10.

What is your response to parents who feel that “differentiated instruction” as implemented in BUSD does not sufficiently challenge advanced learners?

Answers: 
Ty Alper

My vision for this District is that every parent or guardian should be able to send their child to a Berkeley public school and have confidence that the child will receive the educational services he or she needs, whatever those needs are. No child should be bored in school (and children who are bored are often the source of behavioral and classroom management problems). This is also an issue of equity, because while some parents of advanced learners can afford to provide challenging educational experiences outside of the school day, many more cannot. I reject the notion that it is mutually exclusive to view “closing the achievement gap” as an urgent priority and to ensure that all students are challenged in the classroom. We can do both, and I want to devote energy toward making that happen, not assuming that it can’t be done.

Josh Daniels

Differentiated instruction, if done right, should sufficiently challenge all students, including advanced learners. To do differentiated instruction right, however, required significant teacher support. For me, this relates back to PLCs more than anything else. (See my response to Question #7.) PLCs are the perfect forum for a teacher to receive support in ensuring that they are able to sufficiently challenge all students. By allowing teachers to discuss that instructional practice with each other, teachers can learn from each other how to ensure that all students are challenged.

Norma J F Harrison

Yes, end the stratification. Everyone work at the highest possible level of production – yes – ALL people work – regardless of age. All of us love to do our work – to make product people need and like and that we enjoy making because of that. Study arises as we do those. Testing is only asking oneself and each other if the work is being done satisfactorily, and correcting if it isn’t and being satisfied if it is.

Karen Hemphill

As a parent whose son was GATE-identified and just graduated from BHS last year, I have first-hand experience of the absolute need for professional development in addressing the special needs of advanced learners as too many of our teachers have not yet mastered differential teaching (though my son did have teachers that did do this well) – which is critical for the success of the District’s policy of mainstreaming students with special needs. One of the reasons I was excited about hiring our current Superintendent is that he has a background in developing GATE curriculum and working with advanced learners and believe that he will bring that experience and understanding to our District. In addition, the new Common Core priorities on critical thinking and experiential learning is much more conducive to extending lesson plans to challenge advanced learners and much of the curriculum has extended lesson plans built in.

Julie Sinai

I think they are right in some cases. Differentiated instruction does not happen automatically. There are some teachers who are very skilled at it and some that are in need of professional development. Since joining the School Board last year, it has been one of my primary goals to ensure the Common Core curriculum is delivered in a way that supports and challenges the academic range of our students – from our struggling students and our high achieving students. The Common Core curriculum offers us an opportunity for greater flexibility for differentiated instruction. But, we need to make sure all our teachers have the skills, tools and resources to do this.