Category Archives: AMPS

[Update] — Still a Sow’s Ear — Isthmus Montessori Academy Contract

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Pigbag — Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag (click to listen and watch).

See here for the latest.

Update #2:  I had read the recent documents as making 3K as well as 4K wrap around services provided by IMA Inc optional, and from that reading assumed that this meant that 3K students — like 4K students — could attend the morning, MMSD portion of the day without paying tuition.  Based on this understanding I asked some questions about admission to the morning, MMSD, 3K portion of the day.  The response from MMSD staff, indicated that neither of these may be true, that wrap around  and/or tuition may be required for 3K students to access an MMSD school, that at this time — 6 days from the vote — there is not clarity.  This means that the 3K portions of the Tuition section of the  initial post may not be moot.

I also received information from MMSD staff that Federal guidelines exempt preschool and childcare subsidies from the requirements which would exclude undocumented students (I had based my assertion on state guidelines).  I am confused by this apparent conflict, but accept that 3K and 4K IMA Inc students will not be excluded from obtaining subsidies based on immigration status.

 

 

Update: Yesterday evening the Board was provided with a number of new documents related to IMA. Among these is a different (or clarified) plan for 3K and 4K which renders moot much (or all) of the section below on Tuition.

I have not looked at all of the rest yet, but am posting them here, now: Memo, Budget, Cost Per Pupil, Enrollment Model, Attendance Area.

I will probably be posting on these — especially the attendance area transportation issues — within the next week.

Monday July 31, 2017, The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will consider and vote on a contact for an Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School (IMACS).  This will be the third time the Board has voted on a version of this proposal.  The previous two times the Board and the Administration agreed that the proposal did not meet the requirements of the MMSD Charter School policy (related concerns about state statutes were also expressed by some Board Members).  Each time, a majority of the Board voted to advance the proposal in order to provide opportunities to address the shortcomings (I voted no each time).  Among the questions before the Board on July 31 is whether this has been accomplished; whether a sow’s ear has been transformed into a silk purse.  I think it is still a sow’s ear.

In this post I detail how I reached that conclusion by looking at three big areas: charging tuition to place students in public school classrooms; a staffing plan that does not meet Association Montessori International standards (and perhaps violates state Administrative Rules; and most importantly, will not serve students well), and a budget that is not sustainable.   These overlap with, but are not identical to the areas where the Administration and the Board previously concluded that the proposal did not meet expectations.  It should also be noted that it is my understanding, and according to MMSD policy, all proposals must meet the terms of our policy and statutes. They are minimum requirements, and are not the basis for an automatic approval. There are other aspects of the proposal that I find wanting. But these are not the focus of this post.  Before proceeding, some background is in order.

Where We Are, and How We Got Here

The first time the Board voted on IMACS was on September 26, 2016 (minutes here, Initial Proposal here, memo here, reviewers’ rubric here, budget key factors here, video here;  related September 19, 2016 Operations Work Group minutes here, video here). Contrary to the Administrative recommendation, by a 5-2 vote (Anna Moffit and I voted no) the Board requested that IMA develop a “Detailed Proposal” to be submitted by November 1, 2016.  According to the MMSD policy, the detailed proposal is to be analyzed by a (staff) Charter Application Review Committee, and forwarded to the Board, along with a recommendation, for a January vote.  Many of the areas of concern identified in September — finances, staffing, attendance area,  transportation, inclusion of 3K and secondary students, services for students with special needs, services for English Language Learners, enrollment…  — remained areas of concern in January, and — for me — those concerns have yet to be satisfied.

IMA was given two opportunities on the detailed proposal, an initial version due at the deadline set by policy, and a revised or final version due three weeks later. There is nothing in the MMSD Policy either allowing for two detailed proposal submissions, nor explicitly disallowing. But this seems to be contrary to the intent of the policy (“Detailed Proposals must be filed in the Office of the Secretary to the BOARD by 3:00 pm on the due date set forth in Section II.A, above. No exceptions shall be made to the timeline. Late submissions will be returned unopened to the applicant”).   Memos on IMA refer and link to a “revised charter school process,” and that document does include an opportunity to revise, but it has not been approved by the Board.

A version was submitted on November 1 (at the time, my requests to district staff and IMA for a copy of this version were refused; it was only provided to the Board after I made an open records request).  This version was found to not meet expectations in 9 categories: Vision, Mission Goals; Values and Instructional Theory; Student Body/Demographics; Academic Achievement Data and Analysis; Student Access to Opportunities; Curriculum; Instructional Design;  Financial Operations; and Facility Plan (rubric here, letter here).  The subsequent version is the one the Board considered and voted on in January.

Confusingly, the subsequent and “final” version of the proposal also bears the date “November 1, 2017.”  This proposal also did not meet the established criteria ( (memo here, rubric here, rubric including both the November 1 and the “final” version here).  In 5 of the areas the reviewer found the changes made to be sufficient, in the areas of Student Body/Demographics, Academic Achievement Data and Analysis, Instructional Design, and Financial Operations, the rating remained “Fails to Meet Expectations.”  Based on this, the Administration memo from Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham stated that she “cannot recommend that the Board of Education approve the IMA application for school year 2017/18.”  However, the memo continued:

Should the Board choose to move forward with the IMA application, in concept, the Administration recommends that the Board of Education only consider approval for the school year 2018/19 contingent on the submission of an updated plan which addresses all areas of the rubric that do not meet expectations by May 31, 2017. Those areas of the application are:
●Student Body and Demographics
●School Data
●Curriculum Assessment & Instruction
●Financial Operations

This is the what a majority of the Board chose to do (see below, I was the lone no vote).  It should be noted that as with a second detailed proposal, the MMSD policy neither explicitly allows nor disallows contingent or delayed approvals, and this action took us into uncharted territory outside of our policy.  Because of this, it is essential to look closely at all the documents and records, and what actions the Board has taken so far.

There were two votes related to IMA on January 30, 2017.  Here is the wording for first (from the minutes):

[A]pprove(d) the proposal for the Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School and that the District enter into a contract, consistent with applicable Board policy and state law, to establish the Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School as an instrumentality charter school for a period of five (5) years from July 1, 2018 until June 30, 2023. Such approval shall be contingent on the Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School supplementing their current proposal to address the following areas of concern by no later than May 31,2017:
● Student Body and Demographics
● School Data
● Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction
● Financial Operations

and the second:

It was moved by Ed Hughes and seconded by James Howard that, consistent with BOE Policy 10,000, the Board of Education approve the following actions:
1) upon the successful satisfaction of all outstanding contingencies, the
District will notify the State Superintendent of Public Instruction of its
intention to establish the Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School
as an instrumentality charter school on or before March 1, 2018;
2) by no later than July 1, 2017, the Board will approve a contract with
Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School to operate the charter
school for a five-year period beginning with the 2018-2019 school
year;
3) the District will collaborate with Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter
School to minimize expenditure impacts on the District’ budget and to
maximize revenue-generating opportunities including grants, state
aids, and other sources resulting from the implementation and operation
of the charter school; and
4) the District will collaborate with Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter
School to assist the school with its planning and preparations in order
to ensure the successful implementation and operation of the school
consistent with the terms of the charter (contract).

At some point in the discussion, I (informally) proposed inserting a step in the process to allow the Board to review the staff determination on whether the contingencies had been met, and then based on this review decide whether to go forward with the contract negotiations (or not).  This received no apparent support, so I did not make a motion to amend, and I did vote against the second motion (which passed 6-1).

Part of the reason I floated this proposal was because the nature of the identified failures to meet expectations and the standards used were (and are) lacking in detail.  The Board and the public had been provided with only minimal information related to the staff analysis of the proposal (this is something I think we need to address in the looming policy revision).  In addition to the memo and rubric linked above, a three-page “Financial Analysis” and a one-page (financial) “Key Factors” document were distributed.  All total this comes to nine pages of analysis for a 121 page proposal (and given that the financials and rubric have much white space, that is a generous count).

This is a crucial issue.  If the contingencies aren’t clear, then it is extremely difficult to determine if they have been met  Since the Board vote only identified general areas, I don’t have any easy answer, but would suggest reviewing the relevant documents, and meetings to get a sense of what the concerns were.  In addition to the materials linked above, I would add the minutes from the January 23, 2017 Operations Work Group, the memo from that meeting, as well as the January 23 and 30th videos.  State statutes (especially Chapter 118), and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers Principles and Standards (which state law requires the Board to “adhere” to), are also relevant.

