Category Archives: Accountability

Who is Paul Vallas and why is he coming to Madison?

Photograph by AP/Worldwide Photos

As Jim Anchower says, “I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya…” Sometimes you need a break; expect more soon.

Paul Vallas will be featured at a “school reform town hall meeting” this Saturday, May 26, 1:00 PM at LaFollette High School.  The announcements feature “Madison Metropolitan School District, Verona Area School District, United Way of Dane County, Urban League of Greater Madison & Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County” as “collaborating” hosts, but as reported by Matt DeFour the United Way  “has requested that our name be removed from all upcoming communications related to the event, but will attend to hear the conversation from all those involved.”

Attempts to clarify MMSD’s role have not yielded a response.  You can try yourself:  Board of Education: board@madison.k12.wi.us, Supt. Dan Nerad: dnerad@madison.k12.wi.us.  I’ve been told unofficially that MMSD is donating the space, which would mean that your tax dollars and mine are being used (see the district facilities rental policy here).  It would really be a shame if our district collaborated in bringing Vallas here, there is very little in his version of school reform that our community, or any community will benefit from.

I can’t answer why he is coming to Madison.  I presume that those who are bringing him would like to see Madison adopt the policies Vallas favors.

I can and will say some things about who Vallas is.  As is common with these things, it depends on who you ask.  The Koch and Bradley funded Manhattan Institute anointed Vallas with their Urban Innovator Award for 2006 (other recipients include Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush and somewhat inexplicably Jerry Brown).   The (also Bradley funded) Heartland Institute has had consistently good things to say about Vallas.  You might recall that they are the ones with the secret “Operation Angry Badger” plan to “help defend and secure” the rule by the FitzWalker gang.   On the other side, at the Daily Censored, Danny Weil called Vallas “”vassal and executioner of public schools.”

The Wikipedia entry provides a fair if spotty overview of his career.  Here’s a short version.  When Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was given control of the Chicago schools in 1995, he appointed then City Budget director Vallas as CEO.  Vallas served till 2002, when disappointing progress the defeat of a Vallas friendly slate in the teacher union election led to his resignation (and here).  He ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for Governor losing to Rod Blagojevich. From there it was to Philadelphia, where he served under the State appointed School Reform Commission from 2002 to 2007 and oversaw (among other things) what was then “the nation’s largest experiment in privatized management of schools.”  He flirted with other Illinois Gubernatorial runs in 2005 and 2008, and the Cook County Board President in 2009 as a Republican (prompting the question, what kind of person became a Republican between 2008 and 2009).  Vallas then became head of the State administered and Charter dominated Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD), where he served from 2007 until 2011.  The RSD is now unquestionably the largest school privatization effort in US history (see this great video of a parent complaining that when Charters are the only choice, there is no choice, more here). More recently he was tapped by an illegally appointed Board as interim Superintendent in Bridgeport CN.  His $228,000 salary is being paid for by the private Bridgeport Education Reform Fund.  Not surprisingly, Vallas’ plan for Bridgeport includes extensive blurring of the line between public and private.  It should probably be mentioned that Vallas’ resume also includes well compensated activities in Chile (leading to mass protests against the reforms he brought) and Haiti on behalf of the Inter-American Development Bank.

A couple of things stand out in his career.  One is that he’s never worked with a locally elected education authority (ie an elected School Board); the other is that privatization is prominent in his toolbox.  He explained the former to New York Times reporter Paul Tough:

When I asked Paul Vallas what made New Orleans such a promising place for educational reform, he told me that it was because he had no “institutional obstacles” — no school board, no collective bargaining agreement, a teachers’ union with very little power. “No one tells me how long my school day should be or my school year should be,” he said. “Nobody tells me who to hire or who not to hire. I can hire the most talented people. I can promote people based on merit and based on performance. I can dismiss people if they’re chronically nonattending or if they’re simply not performing.”

On the latter, a quote from an article Vallas wrote for the aforementioned Manhattan Institute:

We also have flexibility when it comes to work rules, which are decided by the board rather than the state. This has allowed us to do a lot of privatization. Our alternative schools are private schools, as are many of our special-ed schools. Our vocational education programs are also privately run to some extent. And we have contracted out for custodians, lunchroom attendants and the trades. In our system, schools have a choice. If they are not happy with their in-house services, they can privatize them. There’s competition.

It should be added that privatization also includes extensive pinstripe patronage contracts, something Vallas himself is now taking advantage of via his consulting company, winning a $1 million dollar contract that brings him back to the Chicago scene and raising some questions of transparency and conflicts of interest in Rockford).

From these quotes, it is also clear that Vallas would prefer not to have to deal with unions either.  In Chicago and Philadelphia, Charter School expansion helped limit the union presence and Vallas also moved to replace other union workers — such as custodians and food service employees — by contracting with private companies, resulting in lost benefits.  Like many of the market-based school reformers, Vallas talks a good game about addressing the impacts of poverty via education while making it harder for the working poor in his employ to provide for their families.

Vallas also likes tests, a lot.  As in Philadelphia, One of the first things Vallas did in Bridgeport was to institute an extra round of standardized tests and the reason given was that “Traditionally, instruction wanes after the administration of the state tests.  Unfortunately, this “lull” in teaching and learning deprives our students of much-needed academic support.”  This echoes what Vallas said about test-based accountability in Chicago:

Vallas does not see fear as a negative. “My first reaction is that we went for decades of no fear, and where was the creativity then?” he asks, irritation rising in his voice. “Fear is a consequence of poor performance.

“People who are afraid may not have the makeup to move schools forward,” he adds. “A majority of teachers and principals have a lot of confidence in what we are doing and are delighted that we are focusing on raising student achievement.”

The use of fear was part of the picture in Philadelphia for educators and for studentsVallas is also a fan of test (and fear) based evaluations as a basis for teacher employment.

Fear, tests and transparency all came together in Vallas $1.4 million lawsuit against Chicago teacher and Substance reporter George Schmidt, who had published flawed test items from the Vallas initiated Chicago Academic Standards Exams.  Well before Pinapplegate, Schmidt was blowing the whistle on bad tests.  As he details here, his reward from Vallas was the loss of his job and years spent fighting the suit (and to keep Substance going), but was ultimately vindicated when the monetary damages claim was reduced to $0.  Substance is still going strong.

Discussion of testing inevitably leads to discussions of test scores and much of Vallas reputation rests on his reported gains in this area.  Leaving aside the limited utility of standardized teats as a measure of learning or teacher or school or district (or CEO) quality a closer look at Vallas’ record in Chicago does not indicate marked improvement and it is likely that a similar analysis for Philadelphia would also deflate the grandiose claims.  The Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) report “Trends in Chicago’s Schools Across Three Eras of Reform”  This report”addressed the problems in the public statistics by carefully constructing measures and methods to make valid year-over-year comparisons…to create an accurate account of the progress made by CPS since the early 1990s.”  Some of the problems addressed had to do with changes in tests and cut scores, others “not only other changes to the test format, testing conditions, and scoring methods, but also changes in school policies—grade promotion standards, testing policies, and eligibility around bilingual and special education services—and shifts in the types of students being served by the schools.”

I want to point to the “grade promotion” or retention policies as a particular area of importance.  In both Chicago and Philadelphia, Vallas instituted test-based retention policies (an idea so bad that even Scott walker was convinced to abandon it).  Retention’s positive impact on test scores is akin to CEO’s concentrating on quarterly profits and not the big picture of long term health.  Students in third grade the second time around will post higher third grade scores, but the gains are temporary and they are more likely to drop out and suffer other negative outcomes (you can read about the Chicago Civil Rights action on retention here and here and more from Philadelphia here.).

