Category Archives: Budget

Who cuts the barber’s hair? or Whither “accountability”?

Professor Longhair, “Bald Head” (click to listen or download).

Educational “accountability” is in the news and on the agenda again this week.  It seems it is always in the news and on the agenda these days.  I have many problems with most conceptions of educational “accountability,” especially those that are based largely on standardized tests (a visit to the National Center for Fair  and Open Testing is in order if you don’t agree, or even if you do) and are proudly dubbed “data driven,” (the link takes you to old AMPS posts, Esther Quintero has an important post up on the topic this week at the Shanker Blog: “The Data-Driven Education Movement,” read it).  I’m not going to take on the big concepts here and now, but instead say a few things about the new Wisconsin Report Cards and offer some thoughts about imposing some accountability on those concocting and implementing educational “Accountability” systems, about cutting the barbers’ hair.

The new Wisconsin Report Cards are the product of the “School and District Accountability Design Team” led by Governor Scott Walker, State Superintendent Tony Evers, Senator Luther Olsen, and Rep. Steve Kestell and featuring a decided over-representation of privatizers and deformers (those friends of education at Wisconsin Manufactures and Commerce had a seat), and an under-representation of educators (one teacher, no union reps).  The final version is a centerpiece of  Wisconsin’s successful effort to garner a waiver of  NCLB strictures from Arne Duncan.

A school rating system like this should do three things.  First it should with some accuracy and transparency  rate school quality.  Second, it should honestly and effectively communicate what the rating means and doesn’t mean to policy-makers, educators, parents, and citizens.  Last — and assuming that the ratings are accurate — it should direct appropriate resources to those schools that need improvement.  The Wisconsin system does none of these well.   In fact, because of the complexities of assessing school quality, I don’t think it is possible to do all of these well and know that it is very difficult to do any of them well.  The whole enterprise is in many ways a fool’s errand.

 A recent must-read post by Gene V. Glass for the Washington Post captures some, but not all, of the problems (I’ve touched on the use of NAEP cut scores previously, will be saying more about some other things below and will be writing more on the waiver, the abuse of NAEP cut scores, “accountability,” and “educator effectiveness” issues in the future;  as I was writing this another fine critique came my way, this one from Steve Strieker, called “Another Distractor: School Report Cards,” it is a must read also).

In the introduction to Glass’s piece Valerie Strauss calls the Report Cards “another cockamamie way to grade schools for “accountability” purposes.”  Glass refers to the Report Cards as  “a dog’s breakfast of numbers,” and writes:

The report card for Wisconsin K-12 schools currently making the rounds is a particularly opaque attempt to grade the quality of education that Wisconsin’s children are receiving at the hands of their teachers and administrators. It is as though the Department of Public Instruction has decided to weigh cattle by placing them on a scale to get their weight in pounds then combining that with the wealth of the farmer who raised them, the number of acres of the farm, and the make of car the farmer drives.

The Report Cards combine multiple and often complicated measures in complicated ways.  It takes 62 pages to explain how it is all done.  If in order to understand the choices made you want to dig deeper into the nature of standardized test construction (hint, they are designed to sort students, not measure skills, knowledge or ability), or the controversies over graduation rate calculations, or the limitations of the Student Growth Percentiles ( the link takes you to Bruce Baker posts on SGP and related things) used in the “growth” calculations, or any of the other concepts and tools employed , you are probably looking at  at least the equivalent of a graduate school seminar’s worth of work.   The system fails the transparency test.

All this information is interesting, but what it means for any particular school or district is far from clear, even after the graduate seminar and that’s how it should be, that’s reality…all the test score data, and graduation rate data, and attendance data in the world isn’t going give you a full and true picture of schools and districts.  That’s the first way it fails the accuracy test, a little more below.

With “accountability”  the order of the day, the “accountability” mavens know that people want something easily swallowed (if not digested), so the Wisconsin team has given each school a score, based on those calculations that take 62 pages to introduce.   That score is what everyone looks at, everyone remembers and everyone seems to think has some profound meaning.  What you really have is a Rube Goldberg machine of black boxes inside black boxes that spits out a number.  That number hides all the questionable choices in the measures and manipulations, as well as all unmeasured and unmeasurable things that contribute to or detract from school quality.  Some in Wisconsin were proud that we didn’t assign letter grades like Florida has, but the number is just as bad, or even worse because superficially something like 66.7% seems to have more scientific accuracy., an a B-.  It doesn’t.   Superintendent Tony Evers and others have said many of the appropriate things about over-interpreting the scores given schools, but they put the score there and because of the inclusion of the score, the system fails the communication test.

This failure reminds me of the misuse of NAEP cut scores that is central to the accountability system, used for sorting individual students and in the growth scores sores that only recognize movement between NAEP based levels, not within them.  This is what the National Academy of Sciences publication, “Grading the Nation’s Report Card: Evaluating NAEP and Transforming the Assessment of Educational Progress,” says about these cut score in chapter 5, “Setting Reasonable and Useful Performance Standards (I’ve quoted this before here, “The news from Lake Gonetowoe“):

Although standards-based reporting offers much of potential value, there are also possible negative consequences as well. The public may be misled if they infer a different meaning from the achievement-level descriptions than is intended.  (For example, for performance at the advanced level, the public and policy makers could infer a meaning based on other uses of the label “advanced,” such as advanced placement, that implies a different standard. That is, reporting that 10 percent of grade 12 students are performing at an “advanced” level on NAEP does not bear any relation to the percentage of students performing successfully in advanced placement courses, although we have noted instances in which this inference has been drawn.) In addition, the public may misread the degree of consensus that actually exists about the performance standards and thus have undue confidence in the meaning of the results. Similarly, audiences for NAEP reports may not understand the judgmental basis underlying the standards. All of these false impressions could lead the public and policy makers to erroneous conclusions about the status and progress of education in this country. (Emphasis added)

The NAE-based cuts scores (WKCE scores “mapped” to NAEP are also being used with the results of individual students.  Here’s what the people at NAEP say about that:

Does this mapping method allow us to link student scores received on state test to the NAEP scale? If not, why not?