The supplemental materials submitted in response to the contingencies are a Special Education additionan ELL addition,  a revised Budget, a (confusing) Enrollment Model,  and a (achievement) Data Update. I will cover some of these materials below, but in sum the changes in relation to Special Education and English Language Learners mostly concern schedules and professional development; the revised budget and enrollment model call for a slightly smaller school, lower (lead) teacher/student ratios, higher special education teacher ratios (and lower special education assistant ratios), designates Bilingual Resource Teacher and Specialist allocations (these were folded into other categories in the January version), a slightly smaller school, and a 5 year budget shortfall that increases from $58,681.36 to $516,157.01; the Data Update does little but relabel unrealistic “Goals” as “Aspirations.”

The Administrative review of these documents concluded that the contingencies and expectations had been met.  I disagree (and will explain some of that disagreement below); you can draw your own conclusions.

At a Special Board Meeting on July 10, 2017 (video here), the Board was presented with a draft contract (memo here), and discussed the contract and supplementary materials.

As stated at the top, on July 31, 2017 the Board will vote on a (revised) contract.  That’s where we are.  Now to dig into three areas where I believe large problems remain: Tuition, Staffing and Finances.

Charging Tuition to Attend an MMSD School?

Much of this section is about legal issues, which are significant and complicated; some of it is about financial issues, which are also significant; but for me the most significant issue is one of principle, and that is whether we want to be a district that creates a situation that requires some students to pay tuition in order to be in a MMSD classroom.  I don’t.

The last two iterations of the IMA proposal have referenced 3K students paying tuition; the budget in the recent submissions includes a “3K Tuition /IMA Reimbursement payment (cover 3K classroom teacher %)” of $53,901.33 in the first year (it increases slightly each year).  Discussions have also included references to 4K students paying partial tuition, but at this point it isn’t clear what ,if any, plans there are for that.

Since state law and MMSD policy are clear that “A charter school governing board may not…1. Charge tuition, except as otherwise provided in s. 121.83(4)” (WI Statutes 118.40); and “A charter school shall not: …Charge tuition” (MMSD Policy 10000), IMA has proposed that the private school (IMA Inc) charge the tuition, and — in the latest version — turn some (but it doesn’t appear all) of that tuition over to MMSD via the “Reimbursement payment” referenced above.

There is much wrong with this arrangement; some that is legal, some of that financial, and some based on principle.

The MMSD Charter Policy only allows for “Instrumentality” charters, which means — among other things — that “the school board shall employ all personnel for the charter school.”  The classrooms that 3K and 4K students would attend, are the same classrooms 5K students would attend, taught by MMSD employees.  The supervision of these employees, and the other supports for these students would be provided by MMSD employees.  These classrooms would be sublet by IMACS and MMSD (see the contract), from IMA Inc.  (Almost) all the liability for these students would be MMSD’s (there may be a little that is IMACS), so far there has been no indication that IMA Inc. would take on liabilities, but we don’t — yet — have a contract with the organization (for this and other reasons — see below — I have requested that we review a draft contract with IMA Inc prior to voting on the IMACS contract).  In every way, these would be MMSD classrooms and MMSD students.

With that in mind, how can a private school charge these students tuition?  I don’t think they legally can, but since it isn’t 100% clear, it is worth looking at statutes and precedents.

First, there appears to be a distinction between 3K and 4K (there are also some differences for children with disabilities that I am not going to cover, except to say that I can’t find any circumstance where tuition may be charged for educational services provided to “Residents 3 to 20 years old” in these instances.  Chapter 121.77 states: “Every elementary school and high school shall be free to all pupils who reside in the school district.” 115.01 says “Where reference is made to “elementary grades”, the reference includes kindergarten, where applicable. Where reference is made to “kindergarten”, the reference includes both 4−year−old and 5−year−old kindergarten, except as otherwise specifically provided.”   Reading these together, I don’t think MMSD can collect or authorize the collection of tuition for 4K students in our classrooms.

However, in Chapter 120, the enumerated powers of school district governments include
(13) PREKINDERGARTEN CLASSES. Establish and maintain classes for children less than 4 years of age under such regulations as it prescribes. The school board may accept and receive federal funds for such purpose and expend such funds in conformity with the purposes and requirements thereof. The school board may charge a reasonable fee for attendance at such classes but may waive the fee or any portion thereof to any person who is unable to make payment.

and 120.14 has a similar provision for “Child Care Programs.” Districts may charge tuition for 3K or child care.

But the IMA proposal does not have MMSD charging tuition, it has IMA Inc. charging tuition for MMSD classrooms and services.  Nothing I can find gives the district the power to make that arrangement.  I don’t think the power exists, and I don’t think the power should exist.

This is probably as good a place as any to note that in my research I found one instance of a charter school in Wisconsin charging tuition for 3K.  The school is Downtown Montessori a 2r (non-intrumentality) charter authorized by the City of Milwaukee (you can look at the contract here ,and tuition page here).  This appears to be in violation of the following provision “charter school governing board may not…1. Charge tuition” provision quoted above, but as 2r charter Downtown Montessori is also a Local Education Agency (MMSD would be the LEA for IMACS), and this may allow them to take advantage of the provision that empowers the school district to charge tuition for 3K.  It may not.  It certainly doesn’t serve as a precedent for allowing IMA Inc. to charge tuition for district classrooms.

Some people have referenced community based 4K services as a precedent for what IMA is proposing, but there are key differences.  In those arrangements, MMSD staff come into private preschools and provide educational services for a few hours a day (I think, but I may be wrong).  These services are free to all.  Some, but not all, students who receive these services also pay tuition to the private provider for the remainder of the day, and other services.  This is different from the IMA model in two huge ways.  First, the private schools provide services and coverage, in the IMA model all of this is being done by MMSD.  Second, students may access the MMSD portion of the day without paying for the other portions.

I don’t think what is being proposed is legal, but for the purposes of looking at the finances of the arrangements, I am going to set that aside.

IMA proposes setting the “3K Tuition /IMA Reimbursement payment (cover 3K classroom teachers)” at 2/3 of the cost of a teacher, or $53,901.33 in the first year.  The thinking appears to be that 1/3 of the students in the 3K to 5K classrooms will be 3K students, there will be two of these classrooms, therefore 2/3.  This leaves out all the other costs associated with the school, or more accurately shifts them to other funding sources, by far the largest being local property taxes.  This is a bad deal for MMSD.

It may be even worse, if IMA intends to charge what they are charging now.  Current 3K tuition at IMA is $995/month.  20 students at $995/month, for 9 months = $179,100, which is $125,198.67 more than IMA wants to pay MMSD for these students.  $125,198.67 for processing 20 applications, cashing some checks, and pointing the students toward an MMSD classroom (IMA promises an annual, additional “Financial support payment from the parent organization IMA Inc.” to MMSD, but these do not appear to be linked to 3K or 4K and only in year one do these payments approach the projected tuition collection surplus).  Nice deal for IMA; not so nice for MMSD.  If they intend to charge partial tuition for 4K students, it gets even worse.

Tuition related concerns about accessibility and equity have also been raised.  IMA currently participates in the state Wisconsin Shares program, which provides some tuition assistance, based on qualifications and needs.  Although this does improve equitable access, eligibility is limited, payments may be partial depending on circumstances, and undocumented students are not eligible.  More importantly, I don’t think the arrangement IMA has proposed — collecting tuition to send children to public school classrooms — would allow them to qualify for the subsidies.  The program has extensive requirements for providers (and here).  Among other things, this process requires submissions on the qualifications of the teachers.  IMA Inc. will not be employing any 3K or 4K teachers (they will be MMSD employees), so I don’t see how they can claim MMSD employees as their teachers (and MMSD classrooms as their classrooms) in order to receive state funding.

Will the Staffing Plan Provide Quality Education?

Leaving everything else aside, I don’t think we should create a new school unless we believe that it will be successful for our students.  Staffing is a key part of this. The changes in the staffing plan since January are relatively extensive, but still — in my opinion — insufficient to create that confidence.

The January staffing plan was a bad joke.  By my estimation (see pages 12 & 48 of the Proposal) in year one they had 7 classrooms, 223 students (ranging from 27 to 35 students in each classroom), and 5.8 teachers, (including an unspecified number of Bilingual Resource Teachers, but not the 2.3 Special Education Teachers).  Apparently one or more classrooms would not have had a teacher.

