Open season on SpringBoard
Members of the Hillsborough County School Board sat patiently through a staff presentation on SpringBoard, how it prepares students for college and the workplace, how it forces them to work collaboratively, how they thank their teachers, years later, for the lessons they learned in math and English classes that used SpringBoard.
Then, one by one, they unloaded.
Kicking off the discussion, member Melissa Snively said she has never, ever heard a good thing about SpringBoard from teachers, students or parents, and that's hundreds of conversations about the College Board product.
"I know there are a lot of frustrated students and teachers and parents out there," she said. "There are a lot of tutoring companies out there that are very happy. I've never seen so many tutoring companies spring up, no pun intended, since this curriculum came out."
As for students, she said, "right now they do want to have a bonfire [with the books.] And it's sad!"
April Griffin described a session at Blake High School in which she was asked if she had any regrets since she joined the board. She said she wished she had not voted to adopt SpringBoard districtwide.
"That room, students, teachers, errupted," she said. "It was crazy the response that I got from that statement."
Griffin said she believes the district is using "a sunk cost fallacy" in staying with the system, meaning officials have spent so much money that they do not want to change course.
"Our graduation rate is still at the bottom of urban schools in the state of Florida," she said. She also refuted staff statistics about pass rates on the Advanced Placement courses. Back when MaryEllen Elia was superintendent, she got bonuses based on those pass rates and when Griffin examined the bonus, she said, it was very low.
She told a back story about SpringBoard that involved Eric Smith, the state's former education commissioner who also served as Senior Vice President for College Readiness of the College Board.
"Our kids have been guinea pigs," she said. "What I'm hearing outside this room is absolutely contrary to what I'm hearing inside this room. I'm going to stop because my frustration is showing."
Member Susan Valdes, going over ground she's covered before, said she can't understand why there is so much emphasis on the SAT exam (also a College Board product) and not the ACT, which can be used as a concordant score toward graduation if a student does not pass the state English exam. What's more, she said, district officials have exaggerated the value of AP scores to save money in college tuition.
Back on the topic of SpringBoard, she said, "It's evident out there the students don't like this. It could be because it's hard. I don't know." She picked apart the story line in a piece of fiction distributed in the materials. "It's bullying."
Cindy Stuart, with two children in high school, said, "I've never heard anything positive about SpringBoard." Her own kids are getting tutoring "and they're gifted children." Listening to district staff praise SpringBoard, "we're wasting our time. I'm disappointed that we're not having an honest conversation about, what is out there?"
Sally Harris said, "I totally agree with everything that Mrs. Snively said." Running for office, she said, she heard nothing but complaints about SpringBoard. "The 16 percent that go to college, it's probably great for." But, she said, it's not appropriate for the rest. "It has literally caused students to want to drop out."
Harris described one math teacher who told the kids they should all have their parents hire tutors to get through a SpringBoard unit. "We really have to look at how we're teaching if every parent has to hire a tutor."
Member Doretha Edgecomb, a tad more diplomatic, described SpringBoard as "a polarizing issue." She suggested the district might want to tweak or modify the system instead of discarding it entirely.
Carol Kurdell, who has defended SpringBoard in past discussions, said nothing.
Superintendent Jeff Eakins, clearly taken aback by the forceful statements and Stuart's criticism in particular, apologized for the structure of the workshop. Changing texts and curricula doesn't happen easily, he said. But the system exists for the students. And "we're at a crossroads."