Category Archives: finance

Madison Prep and the Attack on Public Education

Mission Of Burma – “Academy Fight Song” (click to listen or download).

[Note;  This post is adapted from an article I wrote over a week ago for the Progressive Dane Newsletter (as of this writing PD has not taken  a position on the Madison Prep proposal).  I’ve only changed minimally for posting here;  one thing I have added is some hyperlinks (but I did not link as thoroughly as I usually do), another is a small  “For Further Reading” set of links at the end,”  and of course the song.  This is intended to be  a broad overview and introduction to what I think are some of the most important issues concerning the decision on the Madison Preparatory Academy presented in the context of related national issues.  Issues raised in this post have been and will be treated in more depth  — and with hyperlinks —  in other posts]

For decades free market advocates such as the Bradley Foundation, the Walton Foundation and the Koch brothers have a waged a multi-front campaign against the public sector and the idea of the common good.  Public education has been one of the key battlegrounds.  In the coming weeks the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will decide whether to approve a proposal for the Madison Prep Charter School.  This proposal and the chief advocate for it – Kaleem Caire of the Urban League of Greater Madison – have their roots in the Bradley/Walton/Koch movement, and like much of that movement they offer false promises of educational progress in order to obscure the damage being done to every child in our public schools.

A Public Hearing on the Madison Prep proposal has been scheduled for Monday October 3, at 6:00 PM in the Doyle Building Auditorium;  The Madison Prep proposal is on the agenda of the PD General Membership Meeting  (Wed , 9/28 , 6:00 p.m, Hawthorne Branch Library, guests welcome).

The campaign to undermine public education, nationally and in Madison, has been very sophisticated politically and simplistic educationally.  Caire and other “choice” advocates zero in on the failings of public schools, while dismissing the successes or often even the possibility of success within a public school context.  This attention to the failings of public schools, especially for poor and minority students, is welcome.  However instead supporting the difficult and uncertain work of finding ways to expand educational opportunities and improve attainment for those being left behind, the self-proclaimed “reformers” offer only unfounded market-based panaceas.

This not only ignores the essential educational work that is needed, it obscures the growing inequalities of wealth and power that are at the core of many of educational struggles.

Madison Prep is a classic case.  The proposals (there have been multiple versions) and the extensive media campaign have centered on a narrative based on selected statistics illustrating gaps in achievement between African American (and to a lesser extent Hispanic) males and other students.  No attempt is made to locate the sources of those gaps, no attention is given to student-related factors such as poverty (Madison Prep advocates prefer to talk about race, not poverty) or mobility (in 2009 173 of the 435 African American 10th graders were in their first year at the school they attended); or to school-based factors such as curriculum, pedagogy, grouping practices, class-size, resource allocations….Instead the one and only “solution” offered is the ill-conceived Madison Prep Charter School.

A big part of this campaign has been directed at unionized public school teachers who are blamed for all the ills of schools.  Charters like Madison Prep promise to address these ills by stripping teachers of their rights and job security, forcing them to work longer hours for less pay and fewer benefits, while expanding administrative supervision via a top heavy structure peopled by multiple well compensated  administrators, a “President” and a “Head of School” and a “Development Director.”  The transfer of wealth and power of the market based economy is mirrored in the structure of the school.

The Madison Prep educational plan itself is an incoherent and contradictory mélange of trendy and unproven elements.  Some of what is being proposed is promising (intensive tutoring, perhaps longer school days and years), some of it educationally empty (uniforms), and some of it likely damaging to creativity and authentic learning (the militaristic discipline of the “No Excuses” models).  None of the elements in-and-of themselves have been shown to make a significant impact on academic achievement and because of the contradictions there is a good chance that the whole will be less than the sum of the parts.

One model being held up by the Madison Prep advocates is the “No Excuses” disciplinary approach of schools such as Chicago’s Urban Prep and the KIPP chain.  These schools often have high attrition rates and/or test scores appreciably lower than schools serving similar students (despite spending more per student, requiring a longer school day and serving a less impoverished population in comparison to the Chicago Public Schools as a whole, on the most recent tests only 11% of Urban Prep’s 11th graders met state standards in mathematics, well below the – still unacceptable – 29% for CPS).  Serious abusive disciplinary practices have characterized some KIPP schools and when these have come to light, because of their Charter status local Boards of Education have been frustrated in their efforts to intervene (some would say the entire KIPP model is abusive and these are not anomalies, but simply “No Excuse” taken to its logical conclusion).

Aligned with the “No Excuses” model is a reactionary and discriminatory call for single-sex education and an implicit rejection of the theory and practice of special education services designed to address the needs of a significant portion of our students.  The initial exclusion of young women from Madison Prep has been addressed, but the issues concerning potential discrimination against gay and transgender students have not been part of the discussion thus far and the outdated models of masculinity and femininity reinforced by this version of single sex education have not been examined.  Like all Charter Schools, Madison Prep will be required to admit special education students, but the “No Excuses” model is antithetical to the best practices in this area.

Madison Prep also promises to offer the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program and employ the “Harkness Method”of Phillip Exeter Academy to cultivate creative thinking and collaborative learning.  As attractive as these are in theory, they hold little promise as a means of addressing the needs of those students featured in the Madison Prep media blitz and call for practices that are at the opposite end of the pedagogical spectrum from the KIPP model.

The presence of IB and the “Harkness Method” in the proposal also highlights an important disconnect between the problem identified — MMSD is failing minority students and the solution offered – a Charter School.  By law, Charter Schools cannot discriminate in admissions (on the basis of race, poverty, academic achievement, or anything else).  Madison Prep cannot target those who are failing/being failed.  IB and Harkness style teaching will likely be very attractive to the families of students who are thriving in MMSD, the top 10%, meaning that if this proposal goes through the majority of the applications may come from students who are about as far from those featured in the sales pitch as possible.

In contrast, the school district and district schools can and do target programs and services to students who are failing and being failed.  That the district needs to be doing more of this and a better job of it is beyond question, but the expense of the Madison Prep proposal will force cuts to all district programs and services, including these.