No, student scores cannot be linked to the NAEP scale because the NAEP does not generate reliable scores at the individual student level, only average scores for groups of students (e.g. males, females).

I would hope that at least the DPI staff working on the “Accountability” system knew this.   If they didn’t, that’s a problem; if they did and went ahead anyway, that’s a bigger problem.

In terms of accuracy, the Report Cards do one thing well, they sort schools by their relative poverty.  Here is what Gene V. Glass wrote on this:

What emerges from this dog’s breakfast of numbers? A measure of the wealth of the community in which the school is located. The correlation between the OAI and the “% Economically Disadvantaged” in the school is nearly -.70. That means that the poorer the children in the school, the lower is the school’s number on the Overall Accountability Index; and the relationship is close. In fact, a correlation of .70 is even tighter than the relationship of adults’ height to their weight, and both measure a person’s size. So what the DPI has created is a handy measure of a community’s wealth (SES, Socio-Economic Status) without ever having to ask anyone their income.

Steve Strieker observes that this isn’t news to many of us:

DPI’s own school report card data proves what Social Context Reformers have been trying to highlight for years: Poverty is the eight ball for public education.

Even an amateur’s analysis of the state’s school report card data is telling.

  • A supermajority of Wisconsin’s public schools with over 70% economically disadvantaged students were graded “Failed to Meet Expectations.”
  • Almost all below-standard schools had at least 45% economically disadvantaged students.
  • In contrast, almost all graded schools with less than 10% economically disadvantaged students were considered by DPI’s measurement to surpassed expectations.
Social Context Reformers must not be shouted down by the “no excuses” reformers who will surely shame Wisconsin schools graded below expectation by showcasing the few schools with high poverty rates and high-test scores.

Given this pattern and what we know from 1,000 sources, the remedy should be to provide additional, appropriate help to high poverty schools.  We didn’t need the Report Cards to tell us that.

Unfortunately the new system fails this test too.  Most of “help”  under the new system is directed to Title I schools.  In theory, Title I schools are high poverty schools, but not all high poverty schools are Title I.  In Madison and some other districts, for reasons I’ve never understood, only pre-K-5 schools are Title I, which means that no matter how high poverty (or low scoring) middle and high schools are left out.

In this case, that is probably for the best, because the “help” being offered appears to be more of a diversion of resources than an addition.  No extra resources will be provided and some of the scarce resources available must be reallocated to questionable purposes.

The “Schools Below Expectations, and Significantly Below Expectations”  will be required “to submit a plan detailing the extended learning opportunities for eligible students.”  And:

[S]chools must participate in an online district-directed diagnostic review of the current core reading and math curriculum including interventions for struggling students. The school must develop an improvement plan based on the diagnostic review, and implement RtI, working closely with the Wisconsin RtI Center. Specific interventions in the plan must address identified problem areas. The plan must be approved by DPI…o DPI will conduct electronic reviews of each school’s progress and monitor throughout the year.

So extended learning, an online review, with an online plan, and online monitoring.

For “Schools Persistently Failing to Meet Expectations” extended learning is also mandated, the diagnostic review will be onsite,  and also must result in an approved plan.  But there is a kicker, and the name of that kicker is privatization: “Schools must contract with a state-approved turnaround expert/vendor to implement reform plans aligned to the diagnostic review.”  In other words, schools have to take money from the classrooms and give it to the likes of Paul Vallas and hope for the  best (here is a selection of posts on “turnarounds” from Diane Ravitch, read them to understand my skepticism).  And when the turnaround fails, as they almost always do, here is what happens:

o For public schools that do not participate in the diagnostic review, improvement planning and interventions with turnaround experts, they will close.
o For schools that do participate but fail to show demonstrable improvement after three years, the State Superintendent will intervene. Pending legislation, in the case of schools participating in the Parental Choice Program, the state will remove the school from the program. In the case of charter schools, the authorizer must revoke the charter.

Arne Duncan has always liked school closings.  I think it is safe to say that the system fails the “direct appropriate resources to those schools that need improvement” test also.

Superintendent Tony Evers also has some school finance proposals that he has been touting.  Unfortunately, his Fair Funding for Our Future plan does not include directing any extra resources to high poverty schools or even those identified as in need by this accountability system.  The Fair Funding plan does some good things, but addressing poverty is not one of them.  For years the only state program directing resources to classrooms  based on poverty is the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education or SAGE), which only targets the early grades and in budget cutting moves over the last few years, done under the rhetoric of “flexibility” has been eroded by larger allowed classes and new allowances concerning the grades covered.  There does not seem to be any desire to change that, either from DPI or the legislature.

Fair Funding claims that it “Accounts for family income and poverty.”  In sense it does, but via tax relief for property owners, not by giving schools serving students in poverty the resources they need to meet their challenges.  Under Fair Funding student poverty levels will be factored into calculations of state aid,  but revenue limits will not have a poverty bump and there is no new categorical aid for students in poverty.  So property taxpayers in districts with higher poverty will have lower taxes and the schools will not have an extra penny (btw –the Penny for Kids proposal from the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools/ Opportunity to Learn Wisconsin includes a poverty based categorical aid).  So the Widow Hendricks of “divide and conquer” fame who owns property in multiple high poverty districts gets a tax break and the students of Beloit and Janesville get nothing.

Back to the titular questions,  who cuts the barber’s hair?; who holds the people behind this mess created in the name of “accountability” accountable?  We all need to.

Start at the top.  For Arne Duncan, join the thousands who have signed the “Dump Duncan”  petition.  There is also an election on November 6th and Duncan’s boss Barack Obama is up for re-election.  Diane Ravitch has made a case that “as bad as the Obama education policies are, they are tolerable in comparison to what Mitt Romney plans.”  Others concerned with education, especially those not in swing states, should take a good look at Jill Stein.