The above referenced Association Montessori International standards require classes of 28-35 children, with one “AMI trained teacher,” and one “Non-teaching assistant” for each class.  The proposal voted on in January had for year one, a total of 1 “Educational Assistant, incl BRS,” and 0.8 Special Education Assistant (like Special Education Teachers, and Bilingual Resource Teachers, BRS, and SEAs have specific responsibilities and they can not be used as general “assistants”).  At best, this staffing plan was also short 6 assistants.

The new plan is in some ways an improvement.  For year one, there are now 6 classrooms, 190 students (ranging from 30 to 36 in each classroom), and 6 classroom teachers.  In addition, there are 1 BRT, 0.5 BRS, 1.5 Special Education Teachers, and 1.2 Special Education Assistants. There are no “Non-teaching assistants”in the plan.  The standards call for 6.  The estimated cost to add these would be about $300,000 in the first year, and over $1.5 million over five years.

The staffing is so inadequate, I am not clear how the could manage the required “duty-free lunch” periods. The Special Education Teacher to student ratio is worse (assuming 14% of the student population receive special education services in both versions), going from 13.57/1 to 17.73/1, while the SEA to student ratio improves from 39.03/1 to 22.16/1.  If the students are very low needs, this may be adequate.  If the students are higher needs and this is not adequate, MMSD is obligated to provide additional staffing and services, at additional costs.

There are no Arts, Music, World Language, Computer, or Physical Education teachers, nor a budget for these.  All of these are problematic, and the lack of certified physical education staff appears to be contrary to Wisconsin Administrative rules.

I have not done a systematic analysis of the staffing at public Montessori schools in Wisconsin, but among those I have looked at, many seem to employ Art and Physical Education teachers, most seem to have a classroom teacher to student ratios in the mid to low 20s, all seem to have sufficient classroom assistants (some data here if you are interested, but note that I have found that this file often does not match the information from school and district directories).
Despite the lack of adequate staffing, IMA continues to put forth delusional projections for student achievement; and these continue to use one 2010 excerpt from an annual report, from one 3d grade class, at one small 3K to 3d grade Texas school as the primary reference point (there is also a reference to another source, which in turn references a flawed 2006 study of one Milwaukee school...don’t get me started on the offensively bad use of citations and “research” in many parts of the IMA proposal, I started but never finished a long post on that…maybe next week).
[As an aside, and in light of the discussion above, I want to note that Texas school currently has a 19.35/1 student teacher ratio (IMA projects 22.35/1 when Special Education and Bilingual Teachers are included), and employs 9.83 Instructional Aides for 272 students (IMA projects 1.7 Aides– all either Bilingual or Special Education — for 190 students).]
IMA is correct to note that it is difficult to project student achievement data for a school that does not yet exist (state law actually requires that these projections be done and incorporated in charter contracts, see below).  However, it isn’t difficult to produce more realistic projections than those IMA offers.  Here is one section of their updated data projections.
IMA Map Data
I am not going to make projections myself, but I will offer some data for context and critique.
MPS MMSD IMA compare

All data is from WISEDash or DPI Report Cards (spreadsheet here).  The “Closing Gaps” measure compares value added scores between subgroups, using statewide data for the higher scoring subgroup and school data for the lower, relevant school subgroups are combined (more here).  The Milwaukee schools are all the public Montessori schools in that city; the Madison schools are from the IMA “transportation zone.”  As with any standardized test based data, it is important to keep in mind that these are very limited measures, and do not come close to providing a full picture of students or schools.  In this case, it is also worth noting that a number of schools had significant percentages of students who were not tested.  The projections from IMA are based on MAP and this data is from Forward, but the cut scores MMSD uses for MAP are relatively well aligned with the Forward cut scores.

Before going forward,  look at the chart — especially columns 3,4, and 6 — and take a minute or two to reflect on how bad (almost all of) our schools — Madison and Milwaukee — are doing with disadvantaged students.  We need to do so much better.

Just a couple of observations on this data.  First, there is no “Montessori Miracle” happening in Milwaukee; some schools are doing well, some are even doing well with disadvantaged students, but some are not doing so well, and only one — Fernwood — shows results that are similar to those IMA projects (and even that one is not “closing gaps”).  Second, the demographics of the Milwaukee Montessori schools — with very few exceptions — are much less challenging than Milwaukee as a whole, Madison as a whole, and the Madison schools in the transportation zone; lower poverty, fewer students with disabilities, almost no English Language Learners.
One last thing on student achievement data.  The Principles and Standards that state law requires the Board to “adhere” to, call for
…[C]harter contracts that plainly:
• Establish the performance standards under which schools will be evaluated, using objective and verifiable measures of student achievement as the primary measure of school quality;
• Define clear, measurable, and attainable academic, financial, and organizational performance standards and targets that the school must meet as a condition of renewal, including but not limited to state and federal measures;

The proposed contract does not do this.  Instead it lists many possible measures, and leaves target setting to the SIP process.

The SIP goals currently used by MMSD are subject to revision, and include inappropriate comparisons between grade cohorts that are very problematic for a small, non-attendance area school. They briefly measure goals such as “% proficient grades 6-8.” These can fluctuate greatly if there are significant differences between the outgoing 8th grade class and the incoming 6th grade class, even if there is no change in achievement with the advancing 6th to 7th grade, and 7th to 8th grade.  This is problematic for all schools, but much worse for small non-attendance area schools, and even more problematic with small subgroups.  We have seen this with Badger Rock as well.

Without clear targets and standards, the renewal process gets very, very messy.   I think the best way around this is to have cohort based growth goals (but not the MAP growth measures as used by MMSD, those essentially label students who are not falling behind their peers who started at the same RIT score as meeting targets, which in relation to our students who are struggling amounts to a pat on the back for continuing to be well behind).

Will IMA Be Financially Sustainable?

No.

Even with the insufficient staffing, problematic tuition reimbursement payments from IMA Inc, the other payments from IMA Inc., probably unrealistic fundraising promises, the budget does not balance in any of the five projected years, and there is no indication of how it would balance in subsequent years. As I noted above, the version voted on in January had a five-year deficit of $58,681.36 (and this budget was found to not meet expectations); the supplemental materials increase this to $516,157.01 (but apparently met someone’s expectations). At times people have asserted that the deficit is offset by adding “value” and/or attracting “new” students to the district.  This is worth examining.  There are three major categories of students who might attend IMACS: MMSD resident students currently enrolled (or who would enroll) in MMSD schools, non-MMSD resident students currently enrolled in other school districts or private/homeschooled, and MMSD resident students currently not enrolled in MMSD schools (private school students, homeschooled students…).  The financial implications for each are different.

For MMSD resident students currently enrolled in MMSD schools, there will be no offsetting increase in revenue limits or state aid.  Because IMA would be realitively small, and will draw students from many MMSD schools, offsetting savings elsewhere are likely to be very small, or nonexistent.  Taking 5 or even 55 students from a variety of grades at another school will only rarely change the staffing needs of that school, and will do nothing for the fixed costs.Non-resident, open enrolled students create a net loss for MMSD.  A balanced budget for IMA would have public funding equal to the open enrollment payment amount.  The IMA projected budget averages about $525/student/year more than this.  So MMSD would subsidize each student who open enrolls in MMSD by that amount.  There is no increase in the revenue limit for these students.

Resident students who are not currently attending MMSD are more complicated.  For simplicity’s sake I am going to use a figure of $7,500 per student, per year for the costs of IMA students to MMSD (I am also rounding other numbers).  For the 2017-18 budget a good estimate of equalization and per pupil state aid, per student,combined, for MMSD is $2,100.  One way to look at the cost of these students to the district is the difference between these, or $5,400 per student.  However, these students would also increase MMSD’s revenue limit by an amount greater than the $7,500, a difference of about $4,200.  This money, if MMSD taxed to the max, could be spent on other MMSD students, and in some senses represents a net gain to the district.

Before closing on the budget and finances, I want to say a few more things about the donations and fundraising.  I called the fundraising projections unrealistic based on tax documents filed by IMA, that show they have never raised over $10,549 a year, and are now promising $60,000 or more annually.  IMA has secured one pledge of $100,000 (see here, page 90), via an individual who opposed building apartments in Shorewood because “This project increases the voting rolls by 20 percent with people who have different values – I’m not saying bad values – but different values from what we have here.