According to the latest figures available, the five-year cost of Madison Prep will be about $27,000,000 and the cost per student  to the district will be about $15,000 (MMSD’s marginal cost per student is a little below $11,000).  The district will experience some savings because students in Madison Prep will mean fewer students in district schools, but because of the distributed nature educational budgeting, these savings – mostly in the form of fewer teachers – will be minimal (about $500,000 annually) and also come at the cost of more limited course and schedule choices in district schools. Estimates are that the funding Madison Prep for the hundreds of students who will enroll will require cutting an additional $1.5 and $2 million annually from the programs and services that serve 24,000 district students, 12,000 of whom live in poverty.

This will of course make it harder, if not impossible for the public schools to meet the needs of the students in their charge by offering the opportunities to learn they deserve, which will further undermine support for public schools and make market-based solutions and privatization appear superficially more attractive.  This vicious cycle is exactly what the Bradleys, the Waltons and the Kochs want.  Show up at the hearing or write the Board of Education (board@madison.k12.wi.us😉 and let them know that you don’t want this happening in Madison

Thomas J. Mertz

Chair, Progressive Dane Education Task Force

For Further Reading:

Kevin G. Welner, “Free Market Think Tanks and the Marketing of Education Policy.”

Diane Ravitch, “The Myth of Charter School.”

David Sirota,  “The bait and switch of school ‘reform.”

Don Whittinghill, “ Following the Charter Dollars.”

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Is it “all about the kids” (and what that might mean)? — Take One (in relation to ULGM and Madison Prep)

Sir Mack Rice “Money Talks” (click to listen or download)

My training as a historian has taught me that all knowledge is tentative and that this is especially true when it comes to assigning motives to people’s actions.  It has also taught me to not accept self-proclaimed motives at face value , to only state an opinion  about the motives of others when there is a preponderance of evidence,  and to look  at actions and consequences as well as  rhetoric when trying to make sense of things.

With those caveats,  I think it is worthwhile to investigate the motives, actions and the consequences of the actions of Kaleem Caire and some of others associated with the Madison Prep proposal and the Urban League of Greater Madison in relation to public education.

Enemies of teachers and teacher unions have seized upon the phrase “it is all about the kids” to ridicule and attack teachers and their representatives.   With union and (almost all) others, of course it isn’t “all about the kids.”  Interestingly, those who blame unions for some or all of the ills of public education — like many of  the proponents  of Madison Prep — often offer their own versions of “it is all about the kids.”  Examples include  Michelle Rhee who named her group Students First (Valarie Strauss pointedly offered a column on Rhee’s organization titled “Rhee’s campaign is not about the kids.”) and the anti-Union political bribery has been done  in Illinois (and elsewhere) under the banner of Stand for Children ( a must-see video here).

This is the first of a series of three “takes,” distinct but related investigations of what else besides concern for “the kids” might be fueling the Madison Prep effort and some thoughts about how a sincere effort largely or even exclusively on behalf of “the kids” can lead to consequences (intended or unintended or both) that many of us see as very harmful to “the kids.”

Take One:  Why did the Walton Family Foundation spend  $157 million last year on “education reform” (and almost as much in previous years) and how this relates to Madison Prep?

The Washington Post reported that in 2010 The Walton Family Foundation gave grants totaling over $157 million to what they deemed “education” reform efforts.  The entire list is here, and you can see the previous years here.  Under “Shaping Public Policy,” you can find such groups as the Barry Goldwater Institute for Public Policy Research; the National Right to Work Legal Defense & Education Foundation;  Wisconsin’s own Right Wing Press Release machine the John K. Maclver Institute for Public Policy, Inc.; and Kaleem Caire’s former employers the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).

The Walton Foundation describes its educational policy work and goals in this manner:

For parents to be empowered to choose among high-performing schools, local and state public policy must allow for those choices to exist. To this end, we seek to build the capacity of organizations to help enact, strengthen and protect programs that empower parents to choose high-performing schools.

Investment Strategies

Within our Shape Public Policy initiative, we focus on advocacy groups promoting:

  • Public charter school choice;
  • Private school choice;
  • District reforms, particularly open enrollment and district school choice; and
  • Cross-sector parental choice, parents are empowered to choose across school.

Note that the ability “to choose” is the goal, not universal access.   I want to return to this in the context of their relationship to Kaleem Caire  and Madison Prep, but first I want to say that there is a preponderance of evidence that the Waltons’ motives have very little to do “high powered schools” or education (especially the kind of education that makes people ask questions about the doings of people like the Waltons) and everything to do with destroying the public sector.  The same can be said to a great degree about many of the other supporters of Caire’s work, with some overtly racist and segregationist dimensions for at least the Bradley Foundation, who funded The Bell Curve and the Kochs who have been active in the re-segregation of Wake County NC schools (watch this powerful video, appropriately titled ” Why do the Koch brothers want to end public education? “).

As I was working on this Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism released the first of his three part series on the Walton’s and other choice advocates’ activities in Wisconsin,  This saves me a lot of trouble preponding the evidence.  In part one you can read about the  tens of thousands of dollars in direct contributions to candidates, the uncounted indirect contributions via front groups,  the ties among individuals like the Waltons and Betsy and Dick DeVos and organizations such as the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice.    Not mentioned in part one of the Lueders piece is the relationships to American Legislative Exchange Council, another beneficiary of the Walton largesses and one that gets us closer to their public sector destroying mission.  You can also get a glimpse at some of the Walton’s federal activities via Open Secrets, here.

David Sirota’s “The bait and switch of school ‘reform“” brings it back to covers more of this, including the direct profit motive and the alliance of conservative and “neo-liberal” actors.  “Following the Charter Dollars” by Don Whittinghill of the Louisiana School Boards Association is also a must read (for those who want more on Louisiana, “NOLA Public Schools & School Privatization Part 1: Selected Bibliography of Articles, Books, Studies and Informed Opinions–2011 to 10/2010” is a good place to start; for the conservative movement ad the role of “think tanks” in general, this bibliography from the Commonweal Institute \\is very useful..

All these add to evidence that with the schools as well as in the workplace and for working parents, in the electoral arena,  in tax policy, on the environment and with so much more, The Waltons and there free market friends have interests that are very different than the well being of America’s children and very much geared toward weakening, undermining and destroying the good of the public sector.