In Wisconsin, for Senate and the House, more-or-less the same situation exists.  Some version of NCLB/ESEA will certainly be before Congress, and for that all of the Democrats on the ballot are better than the Republicans, but none have distinguished themselves on Education issues the way Russ Fiengold did.  Still, I’ll be voting for Tammy Baldwin and Mark Pocan and urge you to do the same.  I’ve already warned Mark that I’ll be contacting him regularly on Education and other issues and calling on him be more of a progressive champion on this blog, just as I have when he was my State Rep.

That’s another version of accountability.  It starts at the ballot box, but it doesn’t end there.  Our elected officials need to here from us, all the time.  They need to know — as we sing at the Solidarity Sing Along   — “We’re not going away.”

At the state level, we don’t get another crack at Scott Walker this year,  but there are State Senate and Assembly races.  Again, the rule is Democrats better than Republicans, but there are also some Democrats who are not only better than Republicans, but are real supporters of education.    The two I’d like to point to are Melissa Sargent (who is a good friend) and Mandela Barnes (who I have admired from afar).   By all accounts the Senate is the key this time around.   The key races where your support ($$$ and time) may make difference appear to be Susan Sommer, Jessica King,and Dave Hansen.  Keeping the Senate is the best way to keep Walker in check.  With all this, it is important to remember that the “Accountability” system has been presented as a work in progress and there is some legislative power to dictate changes in some areas (the Report Card portion did not require legislative action, but other parts of the waiver did), and that any changes to school funding — good or bad — have to go through the legislature.  With the State Legislature, this time around accountability means at minimum limiting the power of the Walker allies who aided in the creation of the “Accountability” system.

I’ve saved Superintendent Tony Evers for last.  He is up for re-election in April 2013 and as with all elected officials, the best place to assert accountability is at the ballot box.   It is also likely that come April, Evers will be the better choice (I supported Todd Price in the Primary last time and Evers in the General Election against Rose Fernandez).  Also as with all elected officials,  imposing accountability includes making sure Evers hears from the voters throughout his term, both positive and negative, and I hold some hope he may listen and adjust his course.

There is much I like and admire about Evers, but as the above indicates there are many things he has pushed that I think are bad, wrong or at very least should be better.  I understand that most of this was done in the context of a state in the control of the Fitzwalker gang and a federal policies set by Arne Duncan.  Given the circumstances, it is impossible to tell which things he truly believes are good for our state and our students and which are pragmatic choices made in order to keep a seat at the table and maybe deflect even worse policies (one example where I believe he did this was the mandated grade retention that Walker initially wanted in the Read to Lead legislation).  This situation keeps bringing to mind something Anthony Cody wrote recently about teacher leaders:

How can we make sure that we are not being used as tokens? For this, we have to look at why we are being asked to join the conversation. What are the power dynamics at play? Do we have a vote when decisions are to be made? Will we find allies around the table to help us have some influence? Do we have any real cards to play? This gets us closer to defining what real leadership is all about. Real leadership is not just the ability to speak with clarity and authority based on our experience in the classroom. It also involves a relationship to other teachers, and to some level of political power in these situations.
And Cody concludes:
The bottom line is that we do not have the money to buy influence. We have to get it the old-fashioned way. We have to organize for positive change at our school sites. We have to join with others at our union meetings, and as our colleagues in Chicago showed, we may need to go on strike. We have to build strong relationships with our colleagues, with parents, with allies in other unions and social movements, and with reporters, and use this strength as the basis for our ability to speak for ourselves. We have to organize and build our strength from the ground up, because the strength that comes from the top down is like the strings on a marionette.
As I said, I don’t know what parts of the Waiver or Fair Funding or other things Tony Evers truly believes in, but I have a feeling that he has misgivings about some of these.  For those I urge him to give up the seat at Scott Walker’s and Arne Duncan’s  table (he is after all a State Constitutional officer, with his own table) and take Cody’s advice to “to build strong relationships with our colleagues, with parents, with allies in other unions and social movements, and with reporters, and use this strength as the basis for our ability to speak.”  Till that happens he shares in the accountability for the “accountability” system.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Expeditionary Learning Charter for Toki?

The Replacements – “I Don’t Know” (click to listen or download).

The biggest item on the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education committee agendas this week is  the “Expeditionary Learning Model at Toki Middle School and Timeline” before the Planning and Development Committee (Monday, October 15, 2012, 6:30 p.m. Doyle Administration Building, Room 103, there are Public Appearances on the agenda).  The proposal is to convert Toki Middle School from a district  school to a district instrumentality charter school.

This is the start of a long process of weighing the pros and cons of the proposal, with various decision points along the way.  If the proposal gets that far, the final decision by the Board would be in early 2014 and if the vote is for approval the conversion would happen in September of that year.

Having first seen the proposal only a couple of days ago, I have many questions, concerns and observations, but am nowhere near having decided whether to oppose this.  For the record, that’s exactly where I was at at this point with both Badger Rock (which I did not oppose) and Madison Prep (which I did).  Also for the record, I can’t see myself actively supporting any charter school proposal (it could happen, but it is doubtful).  Mostly I see charters as a distraction from improving the district schools that will for the conceivable future continue to serve the vast majority of students (see this recent post from Deb Meir for some related thoughts).

So on to the “questions, concerns and observations.”

A desire for Federal money appears to be driving the decision to seek a charter.

I’ve written about this before (worth rereading, really), but have never seen such a transparent example.  Some excerpts from the documents, first from the introduction by the district administration (the pdf doesn’t cut-and-paste as text, you can click on the images to enlarge):

Note the “do more with less,” and the “need to look beyond the District allocation process” and remember that in the recent past MMSD has not used the full levy authority available and that the administrative recommendations to not use the full levy authority have been accompanied by assurances that the quality of education was not suffering due to the lack of resources.  If that was true, then the statements here aren’t.