Which brings up the issue of “Leverage Philanthropy,” whereby individuals and groups with money use (relatively) small donations to leverage (relatively) large amounts of public money for ends that are not aligned with and may be opposed to the public good.  It is not unheard of for charter schools to receive support from those who desire the end of school districts.  I am confident that the founders of IMA are sincere in their stated desire to expand accessibility to what they believe is a beneficial system of education, and to do so within a public school context.  I am not so sure about their potential donors, and am generally uncomfortable when people use the promise of funding to sway the decisions of governmental bodies.

The last thing on fundraising concerns the contract.  As currently drafted the contract only allows a good cause termination if payment and fundraising promises are not met two consecutive years.  I think it should be one year, or at very least two years without the consecutive.  The draft contract also reduces district support the following year when these promises are not met.  I don’t like that because it punishes the students.  I already think the staffing is much to small, any further reduction would only decrease the likelihood of students being served well.

Conclusion
Unless there are radical changes between now and July 31, I will be voting no on the IMACS contract.  I believe it is the Board’s role and responsibility to only move forward charter schools which at a minimum, we believe meet the standards and requirements of  our policy and state law, and that:
In making its decision, the BOARD shall, at a minimum, consider the information included in the detailed proposal, the information provided by the SUPERINTENDENT, whether or not the requirements of BOARD Policy have been met, the level of employee and parental support for the establishment of the charter school, and the fiscal impact of the establishment of the charter school on the DISTRICT. [from MMSD Policy 1000]
This is our job, and if we do not find the supplemental materials and the contract satisfactory (which I do not), our obligation is to vote against the approval of the contract.
TJ Mertz
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Notes for Final Class Size Amendment

Betty Everett — “Getting Mighty Crowded” (watch and listen).

On Monday June 12, the Operations Work Group of the Madison Metropolitan School District received an update on the 2017-18 budget, and discussed amendments submitted by Board Members (video here, meeting materials may be found at BoardDocs, here; it appears a second cost analysis on class size prepared by the district has not been posted on BoardDocs, it may be found here, a cost analysis prepared by community members is somewhat lower).

An amendment I submitted establishing “hard caps” on class sizes, and differentiating among classes and schools by grade span and a different poverty calculation than participation in the state Achievement Gap Reduction program (AGR, formally SAGE) has garnered much attention and more than a little support.  My amendment, with an explanation of poverty measure may be found here (a little more below).  The next step is preparing a “final” amendment for submission and vote (with the understanding that the amendment may be amended at the June 26, 2017 meeting, prior to a vote).  That process is the topic of this post.

The intent of my initial amendment was three-fold.  First, I wanted to get some sense of the costs involved.  Second, I wanted to shift thinking away from average class size to maximums, and away from AGR as the only means to differentiate between high and low poverty schools in this context.  Last, I wanted to give people opportunities to think, and talk, and write about class size in our district.  The numbers I used were not my ideal class sizes, and not intended to be final.

I have learned a little more about costs; made some impacts in how class size is being considered; and learned much about all aspects of class size impacts from the many staff, parents, and teachers who have opined in public and private.  Thank you all.

I want this discussion to continue, but soon the focus must shift to making concrete progress in addressing the most important class size issues in our district.  To do this I have to draft a budget amendment, and try to get it passed.

This involves prioritizing among the many issues and actions that have been discussed, and finding mechanisms to budget according to those priorities.  In an effort to be transparent, and as a plea for one more round of feedback and ideas from our community, I am presenting here what I see as the choices involved, and much of my current thinking.

Big Picture — Class Size Matters (in a Multitude of Ways)

No single education policy or practice will fix every area of concern with our schools, but research and experience have consistently demonstrated that small class sizes can help bring improvement in many of the most important areas, including student achievement, opportunity gaps, behavior, school climate, inclusion and differentiation, staff morale and retention, and family engagement.  This isn’t the place to work through the research, but I do want to point people to the Class Size Matters web site; recent local op eds from Cris Carusi, Andy Waity, and Jennifer Wang; and offer one excerpt from a recent evaluation of the SAGE program by the Value Added Research Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (if any of the people who have written the Board or testified — or others –would like to share your communications wider, I encourage you to use the comments on this post):

When comparing characteristics of students in SAGE versus non-SAGE schools, the Value-Added Research Center (VARC) observed large differences in their respective demographic profiles. The selection process into the program explains these differences and precludes simple comparisons across the two groups. Thus, VARC used statistical methods to control for these differences with the goal of estimating the impact of the SAGE program on student growth in mathematics and reading. Results from the statistical analyses of growth yield:

• An estimated positive effect of the SAGE program on reading academic growth in kindergarten as compared to students in non-SAGE schools, and

• An estimated positive effect of the SAGE program on mathematics and reading academic growth from kindergarten through third grade as compared to students in non-SAGE schools.

New to this year’s evaluation is an analysis of the effect of SAGE on students’ high school completion outcomes and on their choice of dropping out of high school. The results show:
• A positive effect of the SAGE program on students choosing to stay in high school in both ninth and tenth grade, and

• A positive effect of the SAGE program on students completing high school and not dropping out for students from African-American and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Finally, this year’s SAGE evaluation also included results from the SAGE End-of-Year Report survey to examine non-academic outcomes. The results from the survey show increased flexibility with classroom design, benefits for students unrelated to standardized testing such as having more individual time to work with students, and benefits for teachers in recruitment and retention.

Choice # 1 — How Many Positions (FTE — Full Time Equivalent)?

It is clear that at this point in the budget process it would be impossible to reallocate or find enough money to achieve what I would consider reasonable class sizes throughout the district.  The best option seems to be to offer an amendment budgeting an increase in the number of unallocated classroom positions and setting rules for how they are to be allocated.  I need to do some more digging and thinking, and have some more conversations with budgeting staff and other Board Members before arriving at the number for the final amendment.

What happens with the state budget — especially the “per pupil categorical aid,” but also equalization aid — will make a huge difference.  For that reason, I am leaning to linking the number of unallocated positions in the amendment to state budget provisions.

Choice # 2 — Where Are Class Size Limits Most Needed and What Should They Be?

This is where the feedback I have heard has been most valuable in opening my eyes to the myriad of experiences, viewpoints, and ideas.  It is also where I most want further feedback.  If we can’t do everything, what should we do first (and second, and third…)?

Everything here begins with the assumption that previous allocations remain in place (hold harmless), and that existing guidelines or standards are not preempted in order to achieve the new priorities.   I am not proposing that already allocated positions be moved, but that new allocations be used in this manner.

Below is my current list of priorities, in order.  Whatever the number of unallocated positions added, or the mechanism used to allocate them, it is highly unlikely that any will end up being allocated for any of the priorities after #5 or #6 (maybe not even these), but I do think it is essential to be comprehensive, to make a statement about (almost) every class in every school. All are for maximum limits, or “hard caps.” As before, it isn’t my ideal, and it isn’t final (but it does need to be final soon):

  1. High Poverty, K, 18 students.
  2. High Poverty 1-3, 19 students.
  3. Other Schools, K, 20 students.
  4. Other Schools, 1-3, 22 students.
  5. High Poverty, 4-5, 23 students.
  6. Other Schools, 4-5, 25 students.
  7. High Poverty, 6th Grade, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies), 25.
  8. Other Schools 6th Grade, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies),  27.
  9. High Poverty, 7-8, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies), 27
  10. Other Schools, 7-8, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies), 29.
  11. 9th Grade Core Academic Classes (Reading/English, Math, Science, Social Studies), 28.
  12. 10-12 Grade Core Academic Classes (Reading/English, Math, Science, Social Studies), 30.