Still, in a strange way if you believe that the entire American experiment in universal common schooling has been an irredeemable failure, public sector destroying may circle back to the quest for quality education .

I don’t believe that.  I’ve put in countless volunteer hours working for change and improvement in public education, but I’m more of a believer in the “Conservationist Ethic in Education”  and although it is often frustrating, Tinkering Toward Utopia has more appeal to me in public education than creative destruction, especially when the worth of what is being created in the wreckage is questionable at best.

For now though, let’s leave speculation about motives aside, take  them at their word  and assume that this is all or nearly all about the kids  and look at how that has worked out.  In essence that’s what Kaleem Caire has done and what he he is now asking the Board of Education and the taxpayers of Madison to do;  to follow the path prescribed by the Waltons and their ilk and see how it works out for the kids.

For the last decade  Kaleem Caire’s work has been funded by people like the Waltons and the Bradley Foundation, the (Milton) Friedman  Foundation and even the Koch Brothers.   It wasn’t always that way.  When he ran for the Board of Education in 1998 (the first Madison School Board campaign I was part of), the Capital Times reported

If elected, Caire says he will lead the fight against the ”very elitist conservatives who are trying to basically break the back of public education.”

Then he began working with or for these people.  Now he dismisses any objections to these alliances, as in the recent Wisconsin State Journal story:

“On the issue of vouchers, we agreed,” he said of his conservative benefactors. “On other things, we didn’t. I don’t listen to the guilt-by-association crap.”

He pointed out that other funders included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation, considered more left-leaning politically.

First and as an aside, very, very few people in ed policy consider the recent work done by the Gates Foundation (or to a lesser extent the Joyce Foundation) to be “left-leaning.”  They are more right-center  in a landscape that has been shifting steadily to the right.

Second, I don’t think “guilt-by-association” is “crap.”

I understand building coalitions and working with people you might otherwise disagree with toward a common goal, but you do have to choose your comrades and I think there should be some limits on who you are willing to associate with.  Maybe that’s just me.

One reason for limits is that there is a danger of being used, of having the distinct agenda of one party to the deal advanced to a much greater degree than your common goals.   It has become common for conservatives and corporate America to use Civil Rights organizations and minorities to help advance their agendas.  It is no accident that Linda Chavez is the face of the (also Bradley Foundation backed) Center for Equal Opportunity, and their attack on affirmative action and bilingual education at UW and elsewhere.  Just this week there was a story about the Congress on Racial Equality opposing Green Jobs at the behest of their funder ExxonSupporters of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger include the NAACP, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, (yes, unions are not immune) the National Education AssociationThe national Urban League supports too.  All of these organizations have benefited from generous donations from the telecom behemoth.

I remember Caire’s mentor Howard Fuller saying “we use them, they use us,” but this seems to set the two parties up as equals in the exchange and we all know that one side has millions or billions of dollars at their disposal, while the other brings to the table little more than their energy and ability to complicate the racial politics.

So to see if the deal has been a good one, we have to return to “the kids.”  The Walton’s posit expanded choice as an end of itself;  Kaleem Caire has presented choice as a means to an end, the end being access to quality education and improved educational outcomes.  There is no question that the Waltons have been successful in expanding choice (and I’d add they have made significant progress in their less transparent goal of destroying public education).   Most of the evidence points to the conclusion that the aggregate impact of expanded choice on access to quality education has been negative.

It needs to be acknowledged that many individual children have benefited from expanded choice via vouchers and charters, but when the “greatest good for the greatest number” metric is employed, “choice” is found wanting, as is the Madison Prep proposal.

The latest study of the Milwaukee voucher program y by the Walton-funded University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project concluded that in terms of academic achievement of students enrolled in private schools at taxpayer expense do on average no better than similar students  enrolled in MPS schools.   The mandated report from the Legislative Audit Bureau echoed this finding.  Less sophisticated readings of Department of Public Instruction data reveals that voucher students did worse on the WKCE than MPS students; this is true even if the comparison is confined to those eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Voucher proponents interested in student outcomes (no just choice for choice sake) have been reduced to pointing to superior graduation rates (a very questionable measure given the autonomy private schools have in this area) and making a convoluted case that the competition from vouchers has improved public schools.  The latter is both the first and last refuge of the free market reformers.  Their prime directive is that the competition of the market always produces progress.  It is also in the words of sometime Caire collaborator Jay P. Green of the Arkansas Project a win/win assertion for them.  Had the voucher schools performed better this would be evidence of success, but since they did not, the failure of privatization is redeemed by the success in the public sector, success that is said to depend o the presence of the failed private sector.   That’s the political/ideological analysis; more scholarly critiques, rejoinders  and dissents from the conclusions of the Arkansas Project and related “research”  check  the publications of the always worthwhile  National Education Policy Center Think Tank Review Project (and here), as well as Vouchers and Public School Performance: A Case Study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program  from the Economic Policy Institute.

The gold standard research on charter school choice is  the 2009 “Multiple choice: Charter performance in 16 states” publication from the The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford.   Here is their summary of the findings.

The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.

17% better, 46% about the same and 37% “significantly worse.”  Choice does not appear to have worked out very well for those who choose charter schools.

I’m not sure there is a rigorous way to assess the impact of “choice”  (charter and voucher), on the public schools.  Too much variation by state and local, too many variables all over and there are some things that I think are important that are difficult or impossible to quantify.  I do want to point to two things that should be part of the equation: money and the ill-defined nexus of support, energy, faith….

In terms of public money, things vary greatly by state, local and to some degree with each individual school.  We can safely say that in recent years federal policies have used federal funding to encourage and support charter schools and that this funding comes from an inadequate pool of total federal education dollars.   At the state level, funding mechanisms and comparative funding for public, charter and voucher-type schools vary widely and one must also consider who attends and the relative costs of educating different students (this is especially important with high needs special education students, who rarely enroll in choice schools).   In some locales and with vouchers in general the public “choice”  outlay per student is lower than the public school outlay; in others it is about the same or higher.  “Choice” proponents see the lower outlays as evidence of savings; opponents point to the how the loss of small number of students from any given school or grade rarely creates opportunities for savings via staff, facilities or program reductions (if you want to offer a class in Mandarin,  the cost will be about the same whether 15 or 25 students are enrolled) and see any diversion of funds as a problem.  I lean very much in the direction of the opponents.   One thing that is very clear is that a whole lot  of private money which could be invested in public schools is going to sell and support school choice.