From the proposal itself:

More references to “budget constraints” past and anticipated in the future.  A distinction should probably be made here that there are two related parts to the proposal.  One is the proposal to continue and expand Expeditionary Learning at Toki (more on this below) and the other is to do this as a Charter School.  It is clear that the desire to do the Expeditionary Learning is strong among some, and that chartering is primarily a financially driven means to that end.  Here is what I wrote previously about these aspects of chartering:

The “we can’t do it without a Charter” attitude seems lazy.  First I’d like to know in some detail why it supposedly can’t be done without a Charter.  If that proves to be the case,  than in most instances wouldn’t the best policy be to figure out why and change things so that the benefits of innovation could be achieved through district programs?  It is sad that so many have given up on the reforms that would benefit all students in order to pursue those that will only touch very few (even the staunchest Charter advocates understand that for the foreseeable future the vast majority of American children will attend district schools).

I’ll offer one answer to the titular question: Money!  Unfortunately Federal policy-makers, foundations and many others are all acting on the unexamined assumption that innovation or even diversity of educational programing requires Charters.   I have a friend who is a Superintendent of a small district.  He is justly proud of an environmental Charter school he helped create.  We’ve never talked about it much, but a  couple of months ago he started describing how the only reason to have it be a Charter was the money.   This is pragmatic, but it only shifts the question to “Why is money available for Charters and not district-based creative programs?”

In the bigger picture, with Race to the Top (and the NCLB waivers), we have seen how chasing Federal money has led to less than stellar education policy-making.  Much less than stellar.

The budget numbers assume maximum Federal Grants.

I don’t know if this is realistic.  In order to qualify for the maximum, the Charter must have at least 50% free/reduced lunch enrollment.  That has been the case with Toki only one of the last 11 years (2010-11).  Beyond that, I’m not clear if the maximum grants have changed recently or if DPI awards grants below the maximums, but I do know that no grants given in 2012 were this large.

The dollar amounts cited in the proposal are over three times as large as those cited in a previous request.

On January 31, 2011 the Board was presented with a funding appeal (apparently directed at private donors) for Expeditionary Learning exploration and implementation at Toki, with a 4 year budget that totaled $310,000.  In the pending 2012-13 budget MMSD will provide $60,000 for planning.  It would be good to know why the numbers have changed.  The proposers are probably correct that MMSD can not fund $975,000 for their purposes, but another $250,000 ($310,000 minus $60,000) over 2-3 years is possible.

At this point there is no indication of what the ongoing costs will be.

That’s fine, that information is required at later points in the process, but being aware that there may be extra costs that continue after the Federal money goes away seems wise.

They appear to be proposing a school that is both a charter and and an attendance area school.

On page 13, the proposal says the Charter School students will be “reflective of the current neighborhood,” that “all students within the Toki attendance area will attend,” but also includes references to a lottery to meet numbers.   I would assume that some arrangements would be made for attendance area students who do not want to attend the Charter School, who would prefer to have the policies of their school set and implemented by an elected Board of Education instead of a self-selected Governing Board.

The research cited on Expeditionary Learning is less than convincing.

The proposal (in a very sloppy manner) cites three  studies and one meta analysis in support of Expeditionary Learning as a means of addressing persistent gaps in achievement.  I’m reproducing this entire section below in order to emphasize the centrality of achievement gaps  to the proposal and what the research claims are:

The research citations here seem to come straight from the Expeditionary Learning organization that would be in line to receive most of the $975,000 being requested, so it seems worth looking a bit closer (it is also worth noting that the three studies all appear to have been commissioned by that organization, although I am not 100% sure of that).

Another important caveats is that these are all based on standardized tests and those offer very limited insight into school quality.

Two of the studies  — “Expeditionary Learning: Analysis of impact on achievement gaps,” and “Impact of the Expeditionary Learning model on student academic performance in Rochester, NY” — were done by the Donahue Institute at UMass.  I can’t find the first online, but both were submitted to the What Works Clearinghouse and found not to meet their standards for review.  More on the Rochester study below.    The third study — “The relationship between Expeditionary Learning participation and academic growth” — was done by Mountain Measurement (analysts for hire) and includes few — if any — schools comparable to Toki 9more on this study below, also).  The meta analysis is from 2002, focused on whole school reform models (not achievement gaps  or Expeditionary Learning) and categorized Expeditionary Learning among the programs that were “Highly Promising…but did not have research bases that were as broad and generalizable as those of the models that met the highest standard.”

The Rochester study includes two Expeditionary Learning schools.  The Genesee Community Charter School, serving grades K-6, with a Free/Reduced Lunch rate of 17%, and 0% student mobility,  18% African American, 9% Hispanic, 2% ELL (can’t find Special Ed numbers).  For all these reasons, I don’t see it as comparable to Toki (grades 6-8, not a charter, 48.9% Free/Reduced, most recent mobility factor of 15.8, 28.1% African American, 13.8% Hispanic, 11.5% ELL, 16.4% Special Ed).  the other is the World of Inquiry School.  This is not a Charter, but it may be a magnet or choice school (there is an “Admissions” page on the website, but the click through ends up at a page that isn’t working).  World of Inquiry is a K-8 school, and appears to face similar challenges as Toki, some more pronounced (63% Free/Reduced, 76% African American, 9% Hispanic, 3% ELL).  I’ll be returning to World of Inquiry.

The first part of the report on the Rochester schools cited in support of Expeditionary Learning seems legitimate, as far as it goes (I’d like more details on some of the steps and choices). It is a “quasi-experimental design, involving matching students in Expeditionary Schools with students in other schools by various characteristics (poverty, race, ELL, gender, grade, special education status).  There is some manipulation around the score distributions, involving a regression analysis of the various characteristics, but the regression coefficients aren’t given.   The found statistically significant, positive effect sizes for reading across the board, and in math only for elementary school.  Here’s the table:

Statistically significant doesn’t always translate into significance for policy.