What the CCSR found in general was that “Many of the findings in this report contradict trends that appear in publicly reported data. For instance, publicly reported statistics indicate that CPS has made tremendous progress in elementary math and reading tests, while this analysis demonstrates only incremental gains in math and almost no growth in reading.”  The same pattern is true for the Vallas years, some slight improvement in some reading scores, and slight but more pronounced improvements in math scores.  Large racial gaps grew, Chicago continued to lag behaind the state and “Despite progress, the vast majority of CPS students have academic achievement levels that are far below where they need to be to graduate ready for college.”  It should also be noted that graduation rate improvements slowed under Vallas.  The whole report is worth a read, especially the section on “Changes in School Climate and Organizational Supports,”

No equivalent analysis has been done for Philadelphia, but there is reason to doubt the reported double digit and even 20%+ increases in students meeting standards over Vallas’ tenure.  With the latter there is some apples to oranges going on, the 2002 numbers cover grades 5.8 and 11; but by 2007 grades 3,4,6 and 7 have been added.   Philadelphia did not participate in NAEP during the Vallas years, but the performance on the Terra Nova were not as impressive as it was on the state tests and even here there were  problems.  Still, it is likely that scores did rise significantly in real ways under Vallas, but also needs to be noted that when he left only 47.0% of tested students were proficient in math, only 40.7 in reading and that that the schools turned over to outside Educational Management Organizations were below these dismal numbers.

Post Katrina New Orleans is a classic “not the same students, not the same schools” case that makes comparisons over time difficult, but there is reason not to believe the hype there either.  The Miracle Schools Wiki has lots of links that raise doubts and more.  Of particular concern are allegations made by the Louisiana School Board Association. of “scrubbing” low performers.

There is lots more out there on Vallas,  if you are interested I’d suggest clicking the links in the post, the links below and skipping the event.  If you care about schools and students, your Saturday would be much better spent working to get Scott Walker out of office (contact United Wisconsin to volunteer).  I know mine will be.

For further reading and viewing:

Diane Ravitch, “The Very Rewarding Job of Saving Schools.”

PBS coverage of Vallas (extensive on New Orleans).

Martha Abele Mac Iver and Douglas J. Mac Iver, “WORKING PAPER – Privatizing Education in Philadelphia: Are Educational Management Organizations Improving Student Achievement?”

Edward Hayes, “The man, the myth, the continuing nonsense.”

Debra Vaughan, Laura Mogg, Jill Zimmerman and Tara O’Neill”Transforming Public Education in New Orleans:  The Recovery School District.

Two takes on the fate of the Philadelphia School, now slated for dissolution:

Daniel Denvir, “Who’s Killing Philly Public Schools? Underfunded. Overburdened. About to be sold for scrap.

Doug Martin, “In the City of Corporate Love and Beyond: The Boston Consulting Group, Gates, and the Filthy Rich.”

and since these were mentioned in the Matt DeFour story

The Washington Times, “Military Schools on the Rise.”

Don Feder, “Book covers breach wall of separation.”

Jeffrey Felshman, “The Ten Commandments According to Paul” (parody).

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Accountability, Arne Duncan, Best Practices, education, Elections, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, nclb, No Child Left Behind, Scott Walker, Take Action, Uncategorized

Myths of Madison Prep, Part 2

That Petrol Emotion – “Big Decision” (click to listen or download)

Part 1 here, (the introductory material is copied from there).

The discussion around the Madison Preparatory Academy (MPA) proposal and the related events and processes has been heated, but not always grounded in reality.  Many have said that just having this conversation is a good thing.  I don’t agree.  With myths being so prevalent and prominent, a productive conversation is nearly impossible.  Since the vote is scheduled for Monday (12/19), I thought it would be good to take a closer — fact based, but opinionated — look at some of the myths.  This is part two, although there are plenty of myths left to be examined, I’ve only gotten one up here.  I may post more separately or in an update here on Monday.

Three things to get out of the way first.

One is that the meeting is now scheduled to be held at 6:00 Pm at the Memorial High School Auditorium and that for this meeting the sign up period to speak will be from 5:45 to 6:00 PM (only).

Second, much of the information on Madison Prep can be found on the district web page devoted to the topic.  I’m not going do as many hyperlinks to sources as I usually do because much of he material is there already. Time constraints, the fact that people rarely click the links I so carefully include, and, because some of the things I’ll be discussing presently are more along the lines of “what people are saying/thinking,” rather than official statements, also played a role in this decision.  I especially want to emphasize this last point.  Some of the myths being examined come straight from “official” statements or sources,  some are extensions of “official” things taken up by advocates, and some are self-generated by unaffiliated advocates.

Lastly, I want to offer some thoughts on myths.  With my students, I often do assignments on the relationship between myth and history.  There are three things that I tell my students to keep an eye on.  The first is to look at the relationship between the myth and reality (most, but not all myths have some basis in reality).  Second, I ask them to think about how people believing the myth shaped their actions and what came next.  Last, is the “follow the money” idea of exploring who benefited from particular myths and the actions that resulted from those myths.  I’m going to be exploring some of these, but mostly I will be leaving many of them for the reader to ponder further.

On to the myths, in no real order.

Madison Prep will “effectively address the educational needs of children who have under-performed or failed to succeed in Madison’s public schools for at least the last 40 years. “

The quoted portion  is from Kaleem Caire.

Before getting to the crux of the matter, which is the probable effectiveness of the educational program for these students, I’m compelled to say something about the “last 40 years” part.  Essentially, this creates another set of myths having to do with what has and has not changed over the past 40 years.  Beginning with the obvious, the students who could attend Madison Prep were not even born 40 years ago.  More to the point, things like family structure, community structure (and the lack there of), poverty, mobility, the number of English Language Learner students, and so much more, have changed significantly in this time period.  As a historian I’m attuned to continuity and change; interestingly the official Madison Prep team talks about both, but never seems to expend any effort an examining how the continuities and changes have impacted educational successes and failure. Mostly they use continuity to paint an unbroken record of failure and change to invoke a crisis (more on this below).  It should also go without saying that the educational landscape and MMSD practices have changed greatly in the last 40 years.

The usual caveats about the uncertainties surrounding the impact of any educational plan or program are in order, as is the usual appeal to base decisions on the best information you have available, and for one not to take blind leaps of faith.  These are children’s lives and there are scarce educational resources in play here.  Avoiding doing more harm has to be part of this to.  In her support for Madison Prep, MPA Board Member Gloria Ladson-Billings has betrayed history, logic and the very idea of educational research by saying “we can’t do worse.”  Of course we can, and many of the models for Madison Prep do much worse than MMSD.

The best place to start is with the oft-cited Urban Prep of Chicago.  As I have noted in a previous post, MPA’s plan of gender segregation, extended school time and “no excuses” policies, has many similarities to the Urban Prep model.  As I also noted and is well documented elsewhere, Urban Prep is by almost every measure a failure.   The attrition rates are high, the achievement scores are beyond dismal, the gaps between students in poverty and others are large.  They are doing worse – much, much worse than MMSD.

One feature that is unique (or nearly unique) to Madison Prep is employing the International Baccalaureate (IB) as a way to address the needs of students who have “failed to succeed.”  There are many good things about IB, but because of the rigor and resultant attrition rates, it is very problematic for this purpose and in this context.  I fear that IB will be a means to “push out” instead of “lift up.”

Previously, I quoted from a Denver Public Schools report on IB:

There is no available evidence that the IB will increase student achievement in DPS schools or that the IB has had a positive effect on student achievement in similar districts or schools. A thorough search of the literature has netted no empirical studies on the effects of IB on student achievement….

[T]he model is not proven to improve student achievement in schools with low-income populations, to narrow the achievement gap, or to bring  low-achieving students up to proficiency in reading, writing or mathematics.

Now, I want to point to, and quote from, two research reports on IB.  The first was either commissioned or purchased recently  by MMSD from Hanover Research (it is among the materials for the Innovations and Alternatives Committee, one that MMSD had this on file and did not use it for its MPA Administrative Analysis and is inexcusable).  The second is a pair of case studies commissioned by IB of two schools serving “non-traditional” IB students (Bland, J. and Woodworth, K. Case Studies of Participation and Performance in the IB Diploma Program, SRI International, Center for Education Policy. 2009).