In the case of Madison Prep, the money piece is clear and bad.  Ed Hughes has all the gory details based on the latest information (as far as I can tell — and I have asked — there is no final proposal or budget, but this link goes to a very basic budget document that came with the announcement of the second proposed school for young women).  The cost per pupil is about $15,000 in comparison to MMSD’s marginal cost per pupil of a little over $10,000 the payments to Madison Prep over five years would total over $27,000,000 and according to Ed Hughes’ calculations funding Madison Prep for hundreds of students will require annual cuts to the programs and services that serve the 24,000 students (12,000 in poverty) in MMSD.  Hughes works out the numbers in detail for “year four” and comes up with a $1.5 million estimate for that year’s Madison Prep related cut to the district budget.

Keep in mind that like all charter schools in Wisconsin, Madison Prep cannot selectively enroll based on race, poverty or academic success, so we really have no idea who these extra resources may go too.    In contrast, the district — if they have the resources — can and does target programs and services and allocations  based on a variety of factors.  I’ve advocated for the district to do this more extensively, more systematically and better.  Approving Madison Prep will further strain targeted programing and make equity based allocations harder and less likely.  Any way you look at the finances, the proposal almost certainly fails the greatest good for the greatest number test.  If it is about the kids, it is only about some of the kids, because most of the kids will see decreased investments in their futures.

I think the intangible aspects of “choice’s” and “choice” advocacy’s impact on public schools, what I called “support, energy, faith….” may be more important than the money.   I written before about the damage done by the self-fulfilling prophesy of looking to charter schools for innovation and creativity.  The big picture harm done by undermining support for public schools is touched on above (and indirectly in this post).   These are important, but I want to focus on something more immediate, the relationships between families and their schools.

An inevitable and often deliberate tactic of choice advocates is to play to and build on feelings of alienation and distrust families feel toward their schools.  The implicit and sometimes explicit messages are “you can trust us, you can’t trust them; we care, they don’t care; we know how to help your child; they don’t know how to help your child.”  A little distrust is healthy and probably justified, as is some skepticism about educational prowess.

However, when this goes too far (as it frequently does)  it strains and may break the family/school ties  of collaboration that are essential to success.   Even if  Madison Prep is approved many, many more struggling students will remain in district schools and these students need the combined and cooperative efforts of their families and the the schools.  If it is about the kids, this has to be taken into consideration.  Unfortunately, I fear that both in Madison and nationally much damage has already been done.

Pulling back a little (and circling back to innovation and creativity),  this cultivation of distrust also, further discourages dissatisfied parents and community members from getting involved in school and district issues, from demanding a seat at the table to fight for their vision of educational improvement.    In terms of helping the kids, there is much good that could be accomplished by having more diverse and dissatisfied  people working for district-wide improvement.

If there are a big take-aways or conclusions from all of this  they are 1. If access to quality educational opportunities and improved educational outcomes are the goal, if defined in this way “choice” advocacy is “all about the kids,” then it has not been a success; 2. “Choice” advocacy has been successful in damaging support for public schools; and 3.  Following the “choice” path laid out be the supporters of Madison Prep may help some, but would have a net negative impact on “the kids” of the district, who this is supposed to be all about.

I’m going to stop there (unless I go back and edit).  Kind of long for “take one.’  “Take two” will be much shorter, I promise (it is)

Note: A Public Hearing on the Madison Prep proposal has been scheduled for Monday October 3, at 6:00 PM in the Doyle Building Auditorium;

Thomas J. Mertz.

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Of two minds and no sense in Two Rivers

There is an editorial in the Herald Times Reporter on the Two Rivers school budget that presents contradictory ideas and ultimately makes no sense.  If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find more that doesn’t make sense.

The editorial titled “Two Rivers school budget laudable” is mostly in praise of the Board of Education for acting on their commitment ” to not raising taxes.”  To do this the Board “cut about $2 million from its $23.7 million budget.”  According to the editorial (the Two Rivers district does not post budget documents), about half of this amount came from increasing staff insurance and pension payments.  The rest from what the paper calls ” another $1 million in labor and materials savings.”

At least the editorial points out that the FitzWalker “tools” don’t actually work at the district level stating clearly “The budget repair bill provision is not, however, the panacea envisioned by Republican lawmakers.”

At this point I want to point out that nowhere in the editorial are students or the quality of education mentioned.  The closest it gets is a couple of places where providing “adequate services” is mentioned as a goal, each time along with and apparently inferior to ” protecting taxpayers.’  Two  paragraphs on Manitowoc, introduced as another district where the “tools” don’t work, is an example of this :

Other school districts are in the same situation. Manitowoc Superintendent Mark Swanson said recently that the tax levy could rise 9.5 percent under current revenue cap and state-aid formulas. The school board likely will need to take austerity measures, including possible staff reductions, to make sure that projection doesn’t become reality.

Swanson, along with other school and municipal leaders throughout the state, wonders what impact this all will have on their ability to provide the services they are paid to deliver — now and in the future.

The penultimate paragraphs capture the contradictory thinking:

Rhetoric about serving the taxpayer at the least possible cost rings hollow if all the tools to achieve that goal are lacking. Commitment to hold the line on taxes is one thing, getting there is quite another.

We hope that other school districts and cities in Manitowoc County follow the lead of the Two Rivers public schools and make a good-faith effort to hold the line on property taxes.

Note “serving the taxpayer” not serving the students, but even in this formulation the impossibility of quality services under these conditions is apparent.

The editorial closes with more praise for Two Rivers and holds that district up as an example for others to emulate:

Two Rivers has demonstrated it can be done, even against highly challenging odds.

“It” being not raising taxes, apparently.  How did Two Rivers do this?  That’s where things get even more senseless.

Some of the answers can be found in a Herald Times news story:

The contract with the teachers union even includes a provision that taxes would not be increased. He said the teachers agreed to a pay freeze and an increase in the amount they pay toward health insurance premiums if needed to balance the budget without raising taxes, but that didn’t become necessary.