The next step in the attempts to address this by converting the effect sizes into “implied shifts” in proficiency percentages.   The shifts in some of the categories (the same ones as the above chart) are large — about a 30% gain in proficient students for middle school reading in 2007-9, for example and bigger gains with elementary (along with losses for middle school math — so large that they make me doubt the whole analysis. remember that it did not meet the Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse standards.   I’ll look closer later and consult with people who know more about quantitative work than I do (as I said at the top, this is going to be a long process), for now I want to keep this in mind and shift to looking directly how middle school students at World of Inquiry have been doing.

The short answer is, not very well, worse than Toki.  No doubt at some point in the future I’ll produce nice charts and graphs on this, but here’s the quick and dirty numbers, only one year (2010-11), one grade (8th), and only Reading, percentages proficient or better (Toki data from WINNS, World of Inquiry data from here):

Reading Toki Reading WoI
All Students 77.50% 46.00%
African American 64.70% 39.00%
Hispanic 72.20% 63.00%
ELL 42.90%
Special Ed 40.00% 0.00%
Free/Reduced 64.20% 43.00%

Note that state proficiency measures vary greatly, according to the NAEP mapping project, Wisconsin’s are lower than New York’s.

In every category, World of Inquiry is doing worse than Toki, far worse.   This raises many questions about all the promises made in the proposal.

Even quicker and dirtier on the “The relationship between Expeditionary Learning participation and academic growth” report.  It is a similar quasi-experimental design, but includes many more schools and students.  Some are rural, some are suburban, some are charters, some are private, some are k-5, some include 6-8…only two seem to be comparable at all to Toki.  MAP testing is at the center of this study, for what that’s worth.  The results are all over the place (as they probably should be).  I haven’t had time to dig into it too much, here’s the summary table:

Again, much here that doesn’t support the confidence of the citations or tone of the proposal.

King Middle School  in Portland,ME seems to be one of the more comparable schools in this study, and one that many supporting the proposal seem to be pointing to as an example of success.  It isn’t exactly comparable, having similar poverty numbers, but much different racial and ethnic percentages (more on that at another time)  With that in mind, here is another chart comparing Toki and King (same years, grades…as above, King data from here):

Reading Toki Reading King
All Students 77.50% 78.00%
African American 64.70% 46.00%
Hispanic 72.20%
ELL 42.90% 47.00%
Special Ed 40.00% 38.00%
Free/Reduced 64.20% 64.00%

Note that state proficiency measures vary greatly, according to the NAEP mapping project, Wisconsin’s are lower than Maine’s.

Students at King seem to be doing roughly the same as students at Toki, with African American students doing substantially worse.

These initial forays into the research and data find little or nothing to support the implementation of Expeditionary Learning (with a charter or otherwise) as the solution to the challenges and struggles Toki has been facing.  There is much more to be done before a firm conclusion either way is arrived at.  I hope that unlike with Madison Prep, the MMSD administration does their duty to thoroughly analyze the educational aspects of this proposal, so that the Board and the community have something more than my explorations to go by.

Closing

There are many other concerns and questions I have at this point, these include the present and future roles and thinking of those Toki staff members who don’t support the initiative, the way this all interacts with the recently approved Urban League program, how people at Toki came to champion Expeditionary Learning (and how much independent research have they done or looked at), why the “Equity” section of the administrative portion is blank …many, many questions and concerns.  Plenty of time to air them; this is a long process.

I want to close by saying that I admire those behind this proposal for working to improve their school, for not accepting the frustrations of seeing students struggle and fail, for taking the initiative to find a way to try to make things better.   I may not end up agreeing that the way they have chosen is a good way, a way worth trying, but that doesn’t change my admiration.

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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Seats at the Table

David Hockney, Walking Past Two Chairs 1984-6

Jimmy Cliff , “Sitting In Limbo” (click to listen or download).

The big item at the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education meeting/retreat/workshop last night was the process for replacing the collective bargaining agreement with an employee hand book (thanks Scott Walker).  Being a retreat/workshop, nothing was decided.  In my view, at this point the most important issues are who will have seats at the table for the drafting of the handbook and what roles will the Board of Education play.

Matt Defour has a story on this portion of the meeting and Karen Vieth has a great write-up, so I’m mostly just going to offer comments, observations and opinions.

As of now, the default process, as put in place by departed Superintendent Dan Nerad (apparently without consulting the Board), is that the handbook process and drafting the handbook will be in the charge of a 15 member “Work Group” made up entirely of Administrators.  If the Board does not act, this is what we get, no seats at the table for teachers and other non-administrative staff.  The Board needs to act.

Recently I posted a cartoon of workers being locked out of discussions of labor; I never thought this would be the case in Madison.  This is insane.  An all administrative committee should not have even been among the options considered.   Our community supported our teachers when they walked out to protest the collective bargaining being decimated, Dane County voted 68% in favor Collective Bargaining, we are a community that recognizes the importance of workers and teachers having a voice and having their voices heard, we are a district where the successful school board candidate NOT endorsed by the unions saw “teachers and staff…playing a central role” in the handbook process.  This is the kind of thing you’d expect in Waukesha, not Madison.  Scott Walker and his supporters must be very pleased.

As described at the meeting, the default Madison process would allow for staff input via surveys and other means, but this is far different than having people at the table as part of the drafting team.    That’s not collaborative or a partnership.

Around the state, other communities have found ways to bring diverse staff to the table as partners.  I don’t have a complete list, but Middleton is doing it, La Crosse did it, Monona Grove did it,  Watertown did itSomerset did it, Hartland-Lakeside did itEau Claire did it .  Madison needs to do it.

They didn’t do it simply because it is fair and right, they did it because it makes sense.    La Crosse knew that the best decisions would not be made in “an administration in a vacuum.”  And the result was positive.

“I think the final product is a good product,” [Superintendent Randy] Nelson said. “It represents a balance that I think maintains the respect and dignity of our staff.”

Respect and dignity were part of the product because respect and dignity were part of the process.

The other issue in this is the role of the Board.  Arlene Silveira suggested that rather than have a Board member be part of the committee, Board Members sit in on the meetings on a rotating basis and keep the rest of the Board informed.  This seemed to have general support from the rest of the Board.   These is a good idea.