Some quotes from the Hanover report:

Studies consistently find that the causal relationship between high achievement and the IB programme is bi-directional high-achieving students are more likely to become IB students, and the IB experience amplifies learning success.

There really isn’t much out there on IB with students who are not already achieving (the case of Southside High in Rockville Centre NY, is interesting, but not applicable for a variety of reasons  — demographics are the biggest — ; the success there seems to have been about boosting middle achievers, and even that success only resulted in about 10% of the students achieving the IB diploma).

Conversely, ineffective programmes tended towards a strict one-size-fits-all approach to the AP/IB curriculum,”which often led to student dropouts, including many minority students who left the programme because they believed that the curriculum, instruction, and environment of the classes were inappropriate for their individual needs. The study also identified other ways in which the AP/IB programmes failed to meet the needs of minority students.

Note that, only supplemented by the “Prep Year,” MPA is employing IB as “one-size-fits-all” approach.

And from the conclusions of the case studies:

MPA will be non selective in admissions, but certainly not in retention/attrition.

Back to the Hanover Report:

Primarily, the biggest failure of the IB/AP courses involved the difference between the programme curricula and the learning needs of students. The inability of IB or AP course curricula to meet the learning needs of minority students and students from impoverished backgrounds was especially problematic.  Ultimately, the study concluded that AP and IB programmes can provide the opportunity for minority students to succeed if a programme works to create a school-wide, an environment that fosters growth, and sufficient support structures to succeed. (Emphasis in the original)

Note that here they are talking about “minority” students, not students who are failing/being failed, as the MPA advocates often do.

The two case studies also deal with students who are not failing.  In one school there were strict admissions requirements, and the other the requirements were looser, but included being at grade level, along with some other factors.  I want concentrate on the second study, because it is closer to MPA’s plan, which will have no admission requirements.  Some charts from the study:

There are two things I want to point out with this chart.  First, notice the drops from 11th grade enrollment to becoming a diploma recipient are significant.  MPA has asserted that all of their students will earn IB diplomas.  That’s  utterly unrealistic.  At the other school in the study, the highly selective Hillsborough, only 89 of the 146 students who entered in 9th grade received IB diplomas.  MPA has also projected an equally unrealistic  5% attrition rate between grades 11 and 12; at Lamar it was 24%.

Attrition is a key issue (self-selection is another, but I don’t have the time to go into that).  It is another way MPA can do worse.  Churning students through, and in effect pushing those who don’t make the cut back to MMSD schools, while in the end serving only those who thrive.  I want make it quite clear that I am not saying this is the intent, but it is was I think the design will produce.  It is exactly those students who Kaleem Caire says are “dangling by their thumbs waiting to be rescued,” who are most likely to be ill served by IB and MPA.

Attrition is among the educational aspects that the MMSD Administrative Analysis ignored.  The chart and figures offered by MPA reveal little or no awareness or understanding of research on IB, or the schools like KIPP (see here) and Urban Prep, that are also part of their model. Here is the MPA chart and discussion:

These attrition projections are much too low, but even by these numbers it looks like only about 70 of the 120 students who started are projected to graduate (assuming that those who leave each year are drawn equally from the initial students and later arrivals).  My guess is that number will be closer to 50 graduating students and maybe even lower, well under half  (if we leave everything the same and only change the 11th to 12 grade figure to match Lamar’s study, you would end up with about 53  of the initial 120 students graduating).  Mostly importantly, those who do graduate, will overwhelmingly be those who would have graduated had MPA never existed in the first place.

This does not mean that some  of those students who leave will not have benefited in some way from MPA. There are some aspects of the school that I think are so bad as to be both harmful academically and otherwise; but IB does have some things to offer some students, and the Prep Year — if done well — could be beneficial.

One of the main points I want to make is that everything I can find, including the International Baccalaureate research materials and the consideration of attrition rates presented above, indicates that MPA will do — the least good — and the most harm — to those who need and deserve the most help.

Madison Prep officials and supporters have worked hard to disseminate myths to the contrary, but from what they have offered, and from what I can find, there is little basis in reality for those myths.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Accountability, Best Practices, education, Equity, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Take Action, Uncategorized

Myths of Madison Prep, Part 1

Van Morrison – “Too Many Myths” (click to listen or download)

The discussion around the Madison Preparatory Academy (MPA) proposal and the related events and processes has been heated, but not always grounded in reality.  Many have said that just having this conversation is a good thing.  I don’t agree.  With myths being so prevalent and prominent, a productive conversation is nearly impossible.  Since the vote is scheduled for Monday (12/19), I thought it would be good to take a closer — fact based, but opinionated — look at some of the myths.  This is part one, the first set.

Three things to get out of the way first.

One is that the meeting is now scheduled to be held at 6:00 Pm at the Memorial High School Auditorium and that for this meeting the sign up period to speak will be from 5:45 to 6:00 PM (only).

Second is that much of the information on Madison Prep can be found at the district web page devoted to the topic.  I’m not going do as many hyperlnks to sources as I usually do. because much of he material is there  Time constraints, the fact that people rarely click the links I so carefully include, and because some of the things I’ll be discussing are more along the lines of “what people are saying/thinking” than official statements also played a role in this decision.  I want to emphasize the last.  Some of the myths being examined come straight from “official” statements or sources,  some are extensions of “official” things taken up by advocates, and some are self-generated by unaffiliated advocates.

Last, some thoughts on myths.  With my students, I often do assignments on the relationship between myth and history.  There are three things that I tell my students to keep an eye on.  The first is to look at the relationship between the myth and reality (most, but not all myths have some basis in reality).  Second I ask them to think about how people believing the myth shaped their actions and what came next.  Last, is the “follow the money” idea of exploring who benefitd from particular myths and the actions they led to.  I’m going to be doing some of all of these, but mostly I’m also going to leave these up to the reader to ponder.

On to the myths, in no real order.

Madison Prep is a Litmus Test on MMSD’s and/or Madison’s Commitment to Students of Color and/or Students in Poverty and/or Innovation and/or Charter Schools

Madison Prep is a very specific plan with very specific educational strengths and weaknesses, potential legal entanglements, and a myriad of other issues.  The reactions and vote on Madison Prep are largely about these.

I’m reminded that Paul Soglin initially portrayed the Edgewater Development (which he then favored) as a litmus test for Madison.  Now as Mayor it looks like he has killed the project.  As he should have known in 2009, the details and specifics matter.

Yes, attitudes on all of these things listed in the heading  have shaped some of the positions people have taken, but people who share a deep commitment to the education of students of color or in poverty are on both sides of the issue, people who care little about these things are on both sides of the issue.  Many advocates for MPA believe it will help these students,  many opponents believe that it will not (more on that below and in part 2, but see this related post for now)and that it will hurt the majority of these students who will remain in MMSD schools by taking resources away.  It is a pretty bad litmus test if that’s the case.  Similar things are true with the other things in the heading (I doubt many Charter School opponents are in favor although some Charter proponents are against, … you get the idea).

And the alternative isn’t the “status quo.” That’s a false frame that has been very useful for those who attack public education.  Not doing Madison Prep does not mean not doing anything or anything better or different.

Madison Prep advocates have convinced many that there is a need to do things better and/or differently — some of us didn’t need to be convinced — but that’s much different than making the case to do MPA  (some of this is covered in the myths examined below and in part two).

It Is/Isn’t (All) About the Students

I addressed some aspects of this in relation to the Urban League and the “choice” movement in this post and this post.  In those posts I concluded that in the case of much of the “choice” movement there are larger anti-public sector forces in play, that via Kaleem Caire ULGM has strong links to those parts of the “choice” movement, and that at least one part of the Madison Prep plan needlessly exploits children and families in order to benefit the school and the idea of “choice.”

