Update: Meeting with principal
The meeting went pretty well I think. It does not appear that the science teacher's curriculum is required by the district. The principal was not familiar with that curriculum. I gave the principal the handout that we received at Open House. She looked it over, and she saw some areas that she thought were unclear or confusing. She also said she has received a complaint from a parent with another science teacher's class, and she knows DS's teacher and this other teacher are collaborating. She thinks there may be a connection in terms of lack of clarity between the two classes.
In reviewing the handout about the curriculum, the principal had concerns about how students are being graded. She says that this type of curriculum is considered "enrichment," so firm deadlines may stand in the way of measuring what students are learning. I brought that back around to the issue of resources both in parents' homes and in the classroom and said that some kids may be performing at C level not because they don't know the material but because they don't have the personal resources to complete the C-layer work before the deadlines. The principal agreed and said she was glad I had brought up the issue.
When I began discussing concerns more specifically about the science teacher, the principal got a little defensive, but it wasn't too bad. She wanted me to know that she considers this teacher to be excellent because she emphasizes hands-on learning in the classroom. I agreed that it's a positive quality. I said that my concern about the teacher mostly involves communication and organization.
We talked about the chaos surrounding the field trip and the absence for illness and how that affected the deadlines. I told the principal that communication really is key. It's hard for parents to know how to support their kids and monitor their progress when the deadlines are shifting and the status of assignments is unclear. The principal agreed with that. She said it sounds like more information needs to be provided on an ongoing basis. She said she'd have the same concern as a parent.
I specifically addressed the issue of DS being denied the opportunity to do his experiment twice. The principal was concerned about that. She said she wants to speak to the teacher to find out more about the situation. She does not want to see higher-level kids held back so lower-level kids can get caught up. The principal informed me that there are far more than four microscopes available in the school, so she wasn't pleased when I said DS had encountered that problem as a barrier.
We discussed the delay in grading. Almost as soon as I brought it up, the principal said, "That should be all caught up by today. Is it?" I said that I noticed yesterday that nearly all of the missing grades are current.
We talked more broadly about pedagogy and how enrichment curricula are supposed to work. Teachers in the school are not teaching from the same curriculum in any subject or assessing learning in the same way, so each classroom may be unique. The principal plans to meet with all the science teachers now to find out more about their curricula and assessment criteria. She also wants to know how they are addressing the issue of varying resources between kids' families and the question of equal educational opportunity. She said she'll get back with me after she holds the meeting.
Our public school district has identified an achievement gap that affects students of lower socioeconomic status. The district is supposed to be addressing that problem because it continually presents itself in the results of the state assessments. The principal took the equal opportunity concern very seriously and said that if she discovers it exists in this curriculum, she's going to address it.
All in all, I thought it was a positive meeting, and I feel good about the way it played out.