Maya Cole (and others) expressed concerns about the handbook process going forward with little input or guidance from the Board, both in terms of general philosophy and specifics.  Her fear was that in the end, with the clock ticking, the Board would be given only less-than-satisfactory choices.

There was some Pollyannaish talk that the “Guiding Principles” in the process document  — especially the first two “1. Improve student learning. As in everything we do, the first question and the top priority is student learning. How does what we are considering impact students? 2. Empower staff to do their best work. How does this impact teachers and staff? Does it help or hinder them in doing their jobs effectively?” — would be sufficient (a little more below on this), but there seemed to be a consensus that at very least the committee should present some options to the Board.  That’s another reason to have an inclusive committee; to get better options.

A quick aside on the “Guiding Principals” and related thoughts and then back to the Board’s role.  It is all well and good to say that student learning is or should be primary in just about everything, but it is also false and serves to marginalize staff.  I’ve long said that the interests of teachers align with the interests of students and the district by about 95% and yes “student learning” is the prime interest.  But staff are adults, with mortgages, families to support, loans to pay, relationships to cultivate and maintain, …They are not and should not be people who put student learning above the their own well being.  To  even contemplate that they should be is disrespectful.  That’s why we hear the “All about the students” meme  from the anti-teacher/anti-union reform crowd.  It sound good, but it is wrong.  Think about it, did the people negotiating a contract on behalf of Interim Superintendent Belmore put “student learning at the top of their list?  Of course not, and they shouldn’t have.

The only people who really have a claim to this position are the Board Members, and as the later discussion of taxes and budget at the meeting demonstrated (along with the years of under-levy), even the Board seeks to balance what is best for students with what is best for taxpayers (btw — good to hear Interim Sup. Belmore and some Board Members acknowledge how budget -driven cuts from contingency funds have limited flexibility in harmful ways, and talk about restoring some of these).   Let’s drop the false, feel good rhetoric.  [Some related things on the “All about the kids” rhetoric in relation to Madison Prep, here and here.]

Glad I got that off my chest.  The Board’s role is tricky.  They have the final say and responsibility, but almost certainly should not be intimately involved every step of the way (involved, but not intimately).  Beyond whatever “Guiding Principals” they endorse or don’t  (and this is the job of the Board, not the administration), I’d suggest the give the committee two lists.  The first list should be of things they do not want changed; the second of things where they would like to have some options for changes.  I’d put “just cause” for dismissals at the top of the first list.  On the second, the committee should provide both options and analyses of the options.

I’m not sure if this is the kind of thing Maya Cole was talking about.  She seemed to be thinking of something less detailed.   One thing Ms Cole did say very clearly was that in regard to the process the Board should make motions and take votes, and the sooner the better.  We are in agreement on that.

Right now, as the song says, this is in limbo.  There is a process, the administration is in complete control of it, there are “Guiding Principles,” things are going forward, but the Board seems poised to act to redirect and remake.  Till they do act (or announce in some manner a decision not to act), we are in limbo.  As always, write the Board to tell them what you think they should do (or not do):  board@madison.k12.wi.us.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Class Size: “Getting Mighty Crowded”

Video from the 2006 MMSD school referendum campaign.

Below is a slightly edited version of an email that I sent last night to the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education.

Subject: Class Size
To: board@madison.k12.wi.us
Date: Thursday, August 30, 2012, 7:58 PM

I’m just back from the open house and thought you should know that 5th grade class sizes at Randall are at 28 this year.  Maybe other grades also, the last few years 2nd, 3d, & 4th [at Franklin and Randall] have mostly been at 26 & 27.

The best teachers in the world are better in classrooms with 22,23,24…not 26, 27, 28…  This is no secret.

If you are tempted to say that Randall is a low needs/low poverty school, so this is OK, I’ll remind you of that there were 86 low income and 30+ Ell last year and like Johnny Winston said “it isn’t easy being a poor kid at a rich school.”  I’ll also say that all kids deserve better than 28 per class.

Here is what I think is the most recent public info on class size in MMSD (from this post):
…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 La Follette Area study committee, note that it says that the non-Sage grades 3-5 limit is 27 (it also still has SAGE classes at 15/1, over a year after MMSD went to 18/1).

As some of you know, I believe that the Board should be more informed and pro-active on class size, and that given the financial implications, this should be part of the budget process.

TJM

No responses yet, but it hasn’t been very long since I sent it.  If I get any responses, I will ask for permission to post the here.

For more on class size, see ClassSizeMatters.org.

Thomas J.  Mertz

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Been down so long it looks like up

The dbs – “Ups and Downs” (click to listen or download)

This story  — “Bonduel school taxes going down: Increase in state aid one of reasons,” by Lee Pulaski in today’s Shawano Leader made me think of Richard Farina’s novel Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me.  That’s what has been going on with school funding in Wisconsin and around the nation, the cuts have been so regular and difficult that any relief, no matter how small, appears like forward movement.  The reality,  — in the Bonduel district, in Wisconsin and in most of the United States  —  is that these small steps forward don’t come close to making up for the giant steps backward of the last few years.  The editorial board of the Wisconsin State Journal, Senator Scott Fitzgerald and others seize upon these small and local steps, but we can’t let their anecdotes distract from the big picture.  Wisconsin Sate Senator John Lehman has promised to convene the Senate Education Committee to “to examine how these 1.6 billion dollar cuts have hurt Wisconsin Schools.” That’s’ a good start, but more is needed.  We need more than examination, we need workable plans to fund our schools at a level and in a manner that puts the needs of our students first (see more on this below, at the bottom.  Update: The agenda for the hearing is out — August 31 is the date — and it looks like they’ll just be documenting the destruction and previewing future damage.).   The tools — if, as you should, you include in the tools the massive cuts in state aid to education which are central to the Fitzwalker game plan– aren’t working to provide students with the Opportunities to Learn that they deserve.