First, what is in the water of those Two Rivers?  Why would a Union — if they could (and even pre-FitzWalker tax rates were not subject to collective bargaining, so I don’t see how it could have happened) — negotiate a tax freeze?  Senseless.

And remember that the editorial said that “About half of that savings resulted from the pension and health benefit requirement,” and this story also refers “teachers having to pay more toward their retirement and health insurance benefits,” so something is hinky or at least confused.  Are they paying more or not?

But the real senselessness is found where this and other articles detail where some of the other$1 million in savings came from:

The board had decided to take $235,310 from its fund balance to help balance the budget without raising taxes.

Depleting fund balances is unsustainable (and not an option all districts have).  Very little sense there.

I’m not sure where the other $700,000 plus came from but a column by District Administrator Randy Fredrikson gives a clue on some of it:

A significant portion of our levy is still paying off the new high school and Koenig Elementary School. We have aggressively refinanced these obligations when time and interest rates permitted. This refinancing has also helped us control the budget over the past several years

In order to achieve significant savings from refinancing you have to have significant debt, something that not all districts have.  Interest rates also have to be lower than the initial rate.  Or you could front load savings like MMSD did in 2009 when they refinanced, in that case (and maybe in Two Rivers), there were some real savings via lower rates, but these were weighted to the initial years and in fact payments increased for some future years.  Whatever is going on, it is not sustainable  — repeatedly refinancing is just kicking the can down the road —  and doesn’t make much sense as something to base a blanket recommendation for budgeting on.

One more piece in another story:

Case Elementary School was sold to St. Peter the Fisherman this past summer. St. Peter the Fisherman had been leasing the facility the past six years.

So I guess other districts should look to sell schools also.  Senseless.

What does make sense would be to make the number one priority and goal finding sustainable  means to invest in giving every child the Opportunities to Learn they need and deserve.

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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Education, Taxes, and MMSD Board Goals

Graph from the Wisconsin State Journal, click image for accompanying story.

I was struck by the relationship between two things in recent Wisconsin State Journal stories.  The first of these is the graph above illustrating the cuts of over 150  Special Education staff positions (from Matt DeFour’s report on the new MMSD Middle School Mental Health initiative).    The second was this quote from Board President James Howard in Defour’s story on greater than anticipated cuts in state aid to the Madison Metropolitan School District:

School Board President James Howard said the board’s goal has been to not raise property taxes and, “I think that’s still our position.”

The short version of my reaction is that if your goal is hold the line on taxes, then I guess you are just fine with cutting programs and services, even those that serve the most vulnerable as Special Education does.  I’m not OK with that prioritization and am not OK with a Board and Board President who are.  The longer version  — including an analysis of how the 2008 referendum fits with this — follows.

[Note, as I was finishing this Board Member Ed Hughes put up a post indicating that he is more open to a property tax increase than president Howard and offering readers an opportunity to weigh in via a pollu.  When you are done here, read that post and vote).

Where to start?  I’ll begin with the obvious truth there are things that MMSD schools should be doing, ways they could be helping students, but are not and that these things cost money.   As a consequence of inadequate funding (among other things), MMSD is failing provide appropriate educational opportunities and services  for some students and excellent opportunities and services for many.  In other words, budget cuts impact education.  If you don’t believe the above, you should probably stop reading now.

The cuts to Special Education staff are one example (note I was cognizant of the 2006 cross-categorical teacher drop due to a change in case load allocations for “Speech and Language Only” students, the cuts to SEAs are somewhat surprising to me).  It is also worth noting that the approved Preliminary 2011-12 Budget appears to cut a further $3,231,626 from Education Services, the department in charge of Special Education, ELL and more (this figure may have changed slightly due to amendments, I’m using the initial Budget because the “approved Preliminary….” isn’t on line).  If any of these cuts come from Special Education, the district may be in danger of losing Federal Funding due to the Maintenance of Effort requirements  of IDEA which as explained in this memo from DPI  do not recognize “savings from reduced staff benefits as exceptions.”

Special Education is just one area where more resources would help; there are many others.  It should also not be forgotten that this preliminary — no new taxes —  budget was balanced by cutting staff compensation, as  Board Member Ed Hughes has said “underpaying our most important employees… a false economy.”

Now on to Board Goals.  I looked at in vain at the statues governing Boards of Education, at the MMSD Policies, at the District Philosophy, at the Mission Statement, at the Strategic Plan for any reference that could support not raising property taxes as a goal superior to providing the best possible education for the students in their charge.

You can look too, you won’t find it.  What you will find is much that calls for the Board to (in the phrase from the Strategic Plan) “vigorously pursue the resources necessary to achieve our mission,” the mission being:

…to cultivate the potential in every student to thrive as a global citizen by inspiring a love of learning and civic engagement, by challenging and supporting every student to achieve academic excellence, and by embracing the full richness and diversity of our community.

The last couple of MMSD budgets have each left about $10 million in revenue authority unused; the approved Preliminary Budget leaves (I believe) about $9 million (again, no final preliminary is on line, so I’m estimating).  It would not have taken, and does not now take much vigor to access these resources.  It may take  a little courage.

I realize that much has changed in the last few years — widespread economic hardship, cuts in state aid by both Democratic and Republican state governments, much slower than anticipated growth in property values, , the opportunity to cut staff compensation under the threat of union busting, dramatic cuts to the revenue limit base  — but despite all of these changes, if you go back to the principles and the details of Partnership Plan used to sell the 2008 Operating Referendum (which passed overwhelmingly) I think you can find plenty of justification for increasing property taxes in order to achieve the mission of the district.  Maybe not to the fully allowed limit (maybe) , but certainly beyond the level the Board President has stated as a goal.

That referendum is the primary reason why even with the FitzWalker mandated 5.5% cut in allowed revenue, Madison has the ability to maintain and even expand opportunities.   In more ways than one, that’s what over 68% of the voters agreed to.  They did not vote to freeze property taxes, they voted to raise them.

The strongest Partnership Plan based case for using the entire $10 million in referendum granted authority this year and every year is that that plan anticipated only a three year total of $9 million in cuts from cost to continue budgets, a total that was about doubled in the combined actual budgets of the first two years.