These priorities recognize the research that has found differential impacts of class size reduction, with greater impacts for students in poverty and African American students, and in the early grades; as well as the general equity principal that resources should be directed toward higher need schools and students.  As mentioned above, I want the district to use a more expansive definition of “high poverty” than currently employed.  Here is the explanation from my initial amendment:

Defining “High Poverty”

The AGR designation does not reflect current demographics of our K-5 schools, and other than via Title I MMSD has not designated Middle Schools as “High Poverty.” MMSD currently uses both self identification (traditional) and Direct Certification to designate students as “Low Income.” These methods produce very different results (see spreadsheets here for K-5 and here for 6-8). It is impossible to say if one is a “better” measure than the other. I would suggest using an average of the two to rank our schools, and 35% (rounded up) as the “High Poverty” cut point for K-8.  By this method the following schools are designated ‘High Poverty”

K-5 (non-AGR schools marked with *; non-Title I schools marked with #)

Allis Elementary
Emerson Elementary
Falk Elementary
Glendale Elementary
Gompers Elementary
Hawthorne Elementary
Huegel Elementary#
Kennedy Elementary*
Lake View Elementary
Lapham Elementary*#
Leopold Elementary
Lincoln Elementary*
Lindbergh Elementary
Lowell Elementary
Mendota Elementary
Midvale Elementary
Muir Elementary#
Nuestro Mundo Elementary
Orchard Ridge Elementary
Sandburg Elementary
Schenk Elementary
Stephens Elementary*#
Thoreau Elementary#

6-8 (non-Title I schools marked with #)

Badger Rock Middle
Black Hawk Middle
Cherokee Middle
Jefferson Middle#
O’Keeffe Middle
Sennett Middle
Sherman Middle
Toki Middle#
Whitehorse Middle#
Wright Middle

Looking closer at the K-5 spreadsheet brings to light some of the issues involved.

K-5 Poverty AGR Title

First is that Lincoln — a high poverty school by any calculation — and Lapham, Stephens, and Kennedy — relatively high poverty schools — are left out of the AGR/Not AGR scheme, but included here.  Depending on how you count, these schools educated either 848 or 533 low income students last year.  This points to another observation, which is that there are a substantial number of low income students in our non-low income schools — by one method 180 at Chavez alone — and that these schools and students cannot be completely left out of our equity efforts.  It should also be acknowledged that one current AGR school — Crestwood — doesn’t make the cut.  I would be open to retaining that school.

Choice #3 — How To Allocate the New FTE?

If you want to make sure that the maximum number of the new sections go to the highest priority grades and schools, and maximize the likelihood that none of the classes in the highest priority categories exceed the designated limits, all allocations to lower priority categories would have to be delayed until after the Third Friday Count, and the end of allocations.  I am open to that idea (if you support it, let me know), but it isn’t my first choice (at this time).

In order to hire the best teachers, have the least disruption in class assignments, deal with physical and other logistics, best integrate faculty into school communities, and many other reasons, allocating earlier is better than allocating later.

What I am proposing for consideration here (and may end up proposing in the final amendment, depending on the feedback I receive), is an allocation process that seeks to balance the competing desires of maximizing addressing the highest priorities, and timing the additions in the way that makes the most sense.  Here goes version #1 (dates, details, and percentages, as well as the whole concept open for discussion and change).

  1. Beginning July 1, 2017 allocations of the new FTE will be made on a weekly basis, in order of and according to the priorities listed above, using then current enrollment or roster data.
  2. No more than 50% of the new FTE may be allocated prior to August 1, 2017.
  3. No more than 80% of new FTE may be allocated prior to the Third Friday Count.
  4. Middle and High Schools may address large sections via partial FTE and overload authorizations.
  5. The Board of Education will be provided bi-weekly updates on allocations made under this amendment, and any and all grades or courses at any school that exceed the limits above where there has not been an allocation made.  These reports shall be public.

I was tempted to make it even more complicated by having X% at this date, and Y% at the next date, and Z%, and on and on, with a new percent (almost) every week, but I decided not too.  I am still tempted to try to adjust the dates around the enrollment/registration week (August 14-18), or the opening of school (September 5 & 6).  As I said above, I am open to adjusting any part of this, or abandoning the attempt to balance.  I like it, but I don’t love it.

What Next?

To be fair to my fellow Board Members and our hardworking staff, I should finalize and submit this early next week (end of the day Monday 6/19 or mid day Tuesday 6/20 at the latest).

Between now and then, I hope to hear more from our well-informed and creative community (that means you!).  You can comment on this post, send an email directly to me — tjmertz@madison.k12.wi.us, or the entire Board — board@madison.k12.wi.us, I promise to read them all, but may not be able to respond individually.  You can even call me (the number is on the Board page).

Once I finalize this amendment, I will post it here, at AMPS.  Then you can weigh in and tell me what I did wrong.

If you think I did more right than wrong, please let the Board (and the world) know about your support for the amendment.  As usual, you can email us, or testify at the June 26th meeting where we will be voting on this and the entire preliminary budget.  Talk to your neighbors, co-workers, and friends, write a letter to the editor, post on Facebook. Instagram, or tweet something, draw something, dance…be creative.

Thanks in advance for the feedback and support.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Thoughts on the late MMSD budget recommendations

The Dolly Mixture — “Spend Your Wishes” (click to listen or download).

With all the appropriate attention given this weekend to the opportunity to re-engage in collective bargaining  (if you haven’t weighed in the Board, there is still time:  board@madison.k12.wi.us) another and very important item on the Madison Metropolitan Board of Education’s agendas for Monday, September 24 2012 has slipped somewhat under the radar.  I’m talking about the Administrative Recommendations related to the unanticipated state aid, involving $8.1 M in taxing/spending.    Matt DeFour has a story up at the State Journal, but I haven’t heard much from anyone else on this (except some chatter that I solicited on my Facebook page).

First some general observations then to the specifics of the recommendations.

General Observations

The timeline is too tight.

The district has till the end of October to finalize their 2012-13 budget; the recommendations were made public Friday (9/21)  and the Board is being asked to give “preliminary approval” to these recommendations  on Monday.  An earlier document said the recommendations would be presented to a committee on September 17.  They were not (see about the 90 minute mark and note Ed Hughes asks if they will be asked to act on 9/24 and is told “no,” but never-the-less they are being asked to act…hmm).  I understand that these are somewhat special circumstances, but think the spirit of the statutorily mandated open budget process with required timely public disclosures and formal opportunities for public comment should be honored as much as possible.  A preliminary approval on Monday would be about as far from that as you could get.  Use the time available to give careful consideration and to allow the public to give consideration also.

The Board Member Amendments and other things considered during the regular budget process — including unfunded portions of the Achievement Gaps Plans — do not seem to have been given special consideration.

You could argue that these have been considered and rejected (back in July Ed Hughes made a related case here and here more recently), but I would counter that those rejections were based in part on tax levy considerations that have changed.  I would further argue that revisiting things is more respectful of the spirit of an open budget process than is bringing in “new” items this late in the game.  They also probably could be dealt with relatively fast.  I have a particular fondness for the amendment Maya Cole put forth on Library staffing and think it should come back; others may want to reconsider parts of the Gaps Plans or other things.  I think these should be the starting point.

Five votes are needed to do anything.

Once the Preliminary Budget is passed, changes need a super majority.

The pie hasn’t grown any larger, only the mix of where the ingredients are coming from has changed.

The Revenue Limit for MMSD  — what I’m calling “the pie” —  is the same as it had been in June, but more state aid means less local property taxes.  All the potential revenues contemplated in the Recommendations have been there since the start of the budget process.  It was a choice not to use them.   Many factors — including “efficiencies” (good and bad), significant cuts in state aid,  and the 2008 referendum have made the levy limits almost irrelevant in Madison budget talks recently.  This is not the case in most districts, may not be the case in MMSD in the future, and in terms of state policy Rev Caps remain a big problem.

The calculations around minimizing tax levies seem to be changing, but I’m not sure how.

As noted above and (indirectly in the documents from the district), the Preliminary Budget for 2012-13 (like the 2010-11 and the 2011-12 budgets) was arrived at by giving great weight to the size of the tax levy, and (as I’ve argued here and elsewhere) perhaps not enough weight to the needs of the students (and no consideration of the way the levy credits shape the impact of the  levy on taxpayers).  The administrative recommendations return to the days of “taxing to the max.”  This doesn’t seem to be a change in the principles used, but rather a one time move, based on the fact that a levy higher than anything possible at this point has already been found acceptable.  It should also be noted that the administration isn’t presenting options for taxing to the max, the default for saying no to the recommended expenditures is to reduce taxes (as a general thing, not just budgets, I really think the role of the administration is to present a range of options and their analyses of these options).   What is clear from the recommendations (contingency allocations, IRTs, Assistant Principals  — and other things like the hiring of a Chief of Staff and the reorganization of the Equity/Parent Involvement Department — is that some of the efficiencies enacted in pursuit of lower taxes during the Nerad years have not been good for the district.  There is a lesson here.