For the national scene see “New School Year Brings Steep Cuts in State Funding for Schools,” By Phil Oliff and Michael Leachman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  Here is one graph from that report.

Notice Wisconsin is the fourth worst state in this chart.  That may improve this year because of a one-time $50 per pupil aid.  But according to the July aid estimates from DPI, only 155 districts in Wisconsin can expect an increase in state aid the coming year, while 267 will see a decrease.  Bonduel is one of the lucky ones.  That’s what seems to be at the center of today’s story (it appears that they took a big hit last year and thatrevenues from 4K are kicking in too, like in Madison).

Peter Behnke, the district’s administrator, gushed good news for the taxpayers, who can expect a 3.3 percent decrease in their school property taxes due to an estimated $250,000 increase in state aid, to about $5.6 million.

“State aid is actually increasing for the first time in years, and that’s always a good thing,” Behnke said.

But what is missing is that the aid doesn’t come close to restoring state funding levels to what they were three years ago and leaves state aid per member for 2012-13 an estimated $671.55 belowwhat it was in 2007-08 (and in fact aid increased in both 2009-10 and 2010-11).

Here are some charts.  Note that the Bonduel district budget information is not accessible on the district website, charts were prepared using information from the Department of Public Instruction and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, found herehere here, here, here, here, and here.  For the 2012-13 per member, the 2011-12 membership was used to estimate.

The first is total state equalization aid to Bonduel.

The second is per member aid.

That anyone familiar with this history can “gush” over the 2012-13 projections is evidence of how far down we have been pushed.

 We need to push back, up and out of this hole..  State Superintendent Tony Evers’ Fair Funding for Our Future is a start,  but it won’t be enough unless it includes an influx of new state revenues.  That’s one reason why I think something like Penny for Kids is more necessary now than ever.  Penny for Kids would provide about $850,000 annually in new revenues for our schools.  I also think that Penny for Kids inclusion of a real aid to schools educating students in poverty is essential to addressing the gaps in achievement that plague our state and district (Fair Funding includes increased state aid to districts based on student poverty, but no new money or taxing authority only property tax relief, so this will supplant, not supplement).

After all the slings and arrows, the cuts, the failed recall, the still slow economy…I know many are like the District Administrator in Bonduel, ready to accept minor improvements as cause for celebration.  I think we can’t let down look like up, we have to keep our eyes on the prize, keep on pushing, not forget what is right just because it seems out-of-reach.  I hope Senator Lehman shares that attitude when he convenes his Committee, I hope he remembers the ideals of the Pope-Roberts Beske Resolution (he was a signatory).  Here they are as a reminder:

1. Funding levels based on the actual cost of what is needed to provide children with a sound education and to operate effective schools and classrooms rather than based on arbitrary per pupil spending levels;

2. State resources sufficient to satisfy state and federal mandates and to prepare all children, regardless of their circumstances, for citizenship and for post−secondary education, employment, or service to their country;

3. Additional resources and flexibility sufficient to meet special circumstances, including student circumstances such as non−English speaking students and students from low−income households, and district circumstances such as large geographic size, low population density, low family income, and significant changes in enrollment;

4. A combination of state funds and a reduced level of local property taxes, derived and distributed in a manner that treats all taxpayers equitably regardless of local property wealth and income…

These are still things worth working for.  Just thinking about them lifts me up.

Thomas J. Mertz

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(Past) Time for education profiteers to take a walk: Blast from the Past #1

“JUST ABOUT TIME HE TOOK A WALK!.,” original caption, The American School Board Journal, July 1921.

The O’ Jays – “For The Love Of Money” (click to listen or download)

This is the first in a new series on AMPS: Blasts from the Past.  It will be devoted to historical materials that comment on or illuminate contemporary issues in education.  I’ll usually  also post some links to recent, related things and often a song too.  I’m a historian by training, so I feel compelled to say that historical analogs should always be carefully examined, developments in the past are never identical to developments in the present.  Both continuity and change should be assessed.  In this series the emphasis will be on continuity, but I realize that’s only part of the picture.

The inspiration for this series came earlier this week when I stumbled upon full volumes of the American School Board Journal in Google Books.  For my dissertation research I went page-by-page through over 30 years of that journal, I know these will provide much material for this series, but I’ll also be looking for other sources.

Some links on educational profiteers in 2012 (so many possible that I am just posting a handful of links).

Just the tip of the iceberg.  Well past time for them to take a walk.
Thomas J. Mertz

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Too Many Chiefs?

The Wild Magnolias, Mardi Gras Indians. Click image for more information.

Professor Longhair – ” Big Chief 1 and 2″ (click to listen or download).

Just announced, special Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education meetings on Friday, July 27, Noon (Doyle Blg., rm 103), to create a new, one year Chief of Staff position at a cost of $170,000.  This has to be done via a budget amendment, so it will require five votes.  No public appearances;  in order to weigh in write the Board at board@madison.k12.wi.us.

I am agnostic on the need for this position, but believe that if Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore believes there is a need, than a case should be made in a manner that allows for public scrutiny and input.  The agenda linked above provides no justification.  Hell, it doesn’t even have a job description.   There is no way for anyone to weigh the need vs the cost,  and lacking that there is no way to give meaningful public input, except to say, “slow down.”

I think some context is important.  In recent years,  early grade class sizes in our highest poverty schools have increased from 15 to 18 and other class sizes have likely also increased (neither the Board nor the public have been given  a clear picture of class size trends) .   A  Board Member amendment to guaranty adequate professional library staffing was defeated during the budget deliberations and an effort to increase the capacity for analysis and reporting was only minimally funded (on the need for the latter, see here).    Equity-based supplemental allocations are essentially dead.     These are four examples of places where decisions have been made to not spend money, where the desire to not tax and spend has triumphed over the desire for better education and a better district.  Add to these the fact that most staff are working under contracts that froze their pay and increased their benefit contributions.

