Schools axe teacher choice

Parents of students at Wapakoneta City Schools no longer have the choice in what teacher their children get in the fall.

A letter sent home with students at Wapakoneta and Cridersville elementary schools this week informed parents of the change to be implemented with the 2012-2013 school year.

“It was a tough decision to make, but I hope parents trust us to continue to do the best to place children in the appropriate classrooms and they can always call teachers to work out concerns,” Wapakoneta Elementary School Principal Mark Selvaggio said.

While not necessary for them to approve the decision, Wapakoneta City Schools Board of Education members were part of discussions on the matter, ultimately leaving it up to the discretion of building principals and the district superintendent.

“We know it’s been a long standing practice, but we are confident we are making a good decision with this,” Wapakoneta City Schools Superintendent Keith Horner said. “For years since we’ve done this, administrators have deliberated the positives and negatives of the process.”

He said this year there was some discussion with parents about possible negative ramifications, which only reinforced the professional questions already raised about it. The problem has been at its  worst at Wapakoneta Elementary.

“Hours and hours and hours were spent each year trying to satisfy parent requests when it may or may not have been best for the students,” Horner said.  “Socially it’s not necessarily good. Educationally it’s not necessarily good.

“Some parents were making the decision for very good educational reasons — they had great confidence in a teacher or a sibling had a certain teacher— but other times it was for social reasons, they wanted their students to be in class with their friends,” he said. “There were a lot of non-educational reasons or they ‘heard’ a teacher was good. We think all our teachers are good.”

Selvaggio told the Wapakoneta Daily News it had become increasingly more difficult to honor parent requests — of which they received approximately 250 a year, of 900 kindergarten through fourth-grade students — while trying to balance students’ academic, social and emotional needs.

Since several parents would often bond together and make their requests, blocks of students were ending up in class together for years. One fourth-grade class this year has at least six students in it that have been together since kindergarten.

While it is unknown when the practice began, it has been ongoing for at least several years and provided parents with the opportunity to request their first choice in teacher as well as their second choice and to describe why.

The principals said they considered their own professional judgment, educational research and reviewed what other school districts were doing prior to making their decision.

“We will continue to do our best to create classrooms that are balanced academically, socially and emotionally, as well as looking at what is best for your individual child,” they wrote to parents. “We have confidence that our teachers are highly qualified and will work hard with you in giving your child and every child the best education as we prepare them for the future.”

According to a document penned by the schools’ principals, including Selvaggio, Cridersville Elementary School Principal Dave Tester and Wapakoneta Elementary School Assistant Principal Carrie Knoch, they wrote, “As class lists are constructed each summer, the goal is to create balanced classrooms in which students are grouped to best meet their learning needs.

“Too many students with academic, social or emotional concerns in one classroom can lead to decreased achievement for all students,” the document continues. “Therefore, grouping students with an even (heterogeneous) distribution is the most beneficial situation for students.”

The principals said parent requests have made it more difficult to create balanced classrooms as they have taken precedence over the academic, social and emotional concerns of a balanced classroom.

The requests also may, and have, lead to the same group of students being in class together for four or more years. By  default, they said it resembles tracking, which groups students together only with other students whose academic achievement is the same as their own. It’s a practice research has shown to be disadvantageous.

“As we continue to study this issue, we believe in the past we have created a scheduling system that resembles tracking and we believe that continuing to allow the same students to be placed in classes with the same group of friends year after year, upon parent request, is counterproductive to creating an environment where all students are valued and is not in the best educational interest of all students,” the principals wrote.

Due to their concerns, the process of parents filling out forms for teacher requests will no longer be offered.

In addition to considering academic, social and emotional needs when assigning students in certain classrooms, other factors include whether they are in special education or speech, reading levels, and those students who excel and may need more of a challenge. Teachers also sometimes offer recommendations of what they feel would be most beneficial to certain students.

“We try to even out the groups,” Selvaggio said. “We want a mixture of high, low and medium students academically so they can learn from each other.”

In the past, Selvaggio said he has heard from parents whose students wanted another teacher than the one they were assigned, but that it worked out.

“Some time along the line students will have a teacher they have to learn to adjust to and work with,” Selvaggio said. “We know people will be upset, but we had to do what was best for the students educationally.”