There is a more general part of these myths that applies to all of the institutional players.  It isn’t insulting to recognize the ULGM, MMSD, MTI, and even the Board of Education all have turf at stake in this matter and that they all have imperatives to protect (in the case of MTI a legal imperative to protect) and expand their turf.

It probably isn’t going too far to extend this to many of the individuals whose professional pride, reputations and to some extent livelihoods are in play.  Non-professional advocates also bring some pride to the table and many — myself included — have visions of public education we seek to expand that might be considered “turf.”

Recognizing that it isn’t “all about the students” doesn’t mean that for all it isn’t partially, or mostly, or even primarily about the good of the students, but it does take away the ridiculous posturing some are so fond of.   It can be very useful to document and delineate what else it seems to be about for institutions and individuals, but to attack one side for their interests while refusing to  recognize that  in one way or another everyone has some interest in something other than “the students”  is wrong.

It should be added that for the professional MMSD administrators, I would guess whatever desires they have to protect their turf are balanced by an understanding that controversy is rarely good for careers or school districts.  I think we can see some of this in the last myth in part one.

There Are No Legal Barriers to Approving Madison Prep As A Non-Instrumentality or Risking Legal Challenges In Order to Vote Yes is Worth It

On these legal issues (remember that according to  the Administrative Analysis the sex segregation matters still demand further review, see the ACLU for more) , the initial official MMSD position starts on page 26 of the Administrative Analysis, Ed Hughes posted his unofficial views here and the official ULGM response is here; the “despite the legal issues, vote yes” stuff is all over, the best source being this letter from Kaleem Caire.

Ed Hughes recent proposal to vote to open the school in 2013 demonstrates that  these legal barriers to approval are real and formidable.

I am not an attorney ( I written and  taught legal history, but that doesn’t count for much), so take my legal analysis for what it is, the work of an interested amateur with nothing at stake but pride.  In my opinion there are significant legal barriers to approving a non-instrumentality charter school which would violate the work preservation clauses of existing contracts.

The ULGM makes a couple of main counter legal arguments.

One is that contracts contrary to statutes  or limiting the exercise of statutory powers are void.  I see a couple of problems with this.  First, the cases cited are more about contracts that restrict exercise of constitutional duties than they are about statutory powers.  Second, and I’m not sure this is relevant, the contract did not restrict the exercise of powers when it was signed; it only restricts  the exercise because Act 10 subsequently made memorandums of understanding impossible.  If there is a conflict, it seems to be between Act 10 and the Charter School Statute.

The other is that Act 65, which allows for public employee contracts to be revised in order to cut pay or benefits also allows for a revision to employee non-union (or maybe lower paid union) employees at a non-instrumentality charter school.  This does not seem to be contemplated in the law, but I’d like to see a reaction to this (and the other issues raised by ULGM) from the district legal team.  We will probably get that on Monday; I’d like it sooner (so that we could all have something better than my inadequate legal interpretations and scribblings to go by).

It is likely that even a yes vote would not result in MPA opening.  It would be tied up in courts and odds appear to be that MMSD on behalf of ULGM would lose.

The “vote yes despite the contract/law issues” argument is based on astounding hyperbolic rhetoric, comparisons that don’t work and an end game I don’t understand.  Again, the case is made for the urgency of doing something, but that’s the litmus test myth, something does not equal MPA.   There are some very good reasons to believe that Madison Prep will do more harm than good and there is not a lot of reason to believe that opening this school will accomplish anything comparable to the examples given by Kaleem Caire of ending ” Jim Crow,” or winning Woman Suffrage (see below).   At absolute most, a few kids will have greatly improved educational opportunities.  That would be something real and good, but the scope and scale are wrong for the comparison (on the general overselling of charter schools, the miracleschools wiki is a great place to start).

The examples employed by Caire are about civil and human rights, what ULGM is asking for is to trash a contract in order to open a school.  You can see how strained is this in how Caire squeezes the word “contracts” into his rhetoric:

More importantly, will the Board of Education demonstrate the type of courage it took our elders and ancestors to challenge and change laws and contracts that enabled Jim Crow, prohibited civil rights, fair employment and Women’s right to vote, and made it hard for some groups to escape the permanence of America’s underclass? We know this is not an easy vote, and we appreciate their struggle, but there is a difference between what is right and what is politically convenient.

The history invoked is one of challenging, (sometimes breaking), and changing laws in pursuit of rights.   There is no right to open a school,  only a right to a due process decision on an application (the myth that MPA has not been treated fairly in this process, should be in part 2).  Contracts aren’t part of that history either, except in the sense that when contracts — like housing covenants  and yes ,  some union contracts (discriminatory promotional practices come to mind)  — were thought to be in violation of civil rights laws they were challenged in court (or administrative processes) after the laws were changed, not broken or disregarded.    School Boards don’t have the power to change laws and shouldn’t trash contracts.

On a radio show MPA Board Member John Roach went even further, saying that MMSD should emulate President Obama, who — according to Roach — “broke contracts” in order to kill Osama bin Laden.   In a sense diplomatic agreements are contracts and they were violated, but school boards are not heads of sovereign nations, and opposing Madison Prep really has little in common with the decisions on the choice of tactics in the “War on Terror.”

Or maybe it does, because what Caire and Roach and others are doing is a scorched earth fight, “destroying the village in order to ‘save’ it.”  Presenting these kind of false hopes and choices in this manner makes the always difficult work of school-community relations more difficult by creating unnecessary expectations and  that result  in even greater distrust.

I think the ULGM case is weak; it certainly isn’t a slam-dunk, black letter law thing.  If the vote were yes, there would certainly be challenges, legal expenses incurred, perhaps other repercussions in labor relations, and I’d guess the school wouldn’t open anyway.  With all this in mind, I don’t understand the thinking behind organizing around a false hope in a manner that will make working together in the future harder.

The Madison Prep Educational Plan Has Been Thoroughly Vetted, by MMSD, The Board and the Community.

I can’t count the number of times during this I’ve said the educational program should be central to this discussion.  It has not been.  Some of this is because other — mostly legal — issues have come up, some of it is because the MPA PR campaign and official filings have been very light on discussing how and why they see their program meeting the needs of those whose needs are not being met by MMSD, some of it is because the MMSD administration failed to address these in their analysis, some of it is that all educational programs (proposed or actual) are complex, filled with uncertainty and take work to understand.

When I point out the lack of attention given to the educational program, I am often met with disbelief or contradiction.  I can’t prove that it has not been examined, but I can point to some evidence.  The best evidence that I can think of is the official “Administrative Analysis.”  Here are some excerpts from the “conclusions” on the educational aspects (you won’t find much about education):

On sex segregation:

The Board should review these legal implications before making a judgment regarding how to proceed on this issue.

On the International Baccalaureate  (after a paragraph asking about alternatives to IB at MPA that seems to ignore the statement in the MPA plan that says “Madison Prep will offer both the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP) to all its students”, the “analysis” “reccomends”

If Madison Prep is approved, it is recommended that more information be provided detailing the specific requirements for graduation.

And this on “College Preparatory Educational Program”

MMSD Response: The IB curriculum is aligned with the goal of college and career readiness without remediation.

On Harkness Teaching there is a little more in the way of questions, but no more in the way of analysis and conclusions:

…A specific teaching model (e.g. Harkness Teaching) has strengths for a range of learning and social areas (e.g. inquiry-based learning), but used exclusively, may not address the full range of learning situations required. Will other teaching methods/models will be included in Madison Prep? If so, what are examples of other acceptable models and specifically when would other teaching models be appropriate?