Budgets are about choices; Choosing the items recommended by the administration means not choosing other things.

Basic, but a reminder is is always good.  The Rev Caps do limit the size of the pie and you can only get so many slices out of it.   If you are funding iPads, you aren’t funding Librarians with that money (or raises, or repairs, or software, or social workers, or smaller classes, paying off loans, or tax relief….).  Current choices also shape or limit future choices, money committed to an ongoing expense this year won’t be there next year for anything, including the staff raises that almost all Board Members seem interested in exploring.  $8.1 million in choices to be made.

The Recommendations (mostly in order with comments and initial — mostly tentative — opinions)

Requirements (headings from the Recommendations)

Property Tax Relief (state revenue limits), $3,700,000

This is  required by the Rev Caps.  As noted above, the default to more tax relief is problematic.  It should also be noted that this is listed as being the same for the following year, when we really have no idea at all what the Rev Caps or the state aid will be.

WRS Increase, $1,200,000

Not really required, but seems like a good idea.

Short Term for Long Term Good/Closing Gaps

Second Year of Achievement Gap Plan, $3,700,000 (in 2013-14)

If I read this correctly, this recommendation is to hold off taxing this amount this year, in order to fund Achievement Gap(s) Plan (AGP)  initiatives next year.  Again, this assumes some things about what the state will do with the next budget.  It also kind of assumes that after a year the initial results or other considerations  will warrant continuing or expanding initiatives.  Last it sort of commits the Board to this.  I say “sort of” because the there really isn’t a separate pot of money (or revenue authority) being created and come 2013-14 Budget the Board (in office at that time…three seats up in April 2013) can do whatever they want with a majority vote.

My feeling has always been that if there are things that there are good reason to believe will have a significant positive impact on a significant number of students,  and we have the revenue authority to fund these, we should, now, not later (I know the “significants” raise other questions).   This late in the game, finding good ways to spend $3.7oo,000 may be hard, but I think it is worth a try.  If ideas are lacking at this time, the levy could be approved and a process could be put in place to generate and vet initiatives for the Spring semester (or the Summer).   This of course could create lots of confusion and uncertainty, so maybe the best thing to do would be to pay off some loans early and/or fund maintenance/capital improvements this year with the authority.  Those would free up money in future budgets.

4K from DPI Grant, $624,186 (in 2013-14)

This is another set aside for the next budget.  Some related things here.  Similar comments as above, except that the “need” for the funded items in 2013-14 is more certain.

Technology – iPads, $1,580,000 and (under “Closing Gaps“) iPad Coach, $74,927 (and $77,924 2013-14 and what looks like an ongoing expenditure)

Side note — this looks like an assumption of the generic teacher FTE allocation cost increasing by $2997 or 4% next year).

I don’t like these recommendations.

Larry Cuban (who has written extensively and insightful on technology and education) has asked “”What is the pressing or important problem to which an iPad is the solution?”   I don’t think the answer from the administration justifies the expenditure:

Provide one to one use of iPads for teachers. Using iPads can make the work of teaching more effective, more efficient, and more rewarding. Our teachers will have one of the best tools to improve instruction, communicate with students and colleagues, develop or adopt digital learning tools and manage their classroom. If we recognize the teaching staff can benefit in these ways using this technology we make a bold statement to our staff and our community. (emphasis added)

I tend to be skeptical of both “bold statements” and handheld technologies in education.  A couple of teacher friends saw some good in this, the one that was more convincing to me was a gym teacher who saw a means to do attendance and assessments while still engaged with students.

That seems like a good use, but the question remains are there enough “pressing or important problems” to justify buying this many more iPads?  I was told the district has 1,500 now; all I could find was this purchase of 586 in January 2012 and the  Technology Acquisition Plan to purchase 900 in 2011 (this document is the fullest explanation of the vision for iPads in the district there is also an iPad page for the District, and the MMSD 2009-2013 Information (Library Media) & Technology Plan: Draft).

I’m not 100% sure how many the District has now or who has them.  At $500 per,  the recommended purchase would bring the total to at least  3,500 and maybe to 4,500.  There are about 2,700 teachers (including social workers, counselors, psychologists).   So while I have come to see a place for iPads, I don’t see a place for that many and think the allocation procedure described in plan to purchase 900 should work to get the iPads in the hands of those who will make good use.

Some other people have weighed in with me on the iPads, bringing up issues of support 9that go beyond coaching), choice of hardware (iPads are not the only or necessarily the best tablets, only the ones that make the boldest statement), obsolescence,  the top-down nature of this initiative, and pulling teachers away from active engagement during class time.  All good points that reinforce my inclination to urge a “not now” vote.

Interim Chief of Staff Funding, $100,000

The recommendation says the money is currently coming from Title I.  That isn’t what was said at the time it was approved.  I think Steve Hartley brings many good things to the position and is an asset, but I still don’t like the way this went down and the funding confusion only adds to this.  Back on the levy, fine.  I’ll add that as the Superintendent search and hire goes forward, in the light of this and the whole rereorganization of the Nerad reorganization, there should be an attempt at clarity of Doyle organization, expenses and positions, especially at the “Cabinet Level.”

Technology – Wireless $650,000

All reports are that the current wi fi is overloaded.  This seems like a good capital expenditure.

Closing Gaps

2.0 Teacher Leaders,  $149,854 (for 2013-14, $155,848)

Here’s the explanation:

The AGP recommended 1 Elementary Teacher Leader for on-going support of Elementary Instructional Resource Teachers (supporting the implementation of Mondo) and 1 Secondary Teacher Leader as a member of the School Support Team for high schools to increase fidelity of literacy across the content areas/disciplinary literacy and English. We are recommending the restoration of these positions as critical to the literacy focus for our students.

You want to give initiatives a good shot at working and I mostly support this.  My only problem is with the designation for Mondo.  Last year Mondo was piloted and the results weren’t good (and here) yet the Board voted to expand. Now it looks like additional funding and a two-year commitment is being asked for.   This looks like doubling down on doubling down.  There should be a do-or-die moment for Mondo as part of the next budget cycle.

Assistant Principal and Clerical,  $156,940 (and $163,218 in 2013-14).

More leftovers from Nerad’s penny wise and pound foolish reorganizations.  This looks OK.  One note, the explanation indicates hat 550 pupils is now the tipping point for adding Assistant Principals.  I believe it used to be 500.  When did this change?  Was the Board aware?  This is like class size, a creeping erosion of quality done quietly.   It also should be noted that these expenditures were never part of the AGP and should be assumed to be ongoing expenditures.

Math Teachers .93, $69,682 (and $72,469 for 2013-14)

This seems to be to support Sch0ols of Hope (btw — when are we going to see a real evaluation and cost out of Schools of Hope?).   The job description is strange, especially the last line:

.93 FTE Teacher Allocation: The HS math interventionist will work with math staff to identify appropriate students, provide PD and assistance to the tutor coordinator and tutors, analyze assessments via Renaissance Learning (we already are using this but not to its full potential) and communicate with math teachers. A big plus is that the Math Interventionist will be able to generate a roster of students in IC, this has been a huge barrier for the community partners.

Generating a roster hasn’t been possible and we need a highly skilled interventionist to do this?  Still, I support (but I do want that cost out and evaluation, if student and staff time are being spent with Schools of Hope and it isn’t helping much, that is important to know).  Assumed to be ongoing.

Security Assistant (3), $132,731 ($138,187 for 2013-14)

There were no additional allocations for Security Assistants in any of the iterations of the AGP, so how this ended up being listed as part of Closing Gaps is a mystery.  It is also indicative of something I’ve observed before with MMSD and (in the world at large) and that is treating social problems as policing problems.  In fact, if you read the explanation it comes out something like, “Our Principals are too busy doing educational work to deal with discipline issues, so let’s throw some paraprofessional security assistants into the mix.”  I’d be much happier if the recommendation was to throw more social workers and psychologists into the mix.  I fairness, there are some references to size of schools and mix of programs as a justification, but I’d like to know more in detail  about what the needs are and how the security assistants are expected to help.  Without that, I say spend some of the set asides and get the social workers.  Assume to be ongoing.

High School REAL Grant Coordinators (nothing in 2012-13, $155,848 in 20114).

These have been grant funded and the grants are going away.  I don’t object to the allocations at this time, but do think that this presents an opportunity to reassess the work and job descriptions before extending via other funding.  Assumed to be ongoing.