To me that is compelling, but some Board Members and others will point out the plan anticipated higher state aid and growth in property values than have been realized, and that these factors — along with general economic conditions — justify cutting at a higher level,  I don’t agree, but for the sake of argument I’m willing to stipulate that rather than relying on the “cuts from cost-to-continue ” metric,  we should also look at the total property tax burden.

Looking at the total levy instead of the total cuts is one way to deal with the diminished state aid and the lack of growth in property wealth to produce a conservative estimate of the tax burden agreed to by voters who ratified the Partnership Plan .  However if you are going to elevate  property taxes over other considerations in this manner it is only right to fully account for changes in property taxes and that includes dealing with the School Levy Credits.

As explained by Andy Reschovsky, the Levy Credits are categorized by the state as school aid but in fact function as property tax relief misdirected toward wealthier districts and property owners.  Shifting the almost $900 million a year allocated to the Levy Credits into general state school aids is a centerpiece of State Superintendent Tony Evers Fair Funding for the Future proposal.

Since 2006 the Levy Credits has almost doubled.  For the most part this has been ignored by School Boards in their Levy and Budget deliberations.  I think that was because districts almost always taxed to the max under revenue limits, so there was little reason to look at how the Credits impacted the net taxes of property owners.  One place where this would have made sense was in the otherwise detailed discussions of referendum related tax increases, but  — despite my advice at the time — MMSD did not include the Levy Credits in their presentations for  2008 referendum.

Since 2009-10 MMSD has ceased taxing to the max and has begun making minimizing tax burdens the top or near top consideration, the “goal.”  That means that the Levy Credits need to be part of the discussion, because as Reshovsky explains MMSD taxpayers benefit greatly from the Credits:

Using Madison as an exam-ple, in 2009, the average gross school mill rate was 9.79. The city’s school levy credit allocation resulted in a 1.76 mill rate reduction. Tax bills were then calculated using the net school mill rate of 8.03. Thus, the School levy credit resulted in a $352 tax saving for the owner of property worth $200,000 (.00176 times $200,000), and a tax saving of $880 for the owner of a $500,000 property.

For the purposes of this comparison of the levies anticipated in the Partnership Plan and  the actual/preliminary levies for the period covering the 2009-10 through 2011-12 budgets,  what is most important is that while cutting general school aids for the years 2009-10 and 2010-11, the Democrats increased the Levy Credits and that the Republicans in power have maintained these increases.  At the time voters approved the 2008 referendum, the Levy Credits for MMSD totaled 37,198,954.  For 2009-10 this increased to 40,934,795 and for 2010-11 they were 40,304,862.  I haven’t seen estimates for 2011-12, but the total funding for the Levy Credits is unchanged and it seems safe to assume that the share going to MMSD taxpayers will be about the same.

The table below uses  projected property tax totals from the Partnership Plan, the actual levies for the first two years and the levy from the approved preliminary budget for 2011-12.  To account for the Levy Credits  I’ve subtracted the Levy Credit increases over 2008 (3,735,841 for 2009-10 and 3,105,908 for 2010-11) from the levy totals (using the 2010-11 figure for 2011-12).

According to these figures,  MMSD could levy an additional $7,174,422 and still be within a  conservative interpretation of the tax increases the voters  approved with the 2008 referendum.  I think they should use at least this amount of their levy authority to advance their mission.

In the will of the voters as expressed in the referendum vote, I find no evidence that the community shares  Board President Howard’s stated goal to not raise property taxes and here and elsewhere I find much that supports reasonable tax increases.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Hypocrite of the Day — Sarah Archibald

I’ve written about Sarah Archibald before.  She joined the state payroll when Jim Doyle tapped her to head up Wisconsin’s misguided and failed Race to the Top application, a key element of which was rushed legislation opening the door to the misuse of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.  Now she is doing education policy for the FitzWalker gang as part of Senator Luther Olsen’s staff, busting unions, paving the way for  privatization via vouchers, enabling  charter school expansion, undermining local control, creating bigger class sizes in our public schools, eroding the opportunities to learn for most of the children of our state, and yes, further expanding the abuse of standardized test-based data to determine the conditions of employment for educators (via the pending SB 95 and AB 130).  You can read more about Archibald’s belief in the “need” to include “student test scores” in evaluating and determining compensation for teachers in this piece of Bradley Foundation funded pseudo scholarship.

We have a pretty good idea of what Dr. Archibald wants for your children and mine (a little more on that below), but what about her’s?  She sends her kids to Wingra School in Madison, where the tuition is $12,000 a year, the teacher student ratio is 12/1, the philosophy is “progressive,” and they don’t believe in tests, standardized or otherwise.  I’ll let Doctor Archibald explain in her own words:

…[W]hy we send our kids to Wingra school. At this school, teachers have the luxury of really recognizing and reinforcing each child. With no scripted curriculum and no standardized tests, teachers can focus on allowing the child to blossom and following the kids’ lead in terms of what they want to learn about. Who knows if they’ll really be prepared for high school or college, but they are held, and that counts for a lot.

I can’t help but close with this oft-quoted passage from John Dewey:

“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy ” (The School and Society, 1899).

Sarah Archibald is a wise parent who is working to destroy our democracy.   I think she’s earned the Hypocrite of the Day Award.

Thomas J. Mertz

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An Endorsement for Andy Heidt — #1 of 7 of the 48th Assembly District Candidates on Education


On July 12 the voters in the 48th Assembly District — covering the East side of Madison, Monona, McFarland and the Town of Dunn  (map here)– will choose a Representative to the State Assembly to replace now County Executive Joe Parisi.  The candidates are (alphabetical, linked to their web sites):  Fred Arnold, Dave de Felice, Andy Heidt, Katherine Kocs, Bethany Ordaz, Vicky Selkowe, and Chris Taylor.