Recommendation: If Madison Prep is approved, it is recommended that further detail be provided regarding the appropriateness of Harkness Teaching as an exclusive teaching model or provide descriptions of the range of other acceptable teaching models and when they would be appropriate. Clarify if this method will be used daily, in all subjects, or for specific types of learning on a less frequent basis. Further information is requested regarding the potential impact on student learning and achievement during the several year period of teacher efficacy in situations where teachers may be novice in both methodology and curriculum.

This is actually the closest the analysis gets to engaging in educational issues.  All the rest are about technical matters.  My favorite is the one on the extended day/year that is a back-and-forth about a misreading of the calendar.

Remember that “how a decision to establish or not establish the proposed charter school will impact families to be served” is among the things the Administration is required to provide and the Board of Education is required to consider.  I would think that the education program would be central to that., but it isn’t there, nor has there been an extended Board discussion on this.  No wonder so many  prominent backers are silent on MPA’s educational program.  Which brings me to the next myth, but that has till wait till the next post.

Thomas J.  Mertz

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ALEC and Bill Gates, the Mask Comes Off

The Cramps, “What’s Behind the Mask” (click to listen or download)

This morning a friend tweeted me a grant listing from the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).    Gates is giving ALEC $375,000

[T]o educate and engage its membership on more efficient state budget approaches to drive greater student outcomes, as well as educate them on beneficial ways to recruit, retain, evaluate and compensate effective teaching based upon merit and achievement

While bankrolling some of the worst market and profit driven, privatizing, “choice,” teacher and union bashing, data-obsessed, “reforms,” all the while leveraging public money for private ends,  Gates and the Gates Foundation have tried to preserve the illusion that they are “friends” of public education.  The mask is off.  No friend of public education or America’s children supports ALEC and their mission to destroy the public sector (see ALEC Exposed).

A few words from Susan Troller’s farewell column are in order (goodbye and good wishes  Susan, you’ll be missed):

Not all “reformers” actually want reform.

There’s a well-funded national campaign made up of conservative think tanks, public relations firms and big-money donors whose mission is to discredit public schools. Some of them just hate the teacher unions and disdain teachers and all public workers.

Others are ideologically opposed to the notion of public education and would like to privatize everything; their releases provide a steady litany about the advantages of “choice” schools, from private voucher schools to for-profit charters that operate with public dollars.

Had their been any doubt that Gates was part of this, there is no longer.

For more see:

Mark Pocan, “ALEC Watch: What I did on My Summer Vacation.”

Doug Merlino, “Bill Gates and the Shadow Department of Education.”

Anthony Cody, “Bill Gates’ Big Play: How Much Can Money Buy in Education?”

Beth Slovic, Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation” (from Seattle Education blog).

Dr. Roy Schestowitz, “Gates Monitor: February 2011 on Bill Gates-Funded Lobbyists Who Drive US Education Agenda.”

Nancy Flanagan, “Microsoft wins TEACH campaign from Education Department.”

Thomas J. Mertz

 

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Outside Agitators?, Fact Check and What Next

The Animals – “We’ve Gotta To Get Out Of This Place” (click to listen or download).

[Update, 11/22/11: New documents from ULGM have been posted here; new timeline:  Administrative Analysis by 12/4; vote on 12/19.  Too fast.]

The self-selected Board of the Madison Predatory Academy are an interesting bunch.   As the Board of Education considers their request for a non-instrumentality, non-union school charter with “total authority to make decisions related to budget, personnel, curriculum, school policy and overall operations,” I hope we hear more from and about them and their plans  After all, baring extreme circumstances (more on that below), if the charter is granted this will likely be the last time for five years that the Board and the residents of Madison they represent have any say about the school.

I have been doing a little digging and one thing that I find worth noting is that 6 of the 16 (of 17) Madison Prep Board Members I can locate information on, are not residents of MMSD (the one I could not locate information on is a recent transplant and  MATC student).

These are people who choose to live outside  of MMSD, could only send their children to MMSD schools via open enrollment, can not run for or vote in elections for the MMSD Board of Education, yet will have  a great say in the education of MMSD students and the use of MMSD tax dollars.  I don’t like it.

The breadth of the authority they are seeking was topic of recent  good and  interesting piece from Susan Troller on the Cap Times.  I’d like to dispute one statement in the piece and offer one comment (for now).

The statement that demands dispute was from Kaleem Caire, the chief advocate for Madison Prep:

“We  [Madison Prep] can be shut down for failure to make adequate progress or effectively manage our resources. Traditional public schools cannot.”

Of course traditional public schools can be shut down, for these and any other reasons that the elected Board of Education deems sufficient.  In fact, unless the contract with Madison Prep is very different than most charter contracts, for the length of that contract the elected Board of Education will have much, much, much more extensive power to shut down district schools than they will Madison Prep.

The comments are related to the the whole idea of shutting down schools.  The reality is that shutting down any school is very difficult for Boards of Education, particularly elected Boards, but even in Chicago where Mayoral control is in place the political pressure to keep open and renew the charters of schools with well organized PR operations (like Urban Prep) despite dismal achievement measures is often decisive.   I don’t have a lot of faith in this as a tool of accountability with Madison Prep.

This is one reason I think a very thorough vetting of everything about the charter request is in order prior to the vote.   The reports were that the November 28 vote is off, but that December may be the new target.  I’d like see that pushed back.

The Administrative Analysis was strong in some areas, but weak in others (most notably on the education program, transportation and facilities).  The change to non-instrumentality brings a slew of new questions.

Before the process can continue the Urban League needs to submit a new proposal and budget  Their press release of November 17 promised “Copies of the updated plan will be available on the Urban League (http://www.ulgm.org) and Madison Prep (http://www.madison-prep) websites after 9pm CST this evening,” but it has yet to be posted.   The Administration, Board, Community and proposers all deserve the opportunity to give this matter the attention it deserves   Do this right, don’t rush and the chance of regrets is less.

One MMSD Board Member recently said to me that this (and all charters) would be a leap of faith.  My response was that it doesn’t have to be a blind leap.  Eyes open and looking before leaping.

Thomas J. Mertz

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MMSD Administrative Analysis of Madison Prep and a Rumor

The Staple Singers – “This May Be The Last Time” (click to listen or download)

The required Administrative Analysis of the Madison Preparatory Academy charter school proposal  by the Madison Metropolitan School District staff has been posted, and it doesn’t bode well for approval.  The analysis identifies causes for concern and unanswered questions in many areas, including finances, staffing, governance, educational plans, single-sex segregation and many more.   There are some very strong things in the Analysis and to be honest I was slightly and pleasantly surprised by this strength.   [Update: Appendices have also been posted here   —  Appendix A – 9/20/11 WI Department of Public Instruction memo ; Appendix B – Personnel Costs; Appendix C – Summary Table Costs for Madison Prep Proposal Becoming an Instrumentality; Appendix D – Madison Prep Final Budget Proposal Instrumentality Analysis and Cost.] A long  excerpt and initial observations below, but first the rumor.

The (well-sourced) word I am hearing is that the Urban League of Greater Madison’s response to the matters raised or detailed in the analysis will be to seek a non-instrumentality, non union charter.  From another source comes the word that ULGM will announce a decision on Wednesday.  This change  may address some of the issues, but it raises others that will need attention.  The Analysis is based on the instrumentality proposal, so a new analysis may be required if the rumor is true

Many of the questions I am hearing assume the rumor is true and concern “what next?”.  As I see it there are three two possibilities.  The first is that the Board votes on November 28 as planned.    This may be preceded by altered submissions by The Urban League of Greater Madison on instrumentality status or other things and as noted above the need for aq new analysis may render this timeline impossible.  If the rumor is true and there is a change on instrumentality, I would not expect the Board to vote on November 28 unless A)Non-instrumentality is a deal killer (which it might be); or B) Other portions of the proposal and analysis unrelated to instrumentality status lead to a majority “no” vote.    So the second possibility, that the timeline gets extended, that there is a revised proposal and likely a new Administrative Analysis seems most likely to me.  More staff, Board and community time to be spent on something that even if approved seems to promise few benefits to those who are struggling most.