All of the above (and more)  should be taken into consideration before voting on the creation of a Chief of Staff position.  Board members need to ask themselves if this position is more important than and more beneficial than other possible uses of the funds.

A little over two years ago the Board was told by Dan Nerad and (soon to be) Chief Learning Officer/Deputy Superintendent  Sue Abplanalp that there was no need for a Chief of Staff.  This was part of an ill-conceived and executed administrative reorganization done in 2010 (see here, here, here, and here).   At the meeting where Abplanalp’s job description was approved, there was discussion of the new position and clarification that duties which had previously been under the Chief of Staff would move to the new Chief Learning Officer portfolio.   Apparently that hasn’t worked out.

I’d be more inclined to support the new Chief of Staff position if it was tied to a cut in pay for the Deputy Superintendent/Chieif Learning Officer (and perhaps other positions impacted).  Those on the front lines in our district are continually being told to do more with less and more for less.  It doesn’t seem right for those at the top to be doing less for the same compensation.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Why Scott Walker doesn’t recall the QEO and how to help recall him

In last week’s debate and elsewhere, Scott Walker has displayed less then total recall on many things.  Among these are the role of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO) and the 2009 repeal of the QEO in shaping teacher compensation in Wisconsin.  He doesn’t want to remember and he doesn’t want you to remember because it undermines key parts of the case he has made for (all but) eliminating collective bargaining for public employees, especially those parts related to health insurance costs.  According to Walker one of the main reasons Act 10 was necessary was that collective bargaining allowed teacher unions to force taxpayers to pay inflated rates to WEA-Trust.  From start to finish, this story is full of holes.

For me the start is 1993 and the bi-partisan creation of the QEO under Republican Tommy Thompson.  The QEO was one third of the “three legged stool” of school finance (the other two were 2/3 state funding and revenue caps…only the last remains).  It was the leg designed to hold down costs by establishing a 3.8% total teacher compensation package floor and ceiling for districts wishing to avoid arbitration.    Very few districts imposed the QEO, but it defined the playing field for contract negotiations.

The key part the Walker forgets is that between 1993 and 2009, under the QEO health insurance rates had little or no impact on contract costs and therefore taxpayers.  In effect, the QEO gave teachers the 3.8% increases and allowed them to choose the proportion that would go to salaries,  and the proportion that would go to benefits.   In the years the QEO was in place, health insurance costs (via WEA Trust and everyone else) rose considerably and as a consequence much of the total package increases went there and not to salaries.  That was the choice unions made via collective bargaining under the QEO.  So the first thing Walker wants forgotten is that for the majority of the last two decades savings from teacher health insurance would have had little or no impact on costs or taxes.

The second thing he wants you to forget is that under the QEO unions did have the incentive to limit health care costs.  According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, a majority of  unions sought some health insurance savings under the QEO:

Q: Does the QEO law prevent school boards and teachers unions from negotiating lower cost health insurance packages?

A: No. School boards and teachers’ union can voluntarily bargain changes to their health insurance coverage and frequently do. In fact, having the QEO law on the books has sparked serious negotiations on health insurance. Over 80 school districts have changed health insurance carriers and a majority of school districts have changed deductibles, medical provider co-payments and prescription drug co-payments.

Guess what Scott Walker, teachers — like everyone else — don’t want to pay too much for their insurance.

The repeal of the QEO, under Jim Doyle by Democratic controlled Senate and Assembly (for the record, I’ve always thought repealing the QEO in the absence of comprehensive school finance reform was bad crazy), combined with general economic conditions, smaller than usual revenue limit increases and the (at that time unprecedented) cuts to state school aid, led to even more unions agreeing to changes in health insurance.  As Matt DeFour reported at the time, at 3.75%, “compensation contracts” were “on track to be the lowest in more than a decade” resulting in new pressures to find insurance savings.   Where unions were not amenable to changes, the lack of a QEO put arbitration back in play for some districts.  Citing changes won through post-QEO arbitration in Milton.  Walker cheerleader Patrick McIlheran crowed that this “could mean the end to the costly market dominance of WEA Trust, the health insurer owned by the Wisconsin Education Association Council.”   A strategy memo on post-QEO bargaining from the law firm Boardman and Clark backs this up, noting that due to rising health insurance costs arbitrators were moving away from quid pro quo in this area and recommending consideration of seeking changes in “Health Insurance / Carriers.” So there were tools in place well before Scott Walker took his knife to collective bargaining.  Scott Walker also wants you to forget that without the QEO there was no floor either, unions could no longer count on 3.8% increases and that increases in both salary and benefit costs were trending down when he took office.

Last, Scott Walker wants you to forget that he campaigned on restoring the QEO.  Forgetting this aids the big lie that we all should have expected the bomb that was ACT 10.  His 2010 education packet stated:

The Qualified Economic Offer (QEO), which helped hold down local school costs for more than 15 years, will be restored and tied to revenue caps to align each district’s expenses with their revenues. Mediation and arbitration changes will also be needed to ensure that local economic factors are considered along with other common sense factors when arbitrating teacher contracts.

That doesn’t sound much like Act 10.  Walker wants you to forget that he campaigned on very different things than he enacted.

For more information on related things:

David Wahlberg, “Walker’s claim on health insurance savings for public schools questioned.”

Dave Umhoefer,  “”Act 10’s effect on school districts a mixed bag.”

WEA Trust,  “Response to Governor Walker’s Statements.”

Tom Kertscher, “Behind the rhetoric: The WEA Trust and school health care costs.”

WEAC, “Do the facts matter to the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute?

Thomas J. Mertz, “Where is the QEO?” and “Where’s the QEO?  (again).

Now the real important stuff.

HOW TO HELP RECALL WALKER

Six days and counting…

If you have money to donate, there are many good places to give, but I’d recommend Students for Wisconsin, a PAC formed by Madison West High School students.   You can donate here, read about them here and here, and definitely should watch (and share) their video:

To volunteer check in with We Are Wisconsin or United Wisconsin.

DO SOMETHING!  There can be no regrets on June 6.

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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