I don’t live in the District, but like all progressives in the state, I have a stake in the race.  Whoever is elected will be in a “safe seat” which means that they have the opportunity to do more than be a consistent vote; they can push the envelope by introducing and promoting significant progressive legislation, the kind of legislation that makes overly cautious party leaders uncomfortable.  With the Republicans in charge, the rhetoric from the Democrats has been heartening, but it should not be forgotten that when they controlled the state from 2008-10 they did nothing to reform school funding except cut $300 million and raise the levy credit, did nothing on the minimum wage, failed to pass the Green Jobs bill, didn’t finish the Union contracts when they could, did much to little in progressive revenue reform…the list goes on.   In this race I think people should look beyond opposing Walker to what kind of legislator the candidates will be when the Democrats are in control.There is no shortage in the legislature of “pragmatic progressives” who can find 1,000 reasons not to do the right things; there is a dire need for courageous leaders who will be steadfast in their advocacy both behind caucus doors and in public.   Andy Heidt will be that kind of leader, that’s why he has my endorsement and why I’ve been helping with his campaign.

To back up this assertion (and as a service to AMPS readers and voters in the 48th), I’m offering a series of posts  examining what the candidates have and have not said about education issues, especially the core issue of school finance, and to a lesser extent the related issues of revenue reform (based primarily on their websites and on internet searches).  In the interest of disclosure, I’ll note that I’m acquainted with three of the candidates and believe I have met at least three others and that some things that I know about them or impressions that have not appeared in campaign statements or biographies are part of the analysis.  If anyone, including the campaigns has anything to add or dispute, please use the comments to bring it to my attention.  This time the order is  from who I consider the strongest to who I consider the weakest (Andy Heidt, Vicky Selkowe, , Bethany Ordaz, Fred Arnold Chris Taylor, Katherine Kocs and Dave de Felice — this may change as I do more research).

Andy Heidt

By my criteria, Andy Heidt is far and a way the best candidate.  Throughout his campaign — beginning with his announcement (covered here by John Nichols) — he  has done more than decry the actions of the GOP, he’s offered positive policy alternatives and pointed to the failure of other Democrats to enact these and other positive proposals.  As Nichols put it:

Heidt’s argument that we must do more than merely prevent Walker from implementing his agenda. We must recognize that the crisis Walker is exploiting has its roots in the failure of Republican and Democratic administrations and legislators to recognize that Wisconsin cannot maintain services and public education if our politicians keep giving away tax breaks to multinational corporations and the wealthy.

Nowhere has this been clearer (or in my head more important) than in his statements on education funding.  Heidt has issued one press release  a “Keeping the Promise” plan (and here, scroll down) for school finance reform ((I helped draft the plan) and a short video.

In the press release, Heidt recognizes the importance of education and shows a “can do” spirit:

There are no more important investments than those we make in our children. They are the future and each generation has an obligation to provide the next with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. With a fair revenue system, there is no reason we cannot return to the Wisconsin tradition of supporting quality public education.

He also notes past cuts to education under the Democrats  and the inadequacy of their recent counter-proposal to the Republican decimation of our schools.  No other candidate has been explicit on this.

More importantly, no other candidate has offered anything like the detailed “Keeping the Promise” plan, nor the pledges to action contained in that plan.

“Keeping the Promise” has two parts.  First it calls for “immediate action” to address the crises created by 18 years under a broken system, significant cuts in state funding in the 2009-11 budget and the recent Republican measures.  These include enacting the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools Penny for Kids proposal, expanding sales taxes, shifting the levy credits to the equalization formula,  rolling back vouchers, fully funding SAGE, allowing for growth of the revenue limits based on CPI or the state GDP, taking the profit motive out of virtual schooling and reinstating educator union rights.   The second part build on this by initiating comprehensive reform based on “based on the shared principles of the WAES Adequacy Plan the School Finance Network Plan and the 2007-2008 Assembly Joint Resolution 35.” These are (from AJR 35):

  • 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.”
  • 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.”
  • 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.”
  • 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.

Heidt vows  to “work tirelessly” to see that this reform is achieved prior to the next biennial budget cycle.

The sad history of AJR 35 (see here for AMPS posts covering that history)demonstrates the need for someone like Heidt in the Assembly.   When the resolution was introduced, the Democrats controlled the Senate and the Governorship, but not the Assembly.  Over 60 legislators signed on and the promise of comprehensive school funding reform was part of the 2008 campaign to “Take Back the Assembly.”  The Democrats did take back the Assembly and once they did AJR 35 and school funding reform disappeared.   Gone.  Silence.  When some of us who wanted them to keep their promises spoke up, we were told to be quiet because speaking or acting on this difficult issue might jeopardize their electoral prospects in November 2010.   I for one didn’t keep quiet, but I’m not taking the blame for the electoral failures of 2010.  Instead I’ll offer an alternative analysis — it isn’t  the people like me who called for action who are to blame, it is the legislators who didn’t act and didn’t want to be reminded of their failure to act (I said much the same well before the November 2010 elections).  Many of those silent, silencing  and inactive legislators are now supporting other candidates who share their priorities and outlook in the race for the 48th.  I’m supporting Andy Heidt.

[Note — I originally conceived this as one long post, covering all the candidates, but that didn’t work out, so I’m doing a series.  This is #1 of 7. — TJM]

Thomas J. Mertz

 

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Rep. Bernier Tries to Get Cute (and Fails).

Phony Democratic Primary Candidates are apparently only the beginning, the GOP has now moved on to insincere revenue legislation.

First term Republican Representative Kathy Bernier is circulating phony legislation proposing an income tax check-off to fund shared revenue, medical assistance, and K-12 education.

You can read the bill here.

In the plea for co-sponsors Bernier explains her “thinking”:

Over the last few months, and years, we have heard certain portions of the population advocate for raising taxes as a means to fund these programs. This gives those people that feel they have the ability to pay more in taxes to do so without mandating that burden on those who cannot afford it.

Cute, huh?  Not.

At a listening session back in April, things got ugly for Bernier.  On that occasion and probably others,  people told Bernier to increase taxes (in April there were also loud complaints about corporate tax breaks).

Voluntary check-offs are not taxes.  Taxation involves legal obligations and the power to enforce those obligations.  For all the lovers of the US Constitution and the historically minded, one of the biggest reasons that the founding generation replaced the Articles of Confederation was because that document did not include the power to tax, only to ask for voluntary donations from the states.  The distinction is important.

