would appear that our students' high scores is impressive beyond the boundaries of our own state.

I wrote to him directly a week or so ago asking him what data he used to make his decision and one of the data sources he referenced in response was "Fairfax Co. VA. (One of the few school districts that out performs us.)."

Terri::::::did he happen to mention by what measure Fairfax outperforms chccs? Melanie ascertained that we are higher in SAT. And I doubt that Fairfax takes the EOG. And I know we don't take the SOL, which is what Va uses.

Sorry I left that out--he was referring to SAT scores.

Definitely Fairfax Co., VA. That district might be working with some of the folks as University of Virginia just as our district works with Carol Ann Tomlinson.

Fairfax Co. is, of course, the highly affluent northern VA county just outside of Washington DC. I can imagine it would have high SAT scores and a high percentage of college bound HS students.

Thanks SLF--but according to the official state website, NO other public schools scored higher than The CHCCS (at least 2002-2003). Either this "Fairfax" is in another state, or it is a private HS. The REALLY amazing part of the statistics I quoted was the percentage of kids taking the SAT. To get scores THAT high, with over 90% of the kids taking the test is impressive.

Hunted some more--ocurred to me tht it might have been Fairfax County SOUTH Carolina--but their scores were WAY lower, and only 50% of the kids took the test. So unless Mr. Sechrest sees this and enlightens us--it will remain a mystery. (Of course it IS possible that the DTH got it wrong...)

Melanie See

the article about the Fairfax County which outscores CHCCS is here:


if the link does not work, you can go to daily tarheel site. Click Archives, click advanced search. Type in Fairfax and the first link that comes up will be this article.

Melanie is right. There are 100 counties in North Carolina and none of them are called Fairfax.


So what is Ed Sechrest talking about, or more likely, what is the DTH talking about?

Sorry, Melanie---I might have posted more info about the article and saved you some trouble.The article read in part:

"Sechrest said one of the reasons he decided to vote for elimination (of advanced classes) was because Fairfax County, the only county in the state outperforming CHCCS on the SAT, is a completely differentiated district.

this article was entitled "Advanced classes axed to differentiate schools" By Jennifer PogueStaff Writer Daily TarHeel January 21, 2004 . I think you have to look at the Jan 22 edition to find it, however.

I guess they are talking about some OTHER Fairfax county, and not Virginia because they are saying this Fairfax county, wherever it may be, has higher scores than does CHCCS. Your research shows otherwise for Fairfax County VA.



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