Secondary Unallocated 5.0, $374,635 (and $389,620 in 2013-14)

I strongly support this and perhaps an increase in Elementary Unallocated (the recommendation isn’t clear on the needs there, but lacking any good data from the district anecdotal reports of bigger class sizes in the last few years incline me to believe there may be a need) .  The cuts to these have limited the flexibility, created closed sections and larger classes.  They should not have been cut as deeply as they were and restoring is a good idea.  Assumed to be ongoing.

PBS Coaches, (nothing in 2012-13 and $498,714 in 2013-14)

Positive Behavior Support is a very good idea and a good program.  It should be funded for every school. Assumed to be ongoing.

Seed to Table $74,927 (and $77,924 in 2013-14)

This was presented at a Committee meeting recently.  It seems like a good program.  Assumed to be ongoing.

Final Thoughts

As I said, most of these opinions on the individual items are tentative.  There simply has not been time for anyone to reach firm, grounded conclusions.

The process is another matter.  I’m firm and grounded in my opinion that both the Board and the public should be given more time before decisions are requested.  I’m firm and grounded in my opinion that more options should be presented, including things suggested but not funded during the Preliminary Budget work.  Last, I’m firm and grounded in my opinion that leaving levy authority unused under these circumstances is a mistake and at very least ask that Board consider early loan payments. maintenance needs and capital improvements as possible one-time expenditures, rather than under-levying.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Labor Day Blast from the Past: Samuel Gompers on Public Education

The New York Times, September 4, 1910. Click image for pdf.

For the Chicago Teacher’s Union: Elaine Purkey – “One Day More” (click to listen and download)

Excerpts from a speech given to the 1916 Convention of the National Education Association, “The Public Schools and the Working Man,” (full speech linked).  Gompers was followed by John Dewey on the program!

From the introduction:

On the schools, the labor movement and combating inequality:

On the role of teachers in the maintenance of a “truly American spirit”:

On Vocational Education (more here):

On Lifelong learning:On teachers in the labor movement:

Closing thoughts:

Powerful and important ideas.

For those in Madison, please join the celebration of Labor Day at LaborFest, September 3, 12:00 Noon to 5:30, at the Labor Temple, 1602 S. Park St (poster/flier linked here).  Good music, good food, good people, good idea.

Previous AMPS Labor Day posts:

Labor Day Mega Music Post.

Happy Labor Day!

Margaret Haley: A Heroine of Education, Labor, Feminism and Politics.

This is the third in a new series on AMPS: Blasts from the Past.  The series is devoted to historical materials that comment on or illuminate contemporary issues in education.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Garbage In, Garbage Out: MMSD Reports

Harlem Hamfats – “My Garbage Man” (click to listen or download).

On the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education agenda this week are a plethora of reports and updates on Literacy Program Evaluation, the Strategic Plan,  the Achievement Gap Plan (an aside, one of the good things about the initial introduction was the use of the plural — Gaps — that seems to have disappeared), the Fine Arts Plan, the Math Plan, the Talented and Gifted Plan, and the Equity Report (meetings commence at 5:15 PM, Monday July 23, after a closed session, first up in open session is a discussion of “Merit Pay” for some unnamed MMSD staff, with the exception of Literacy, all the reports mentioned are bundled in a single pdf, here).

First, it needs to be said that this is way too much for the Board or the public to meaningfully engage in a single meeting.  I assume that some of this will be continued at subsequent meetings, but it is still a bad idea to put this all out at once.  TMI. (Update: I’ve just been told that only the Literacy Report will be discussed this evening).

Or maybe not, because the three pieces I’ve looked at in some detail —  The Strategic Plan material, the Talented and Gifted Plan material and the Equity Report material — are of little worth in guiding the Board.  There is too much information (pages and pages of action plan flow charts), but way to little information that is of use for decision-making (the Literacy Report does have more useful evaluation information than these and I really haven’t looked at the others, so nothing I say is intended to apply to the Math or Fine Arts materials, the Achievement Gap material is integrated with the Strategic Plan material) .  It is clear from the reports that everyone is very busy, what isn’t clear is whether this business is having any impact on the quality of education.

We can’t expect good governance without knowing how our programs and initiatives are impacting students, and despite Board dictated “Core Measures” for the Strategic Plan, that doesn’t seem to be part of the reporting agenda..  We also can’t expect equitable decision-making without knowing the “the distribution of staff, financial, and programmatic resources across all schools” and despite a Board Policy that requires these be provided annually, they have never been part of the Equity Reports.  The first step toward improving decision-making would be for the Board to refuse to accept these reports and updates.   There is  a precedent for this, the initial 2010 Equity Report was sent back for a do-over.  Good information doesn’t guarantee good decision-making (see the recent expansion of Mondo Literacy despite an evaluation that produced no meaningful evidence of an impact, and here); but without good information there is no hope of good decision-making.

Two  more asides and then on to a little detail on each of the three reports.  One is that I am not passing any judgment here on the plans or initiatives themselves only the way are they are reported.  The other is that it is possible that I’ve misunderstood the purpose and nature of these reports and that the plan is to provide  actual useful information to the Board and the public at a subsequent date.  Given past ;performance, I doubt that is the case, but if it is I’d still have to question why time and money has been spent on these reports and updates, except to demonstrate that people are busy.

Strategic Plan:

The big thing missing here is an update on the Core Measures.  It would also be nice to have included something about the “Report to Board of Education” that was on the agenda of the May 30, 2012 “3rd Annual Review of MMSD Strategic Plan” meeting.  A presentation on the Core Measures was also part of that agenda, but this presentation is not linked to that agenda (only more Action Plan flow-charts), does not appear on the district Strategic Planning page,  and has not appeared on any Board agenda.  For the record, these are the Core Measures, All of which are required to be “disaggregated by the following groups: Gender, race-ethnicity, income status, special education status, English language earner (ELL) status.

  • WKCE reading proficiency percentage, grades 4 and 8
  • WKCE math proficiency percentage, grades 4 and 8
  • WKCE reading percent above 90th state percentile, grades 4 and 8
  • WKCE math percent above 90th state percentile, grades 4 and 8
  • Percentage of students on track for credit attainment required for graduation in four years, Grade 9/year 1
  • Advanced course participation rate
  • ACT composite score, percent scoring above 90th national percentile
  • Percentage of students above 90 percent attendance rate, kindergarten, grades 6 and 9
  • DPI graduation and completion rate
  • Percentage of students suspended (in and out of school), all grades

Note that the Reading data (disaggregated)  is in the Literacy EvaluationLast year’s Strategic Plan update has the aggregate data on these measures, but not disaggregated (page 69 of the pdf).

There are also “nearly 200” other performance measures in the Strategic Plan that are supposed to be reported annually, disaggregated.

It makes sense to link what is being done to how students are doing.  What doesn’t make sense is to call initiatives going forward “progress,” without much or any accompanying information about the impact of these initiatives on students.

Talented and Gifted

The TAG info is more of the same, all about what staff are doing and nothing about the results for students.  In the last years (and again in pending 2012-13 budget) there have been significant increases in the staff and resources devoted to TAG.  I support improved programs and services for Talented and Gifted and I support more equitable identification and delivery of these programs and services.   However,  I want to know what the results of efforts at improvement are and that information is (almost) completely lacking.  You can read the update and you will find no information about how many students are being screened or served, the demographics of those students, what services which students are receiving what the outcomes are for the students being served, whether there is mobility among the hierarchical labels given to students  based on perceived ability for cluster grouping, whether there is mobility in and out of the honors sequences instituted over the protests of West High students and parents (if there is little or no mobility, it is tracking, not flexible “ability” grouping), what are the demographic breakdowns of those labeled for the purposes cluster grouping and the effects of these labels on classroom segregation, have the honors sequences  and other changes increased segregation in classes…So many questions and (almost) no answers at all.   The TAG Plan and update include calls for evaluation, but the only concrete assessment of progress listed in the update is a parent survey.

I believe that the last times any of these questions were answered in a public presentations was in 2010, and even those only addressed  “TAG Participation”  (in this February 11, 2010 TAG Plan Update) and “Participation in Advanced Courses” (in the August 2010 Equity Report  see below and note that no definition is given for “Advanced Courses,” more on the problems with another presentation of this data here).  The numbers in 2010 weren’t good; I’d like to know what they are now and think that the Board needs to know.