Now to the excerpt from the conclusion  (this is long):

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Conclusion and Recommendations

Over the past year, a very important conversation has taken place within our community about the achievement gaps we face as a District. While the Madison Metropolitan School District has been committed to closing its achievement gaps for many years and is a founding member of the Minority Student Achievement Network, the Urban League of Greater Madison should be credited for raising this dialogue to a new level within our community.

Simply put, the achievement gaps for low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners must be eliminated, and if any community is able to do so, this community can. This summary section of the administrative analysis for the Madison Preparatory Academies for Young Men and Young Women begins with a thank you to the Urban League for its persistent advocacy for our young people and for elevating the dialogue within our community. While this conversation has not been the without strain, it needed to take place, and it needs to continue.

Throughout the District’s discussions with the Urban League, three prominent issues have emerged:

  • the status of Madison Prep’s proposal as an instrumentality or non-instrumentality of the
  • District;
  • the costs of the proposed program; and
  • issues related to the single gender aspects of the Madison Prep proposal.

Instrumentality/Non-Instrumentality

The proposal submitted to the District by Madison Prep is an instrumentality proposal. By statute, as an instrumentality, all personnel must be employed by the District. As a result, involved employees become members of various collective bargaining units, subject to collective bargaining agreements.

Costs

Madison Prep submitted their budget plan to the District on October 30, 2011. Throughout the process of finalizing the plan, it has been apparent to the administration that the submitted budget did not take into account the fact that all personnel would be employees of the District, and the costs associated with this employment as required by Madison Prep’s proposal as an instrumentality. As a result, staffing costs have been recalculated with the result being a higher per pupil cost, a greater gap between the dollar amount the District could transfer from its other schools, without impacting programs, and the full costs to implement the program as an instrumentality. The current gap amount over a five year period of time within the administrative analysis is over $13 million on a break even analysis.

Gender

The administrative analysis has pointed out that there are concerns for the District should Madison Prep’s schools be implemented using a gender segregated model.

Recommendations

The achievement gaps we face must be eliminated. As we work with more urgency to identify and implement multiple strategies, this District has an interest in any proposal that provides additional, effective strategies to eliminate this unacceptable gap. Strategies like the International Baccalaureate Program, longer school days and a longer school year, mentoring support and the proposed culture of the school, as included in Madison Prep’s proposal, are all strategies we are interested in. However, we are also charged with considering the impact on all of our programs as we analyze the specifics of this proposal.

Analysis in this report is based on Madison Prep’s proposal as submitted. The purpose of this report is to provide analysis on that proposal without making programmatic changes, but as noted above, costs have been calculated to accurately reflect requirements as an instrumentality.

Madison Prep’s plan as submitted has an outstanding gap of over $13 million over the next 5 years. To fill that gap would require the District to make an investment of $15,000 – $17,000 per pupil per year. I cannot recommend that the District fund this proposal to that level. I can, however, recommend that MMSD fund Madison Prep to an amount equal to the funding we receive for every child under state revenue limits. That is a per pupil per year investment of $10,589 (2012-13 school year) – $11,389 (projected for 2016-17 school year).

This reflects an additional investment of over $5 million over the break even analysis. However, it still leaves a gap of approximately $8 million for Madison Prep’s current proposal. We are willing to work with Madison Prep to identify cost savings. As an instrumentality, we may be able to offer additional efficiencies, and are willing to continue that discussion if the Board so advises.

In addition to financial considerations, the Board must also consider the legal risks associated with Madison Prep’s single-gender proposal and the possibility of litigation.

If the Board votes to approve Madison Prep’s proposal, the following conditions should also be met.

  1. The recommendations found throughout the administrative analysis should be reviewed and discussed in development of a contract.
  2. All personnel will be employed by the District in collaboration with Madison Prep.
  3. All provisions related to collective bargaining agreements with MTI and AFSCME are followed.
  4. The budget as outlined by the District in addition, the management fee and the amount budgeted or an annual surplus should be eliminated with the surplus replaced with the amount each of the District’s middle schools is allowed to carry over, year to year ($20,000 per middle school and $40,000 per high school).
  5. The admissions process should follow the District’s enrollment timeline and acceptance into the program should be based on the lottery only. This does not prevent Madison Prep from utilizing an interview to get to know the selected students and the interview should occur after students are selected through the lottery.
  6. An ongoing bridging committee should be established to address issues that will occur when the schools are implemented.
  7. Relative to the proposal to have all board policies waived with the exception of those related to health and safety, we recommend conducting a detailed review of all Board policies to assess which should be waived and which should not.

We know more needs to be done as a District and a community to eliminate our achievement gaps, but we are also confident in our community’s ability to do so. If the Board so advises, we are willing to continue the discussions with Madison Prep and work to identify ways that costs of this proposal can be lowered, or to identify on our part, other things that we need to be doing as a school District and community to eliminate achievement gaps. These discussions need to continue on behalf of the children of this community.

Very quick observations (I want to get this up, in such a hurry I’m not even going to offer a song with this post, maybe I’ll add one later — did that, added a song).

First, a very good case can be made that Madison Prep has had their bite at the apple and failed to present a reasonable proposal in a reasonable time frame.  There is simply too much that is unresolved, uncertain, unanswered.  As I noted before, the simple requirements for a “detailed proposal” have not been met and as item #7 indicates, they still have not been met.  Despite the wishes of some, the burden is on the proposer to make their case for their plan and ULGM has not done that.

Second, the Administration floats the idea of using some of the unused levy authority to meet part of the budget gap for Madison Prep.  As one who has advocated tirelessly to get MMSD to use this authority in ways that all agree will help many students in our district schools (and has been attacked for this), I find it disturbing that the Administration — which has been recommending under-levies — now changes direction in order to fund a charter school that by their own analysis is of questionable merit.

Now in praise of the Administration for pages (4-7 and elsewhere), countering the falsehoods that MMSD cares little and does even less to address  the achievement of poor and minority students.  For a similar list, see this recent Wisconsin State Journal editorial

I’m going to close by saying that I was also very, very glad to see this from the Administration:

Simply put, the achievement gaps for low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners must be eliminated, and if any community is able to do so, this community can. (emphasis added).

And add that it was exactly that sentiment that has informed my advocacy and the advocacy of many others on budget and other matters.  Madison is place where we can achieve equitable educational opportunities, quality education, and real learning for all our students in our district schools.  We need to do this, we can do it.

What we don’t need is a charter school that embodies most of the worst policies and practices being pushed by those whose interests lay in convincing people that public education is a failure, that even in Madison, we can’t.

We can.

Thomas J. Mertz

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People Have the Power: SB 22 Dead (For Now)

Patti Smith – “People Have the Power” (click to listen or download) 

Susan Troller is reporting in the Cap Times that SB 22, the bill creating a partisan, political state charter school authorizing board to override the wishes of local school boards (and more) is dead, for now.  This is a huge victory for  public education in the state,  local control, and the Wisconsin people’s mobilization.

The bill came before the Senate Education Committee on March 23, in the wake of the mass protests.  Hundreds of newly empowered individuals and groups showed up to counter the well laid plans of the FitzWalker gang, School Choice Wisconsin, Wisconsin Charter School Association, American Federation for Children and the rest of the deformers (including Madison Prep’s Kaleem Caire).  The hearing took 10 hours (so long that I had to leave before I could read my testimony).  It was spontaneous, invigorating and beautiful (you can watch it here, via WisconsinEye or read Rebecca Kemble’s report).

It was one of the first occasions where the energy of the protests was translated into this sort of action.   Soon after, much of the energy went toward the Senatorial recall efforts.  This was and is a controversial choice.  Many, myself included, had and have mixed feelings about the wisdom of diverting small d democratic potential into big D Democratic politics.

The wisdom of that choice is still open to debate (and is being debated within the Occupy Movement), but the defeat of SB 22 strengthens the case that it was  a good choice (it does not seal the case by any means).

As Troller explains the post-recall one seat Republican edge made GOP Senator Dale Schultz’s reluctance to support and GOP Senator Mike Ellis’s non-committal enough to kill the bill, for now.

The “for now” means that just that; this could come back from the dead.  One friend suggests that we should all send Schultz and Ellis notes of thanks and support to make sure they don’t defect (and you can do that by clicking their names above) .  My big worry is making sure that the Democrats don’t defect, particularly Senator Lena Taylor.

There are many things I like about Lena Taylor, but she is a favorite of the hedge-fund managers for education deform operating under the name Democrats for Education Reform (DFER, read more at DFER Watch) , having received their generous donations in the past and been named their “Reformer of the Month” for February 2011DFER Wisconsin was and is a strong proponent of SB 22.

In politics money talks and these people have money (as the recent Imagine Schools scandals remind us, some of that money was appropriated from schools and children via charter school scams).   DFER and aligned groups dropped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the recent Denver School Board races; with $3.6 million in contributions “Stand for Children” was able to push their deforms through the Illinois Legislature; the list goes on.

So contacting Lena Taylor would be a good idea too.  You can grab talking points from Public School for the Public Good, AMPS comrade Todd Price; I love My Public School, Martin Scanlan of Marquette, and my testimony linked above.  We may not have millions to give, but we people do have the power, when they use it.

Adding to the “what next” list, the Scott Walker recall kicks in very soon and United Wisconsin is the go to place to help out with that.  Just remember that progress may start with getting better people in office, but it isn’t going to get very far if we don’t remain mobilized, remain powerful.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Quotes of the Day: Martin Luther King & Kaleem Caire

If you will judge anything here in this struggle, you’re commanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity, and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth. One day our society must come to see this. One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive. For the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician. All labor has worth.

You are doing another thing. You are reminding, not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages. I need not remind you that this is the plight of our people all over America. The vast majority of Negroes in our country are still perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. My friends, we are living as a people in a literal depression. Now you know when there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the black community, they call it a social problem. When there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the white community they call it a depression. But we find ourselves living in a literal depression all over this country as a people.

Now the problem isn’t only unemployment. Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working everyday? They are making wages so low that they can not begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen. And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.

Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. 

defending rights of sanitation workers to unionize and receive decent wages Memphis, TN, March 18, 1968

“A janitor is a janitor.”

Kaleem Caire,

defending the use of non-union custodial staff at the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy in order to save money.Madison, WI, October 2011

An updated “Business Plan” and other documents have been posted on the MMSD site (scroll down).  The Urban League of Greater Madison, MTI, AFSCME and MMSD are meeting Monday, 10/31 to discuss union and workplace issues.

In light of state  state statutes, which read: ” If the school board determines that the charter school is an instrumentality of the school district, the school board shall employ all personnel for the charter school” and existing contracts, I am still not clear how these can be at issue if Madison Prep is to be an instrumentality.

Thomas J. Mertz

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What Madison Prep Doesn’t Want You to See

Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine” (click to listen or download)

Earlier this week The Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM) provided the Madison Metropolitan School District  with new, draft documents, a “Business Plan” and another Budget.  I learned of these documents this morning and was told at that time they would be posted on the district web site by Noon.  When at the request of ULGM that didn’t happen,  I called to ask for a copy.  After some time elapsed and calls from me and others, I was told copies could be obtained only by going to the Doyle Building in person.  I’m remedying that by posting them here (click the link above).

I’ve only had a chance to skim one of them, but there doesn’t appear to be too much new (although some of this has been on the Madison Preparatory Academy website and not in an official document before).  I’ll be digging in later.  For now just three observations.

  1. A major concern with charter schools is turning over children and money to a private group that lacks transparency and openness.  I realize these are draft documents, but the fact that ULGM thought they were ready to give the district, but wanted to make it hard for the public to review them does not demonstrate a commitment to openness or transparency.  It demonstrates that there is reason to be concerned.
  2. As I’ve said before, what we have seen thus far is a marketing plan, not a plan to open a school.  This gets a very little bit closer to a plan to open a school, but it is clear that more time and energy has been spent selling than planning.
  3. The clock is still ticking and the criteria for a “detailed proposal” have still not been met.  November 28 is the projected vote, which means the Administrative Analysis needs be be done by November 13.  They need all the information possible before completing that analysis and the sooner the better.

More later.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Some Truth About Urban Prep and Why It Matters

The Undisputed Truth – ” Smiling Faces” (click to listen or download)

Introduction

To bolster their case and push their agendas, advocates for market-based education reform and   market-based policies in general tout “miracle schools” that have supposedly produced amazing results .  Urban Prep in Chicago is often exhibit A.

As Diane Ravitch wrote of Urban Prep and other ed deform favorites ” the only miracle at these schools was a triumph of public relations.”

Locally, backers of the Madison Preparatory Academy have incorporated much of the Urban Prep model in their plan and have repeatedly cited the “success” of that  school as evidence of the soundness of their proposal.   Just this weekend Derrell Connor was quoted as saying in relation to Madison Prep “We are using Urban Prep (in Chicago) as an example, which for the last four years has a 100 percent graduation rate and all those kids have gone on to college.”  As I pointed out in a back-and-forth in the comments on that interview, the actual Urban Prep graduation rate is far below 100% (62.6% is the correct figure, my mistakes in the comments, also there have only been two graduating classes, not four) .

While this is better than the figures for African American Males in Chicago and Madison, I tend to discount graduation rates as a metric for autonomous and semi-autonomous schools where what constitutes passing isn’t closely monitored and all involved have a vested interest in higher numbers.  Similar interests are present with the  college admissions figures that are at the center of Urban Prep’s marketing campaign.   Often a counterfactual is employed: “better at Urban Prep or college than in prison,” but there is no way to establish that without Urban Prep these particular students would be headed toward prison and given the family/self selection, many reasons to believe that they would not.  All of this distracts from a a consideration of the desirability of a model that sends under-prepared students to college where at best they receive remediation paid for by scarce family or scholarship funds or student loans.  Also lost is the fact that the vast majority of post-secondary institutions have minimal admissions requirements and that almost all motivated high school graduates (and even GED takers) can gain admission.

That back-and-forth directly prompted this post (it was one of many that have been simmering and was moved to the front burner).  As the title indicates, I want to dig  beyond the hype and look at what has and has not been achieved at Urban Prep.  I also want to explore a bit how the hype has distorted and damaged discussions and deliberations about education and education policy.

An Aside

This most definitely is not a rejoinder to Mr. Connor, but since I did mention him, I will say up front that in both the interview and the comments, I sensed from his words —  more than I have from many others  —  a willingness to acknowledge the complexity of the issues and the limitations of any one educational program.   This is important, because  —  as addressed below  —  I see much of the negative impact of the “miracle school” myth as being due to denial of complexity and limitations.

Some Truth About Urban Prep (Numbers and Charts)

First the caveats.  I don’t now and never will believe that test score data gives anything like a true or full picture of a school (or district or state).  Standardized tests are at best a limited snapshot, designed to sort students, not measure what they know; and so much else of what goes on in schools  —  both good and bad  — and contributes to or detracts from  personal development is not and cannot be quantified with any degree of confidence.   So “some truth,” from some test score data, not the whole truth.  One more caveat is that all numbers are from the Englewood Campus (the others are too new to have posted data).

Gary Rubenstein and others have done the basic work of delineating the abysmal test scores at Urban Prep.   You can view the interactive school Report Card here.  There really is no way to spin 17% of the students meeting state standards as a “success,” (nor  is there any way to look at the 29% meeting standards in the Chicago Public Schools and not demand change of one sort or another).  The idea that Urban Prep is a success to be emulated is absurd.  Further examination of the record only reinforces this conclusion.