Equity

I’ve been pushing for quality equity reporting (and more equitable policies and practices) for more years than I like to think about.   The two most detailed versions of my hopes and wishes for the Equity Report can be found here and here (please check them out, because I’m not going into that much detail in this post)..This is what the Board Policy calls for:

Reporting

Administration will report on an annual basis to the Board of Education the extent of progress on specific measures in eliminating gaps in access, opportunities and achievement.

Administration will develop an annual report that will provide data on the distribution of staff, financial, and programmatic resources across all schools.

The best of the past Reports is the second iteration in 2010 (done after the rejection of the initial version).  This one did a reasonable job with the “specific measures in eliminating gaps in access, opportunities and achievement” part, but was lacking in documenting “the distribution of staff, financial, and programmatic resources across all schools.”  The 2011 version was a step backwards.  It also lacked documentation on “the distribution of staff, financial, and programmatic resources across all schools,” and returned to the factoids instead of data practices of the initial, rejected 2010 Report.  Here is what the rejected 2010 version had to say about the racial and ethnic breakdown for”Advance Course Participation”

From the final 2010 version

Numbers as well as percents would be good, some information on the distribution across schools is missing, but there is some actual data and the information is linked to the strategies that are intended to address this issue.

This what was reported in 2011

Yep, the exact language from the rejected 2010 report, and utterly useless for benchmarking and gauging progress.

Here’s the kicker, the “Report” being offered this week doesn’t even include that much information, on the current state of the district in this or almost an other area.  It is not responsive to the first requirement of the policy.

It isn’t responsive to the second requirement– “Administration will develop an annual report that will provide data on the distribution of staff, financial, and programmatic resources across all schools” —  either.  None of the reports to date has satisfactorily met this requirement.  At best, they have provided district-level information about programmatic resources and with some work it would be possible to use the reports (in conjunction with other reports, like those on the agenda this week)  to piece together a partial picture of the distribution of programs  “across all schools.”  It would take a lot of work.  There is next to nothing here that documents the distribution of staff or financial resources.

This requirement is based on other parts of the policy, I’ve bolded the key statements here:

Assumptions

  1. Schools will be excellent only when students of all economic and demographic groups are achieving at high levels.
  2. Schools should reflect fairness and high expectations for all learners.
  3. Achieving equity often requires an unequal distribution of resources and services in response to the unequal distribution of needs and educational barriers.
  4. Strong district and building leaders with a focus on equity are critical factors to achieving district goals.
  5. Every Madison school will be equally desirable and of the highest quality.

Goals

  1. The district will eliminate gaps in access, opportunities, and achievement by recognizing and addressing historic and contemporary inequalities.
  2. The district will recognize and eliminate inequitable policies and practices at the district level.
  3. The district will recognize and eliminate inequity in and among schools.

You can’t “eliminate inequity” if you don’t first delineate it and that means knowing what resources are going to what schools, how and why.

Two recent discussions revealed how in the dark the Board of Education is on the distribution of resources.

The first was  an October 3, 2011 discussion of class size, cut short in order to waste more time on Madison Prep, that featured a confusing and incomplete presentation of data.  Despite promises made, in the intervening 10 months  the better data has not come before the Board, nor has the Board returned to the topic.  For what they are worth and those interested, the Middle School info is here (not too bad, but no trend info) and the Elementary info is here  (really useless).  There is nothing worth mentioning on High Schools.  For the hardcore, there was also what looks to be an outdated practices document given to the LaFollette Area study committee (it still has SAGE classes at 15/1, over a year after MMSD went to 18/1).

The second occurred around a defeated budget amendment offered by Maya Cole, aimed at making sure all schools had adequate LMC staffing.   The administration recommended against this amendment in part because the lack of librarians had resulted from discretionary reallocations made by principals.  As was revealed in the discussion with limited resources Response to Intervention and other mandated and discretionary initiatives have forced principals to make difficult decisions, decisions that impact equity.

It is fitting that the latter discussion occurred in the context of the budget.  The “distribution of staff, financial, and programmatic resources across all schools” should be central to entire budget process, but it never has been and it never will be unless the Board first demands that the administration fulfill that portion of the equity reporting requirement.   You can see an old (2008)  and partial version of what this reporting might look like here.

In the receding past, in order to enhance equity by targeting resources based on needs, MMSD provided supplemental, discretionary allocations based on The Equity Needs Index (ENI) and the Equity Resource Formula (ERF).  Years of budget cuts have eroded this to near irrelevance  (see this from and the aforementioned mandated initiatives have further undercut this approach to equity.   It is telling that the brief description of the ENI in the Equity Report on this week’s agenda is attributed to Pam Nash, who hasn’t worked for MMSD in over a year.    In the absence of the ENI/ERF, the woefully inadequate SAGE (class size, early grades only) and Title I (in MMSD only elementary schools),  ELL and Special Ed allocations are just about the only means for targeting resources to higher needs students.

This concept of Equity allocations needs reviving, but that need won’t be apparent until the Board and the public are made privy to how programmatic, staff and financial resources are currently distributed.  Some trend data, going back a few years and some linkage to access and achievement data would help too.  That’s exactly what the Board envisioned when they created the Equity Policy, but it hasn’t happened.

As I said above, a first step to improved education is improved reporting.  I’m not asking for full evaluations of everything, just basic data and analysis.  There are changes underway in the Equity and Family Involvement (sub) department and the new budget includes some minimal new funding for data work so there is some slim hope that good things may be forthcoming.  It is up the Board to make sure that that hope becomes a reality and the one way they can do that is demand better of those in our employ.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Save Our Schools Rally — Madison, July 30, 2011 — 3:00 PM

The Staple Singers -“Long Walk To D.C” (click to listen or download)

Yes, it is a long walk to D.C. and many of us who care deeply about the future of public education will not be able to join the Save Our Schools mass action there from July 28 to 3o.    Instead, some of us will be rallying in Madison.   Join us and help spread the word (download flier here and press release here).

Wisconsin Public School Advocates to Rally at the Capitol, Saturday July 30, 3:00 PM

A need for national, state, and local action”

As hundreds of thousands of public school supporters gather in Washington DC the weekend of July 28 to 30, 2011, Wisconsin advocates will hold a rally in support of the Save Our Schools agenda at 3:00 PM on Saturday July 30, near the State St. entrance to the Capitol.

“Public schools are under attack. There is a need for national, state, and local action in support of our schools. Wisconsin has been ground zero in this; the Save Our Schools demands from the Guiding Principles provide a great framework to build our state movement and work to expand opportunities to learn” said education activist Thomas J. Mertz.

The Save Our Schools demands are:

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities

  • An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation

  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies

  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

Doing more with less doesn’t work. “The time to act is now. While phony debates revolve around debt ceilings, students and teachers across the country are shortchanged. We need real reform, starting with finally fixing the school funding formula, and putting families and communities first. What child and what teacher don’t deserve an excellent school?” said rally organizer Todd Price, former Green Party Candidate for Department of Public Instruction and Professor of Teacher Education National Louis University.

The event will feature speeches from educators, students, parents and officials, as well as opportunities for school advocates from throughout Wisconsin to connect and organize around issues of importance in their communities.

For more information, visit: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/ and http://saveourschoolswisconsin.wordpress.com/

Thomas J. Mertz

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Where I Come From

District 65 Attendance Area Map as of Sept. 1, 1967.

I came across a short video earlier this week on the WTTW site.  It appears the video is set not to repost or download, so go to the link to view it.   Really, take the time.

It is an excerpt from a longer documentary on school desegregation in my home town, Evanston,  Illinois.    I’m going to be working to find the whole show.  Evanston was one of the early sites for “affirmative desegregation,” done  to overcome def facto segregation and not under legal compulsion.  I was part of the first Headstart and Kindergarten classes to integrate Foster School, featured in the video.  That’s my kindergarten teacher, Mrs Todd (this must be the afternoon class, because I’m not there and neither are my classmates) and Robin Moran (interviewed) was a  family friend.

The desegregation/integration in Evanston was done largely via a Magnet School plan and there were and are problems.  To read more about the history, see this write-up of a session on the topic I did some years ago for the History of Education Society and this series from the Evanston RoundTable and this from the Chicago Reporter  and check out ShoreFront (these take you up to about 2002, the Roundtable Archives are a good way to catch up from there).

In case you were wondering, that’s where I come from, geographical, ideologically and educationally.

Thomas J. Mertz

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