What I  want to do here is look a deeper at the differences in achievement (gaps) between “easier to educate” and “harder to educate students  at Urban Prep, specifically around poverty.  One more caveat: looking at gaps based on broad categories like poverty, special education and race also distorts the realities of schools and students, all poverty is not the same (for a fine macro take on this see this from Bruce Baker), special education students have a wide variety of abilities and the of salience race is not simple or constant.

Still, much of the case being made in favor of Urban Prep and Madison Prep is based on standardized test achievement gaps, so looking at the gaps that exist at Urban Prep is reasonable.

Poverty  matters and the gaps based on poverty —  as measured by Free or Reduced Lunch status  — at the almost entirely African American Urban Prep are eye-opening and further  puncture the myth that this school has the answers.

The first chart shows composite percentage meeting (none exceeded) state standards on the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), all PSAE data from here.

As bad as the scores are for the school as a whole, they are much, much worse for the students in poverty. In the most recent year the gap is 19.7% and only 11.7% of students in poverty meet the standards.

Similar,gaps on the ACT (raw data here).

This shows the percentage of students who achieved a composite score of 20 or greater, a measure of “college readiness,” but not the official ACT version (both measures are problematic for a variety of reasons).  The poverty gap was 18.2 in 2011, with only 5.3% of students in poverty scoring a composite of 20 or greater.

One more from the ACT, this one shows composite means.

The point differences aren’t that great, but the gap is there and neither the 17.7 (for non FRL) nor the 15.5 (for FRL) inspires confidence.   When you learn that Urban Prep has partnered with a for profit ACT Prep company, these scores look even worse.

Whatever might be working at Urban Prep (by these measures), is working much better for non Free/Reduced Lunch students than it is for students in poverty.   It should also be noted that on most of these measures and for most years, with one exception, the gaps have grown.  Poverty matters.

(Some of) Why This Matters

The Big, Big Picture: Structural Inequality

The Big, Big Picture is about structural change in our society and how the myths of “miracle schools” and equality of opportunity via education work against those changes.  The”schools and schools alone can overcome inequality, ” teacher and teacher union bashing corporate reform crowd associated with the Education Equality  Projectsignatories include  Kaleem Caire, Newt Gingrich,  Michelle Rhee,  Whitney Tilson (of DFER),  Dr. Beverly L. Hall (the disgraced former Atlanta Superintendent), Eric Hanushek (of the Hoover Institute)…you get the idea  — make extensive use of the supposed miracle schools to advance their agendas.  They don’t want the myths exposed, they don’t want structural inequality examined.

I’ve spent a good deal of my life studying and working for equality of educational opportunity and strongly believe that public education is the best tool we have for combating inequality, but “social”  equality (“social” as in TH Marshall’s conception of “Social Citizenship” see Linda Gordon and Nancy Fraser for more) and even real equality of educational opportunity requires something much Broader and Bolder than school reform can bring (click the link, I’m a signatory there).

Yet it is incontrovertible  that no school or teacher can fully erase the educational advantages that the children of the educated and the wealthy have over children without books in their homes or even homes at all.  Even at a school like Urban prep, where likely no students are wealthy but many are poor, the differences are pronounced.

In more subtle ways  the myths of meritocracy and educational opportunity have worked against the fuller enactment of social provisions found in most Western nations and continue to obscure and distract from confronting the structures that reproduce inequality.

I have another post  germinating that will cover some of this, so I’m going to keep working to expand Opportunities to Learn  and set this analysis aside for now (related thoughts from Diane Ravitch here).

The Big Picture: Educational Policy

In terms of educational decision-making, a big problem with these myths is that they are false and false premises poison the process.

Because the myths are as attractive as they are false, getting past this is difficult.  People want to believe in miracles.  Add to that they are being spread via a very, very  well-funded marketing and lobbying campaigns and the problem is compounded.   A credulous media doesn’t help either; miracles make great stories ( see ” “Misinformed charter punditry doesn’t help anyone (especially charters!)” by Bruce Baker for a somewhat different take on this).

The reality of expanding opportunities and extending attainment is not as simple or as marketable.  Lists of “proven” policies  — like adequate funding, smaller classes, differentiated resource allocations (poverty aids); differentiated instruction; Quality  early childhood education; experienced; well prepared and compensated staff (not just teachers, but social workers, EAs. librarians, psychologists, counselors,  all in adequate numbers to assure that students get the attention they need);  high expectations and challenging academic work  for all students, quality and culturally relevant instructional materials, school and classroom diversity,  professional learning communities where educators have a respected voice in policy and practices, flexible pedagogy, well designed and frequent interventions for those falling behind, parental and community involvement  —  don’t have the same appeal.

When you add to these an acknowledged  need to attempt to address factors beyond the control of the schools, like mobility, developmental environment, peer cultures, health and medical issues (including but not limited to those like lead poisoning and fetal alcohol syndrome that directly effect learning and disproportionately impact minorities and those in poverty), food insecurity, housing insecurity,…..you’ve lost most of your audience.

If anyone is still listening or reading, you will almost certainly lose them if  you honestly end by saying  “these are some of the things we should be doing and they will help many,  but even with these we won’t achieve equality and maybe not even quality education for all.”   Complex, multifaceted, expensive and uncertain is a hard sell.

Closer to Home

As long as  the myths and narratives of advocates like those pushing Madison Prep remain largely unexamined, the false but attractive stories of simplistic miracles will have an advantage.  Even the  “if not this, what’s the alternative” response to questions and evidence leaves the public relations deck  stacked in their favor.  They have an easily marketed “tight package” but reality isn’t so tight and neither are  good education policy and practice.

Just for the record,  my answer to “if not this what” would begin with the above lists, include a call to implement the recommendations of the Equity Task Force and extend to seeking better understandings of how multiple factors such as mobility, race, poverty, disabilities, language…interact among students in MMSD, and how to and address these (one of my big complaints with the Madison Prep sales pitch is the simplistic framing of achievement as an exclusively  racial issue,  and the even more simplistic conflation of the experiences of African Americans and Latinos) .  I’d also recommend “Why Does the Gap Persist?” by Paul E. Barton as a good starting point on the state of research-based knowledge (along with the Better Bolder materials linked above and …..and….).  Not very tight or marketable, but the kind of things I think we should be talking about instead spreading or busting the myths of Urban Prep and the like.

Many people have  said that it is good that Madison Prep has forced our community to have a conversation about the education of students who are failing/being failed.  I wish we were having that conversation  but we aren’t.  There has been more heat than light and more myth than fact.

Much about the way Madison Prep has been presented has worked against the kind of deliberation I think our students and community would benefit from.  Perhaps the most basic part of this is  the fact that months into the marketing campaign and weeks before the vote on the proposal, the educational program  for Madison Prep is  still very much an outline (the basic requirements under for a “detailed” proposal” under MMSD policy have yet to be satisfied)  and it certainly has not been given much scrutiny.

The educational program should be central to the conversation.  Many communities spend months or years considering in great detail the pros and cons of single aspects of the Madison Prep plan, such as extended time, International Baccalaureate (perhaps relevant to this is the fact that despite claiming an Advanced Placement program Urban Prep students have not taken a single AP exam),  single-sex education (another Urban prep practice), “no excuses” policies (Urban Prep again), extended school day (yep, Urban Prep and like so much of this not supported by research)….With the clock ticking, we’ve spent almost no time on any of these, singly or in combination (as I’ve said repeatedly, the combination matters because the whole could be less –or more — than the sum of the parts).

The clock is ticking, but it isn’t too late.  I have faith that the Board of Education will at least attempt to deliberate based on facts and not myths, as well as some hope that a significant portion of the community, including some supporters of Madison Prep, will welcome and engage in this process.  Some hope.

Thomas J. Mertz

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