While on the topic of distinctions that are lost on Rep. Bernier, the LRB lists “the endangered resources program. .. a veterans trust fund, prostate cancer research, multiple sclerosis programs, a fire fighters memorial, Second Harvest food banks, and a breast cancer research program, and to provide a donation to a professional football stadium district” as items that currently receive fund via check-offs.  As worthy as these might be, they are hardly the kind of Constitutionally mandated or essential programs as shared revenue, medical assistance, and K-12 education.

Rep. Bernier and her fellow partisans should stop playing games, stop trying to be cute and get to work on real revenue reform that includes real tax increases.  Penny for Kids would be a great start.  After that, there are plenty of ideas in the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future’s updated Catalog of Tax Reform Options for Wisconsin.  Not cute either, but what the state needs.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Starving the Public Sector to Death

The basic idea behind  “starve the beast” politics was expressed by Grover Norquist “”My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”   What subtlety there is involves weakening the public sector to the point where it no longer functions as it should while building up the private sector.  Eventually, even people who like the public sector in theory find themselves frustrated with the current state of affairs and withdraw support.  The spiral goes from there, with less support the public sector gets weaker and weaker and weaker…. This is what is going on in Wisconsin.

A story in the Racine Journal Times today captured the plan in action.  The topic was the Committee on Joint Finance’s expansion  — in funding, geography and income eligibility —  of the private school voucher program.   The larger context was that same committee’s cuts to public education totaling between $800 million to $1.3 billion (depending on how you count it).  With at least one Racine parent, the plan is working.

Fabiola Diaz was glad to hear vouchers are moving forward. Diaz, 36, of Racine, has four children: One in a private high school, two in a Unified middle school and one too young for school.

She said she can barely afford to send her oldest child to the private school and would not be able to send her two middle schoolers to private high school without vouchers.

“I would really like all of them to have that opportunity,” said Diaz, an educator. “I don’t have anything against the school district, the public schools. It’s just that I feel with the budget cuts and things there’s going to be an even larger number of kids in the classrooms.

“In my experience, in a smaller school and smaller classroom my kids got more out of it and more attention from the teachers,” she said.

Such smaller class sizes should not be available only to families who can afford private school, Diaz said (emphasis added).

It sounds like she “gets it,” that she understands the opportunities all kids should have and sees that budget cuts have made it impossible for public schools to provide them.   What’s a parent to do?  Some of us fight to revitalize public education, to do our best to make sure that our kids and everybody’s kids have the opportunities to learn that they deserve.  Others have given up, they’ll take their voucher and hope for the best.  That’s the plan.

Thomas J. Mertz

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On the Agenda — MMSD Board of Education, the Week of May 23, 2011 (updated, finished)

As has been the tradition this "On the Agenda Post" is illustrated with a graph highlighting inequalities in MMSD. This one is from the 2011 "State of the District Report" (click the image for the full report, this graph is on page 40 of the pdf). To be honest, I have no idea what it means. "Advanced Courses" are not defined anywhere, nor is the meaning of "rate." The graphs are accompanied by a factiod stating "The percentage of students taking advanced course in grades 9-12 increased in 2009-10 compared to the prior year from 13.7% to 15.2%." This and other graph show decreases -- see the ESL/Not ESL for the best example -- and the above graph also shows "rates "of about 50% (low income) and about 80% (not low income). The "rate" in the factiod may be the percentage of total courses taken that are "advanced" (whatever that means) and the graphs may be the percentage of students in each category who took at least one advanced course (or both maybe something else entirely, who knows?). As a presentation of data, this is incomprehensible and inexcusable.

I picked a bad week to start doing “On the Agenda” posts on the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education doings.  Too much going on.   Given the amount to cover, I’m going to try to keep the comments and context minimal.  I should also note that I haven’t yet decided how regularly I will do these again.

The details for all of  the meetings are here.  Here is the rundown.

  • 4K Advisory Committee, Monday, Monday, May 23, 9:00 AM, 5 Odana Court.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the documents are linked.
  • Special Board of Education Meeting in Closed Session, Monday, May 23 5:00 PM, Doyle Building, RM 103.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the documents are linked,  employee non-renewal and student discipline are listed.
  • Regular Board of Education Meeting (Open Session), Monday, May 23 6:00 PM, Doyle Building, Auditorium.  Agenda linked and discussed below.
  • Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) Advisory Committee Meeting, Tuesday, May 24, 6:30 PM, MSCR Administration Building.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the documents are linked.  Some interesting things I’d like to see, especially the “2011-12 MSCR Budget Update” and “Draft 2010 MSCR Annual Report.”
  • 2nd Annual Review of MMSD Strategic Plan, Wednesday, May 25, 5:00 PM, United Way of Dane County 2059 Atwood Avenue.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the document linked here.  There is a lot here.  Way too much to absorb in any one session.  What isn’t here is much in the way of an overall summary or summaries of each area or “Action Plan.”  You have to go line-by-line to get a feeling of what is and is not going on with each action plan (I’ve made it about 1/3 of the way through).  Since the “Action Teams” are  — I believe   — exclusively made up of staff, it means that no member of the public has been in the loop.  Under these circumstances, a once year 86  page report-out followed by a feedback session isn’t going to produce much in the way of meaningful engagement.    The Board realized some of this and established “Core Measures”  (page 69).  Of the 15 of 16 with goals, 8 have not been met; the 16th is the “Advanced Course Participation” graphed and critiqued at the top, there is no goal established for that.  I should note that some of these benchmarks ramp up to ridiculous NCLB inspired 100% proficiency goals in the coming years.    Failure is assured, eventually.
  • Project Orange Thumb Garden Makeover Ribbon Cutting, Thursday May 26, 3:00 PM, Black Hawk Middle School 1402 Wyoming Way.  A very positive school (Blackhawk),  community (Community Action Coalition), business (Fiskars) partnership.

The rest of this is going to be about the Regular Board of Education Meeting (Open Session), the highlights ad lowlights, in order (unless a document is linked here, all the info available can be found at the link immediately above).

Election of Officers.  Maya Cole and Beth Moss deserve thanks for their service as President and Vice President this past year.  Whatever you think of their leadership, the jobs are difficult and time consuming, especially in a year like the one we’ve had.

PUBLIC APPEARANCES.  Word on the street is that there will be a substantial turnout of teachers seeking the restoration autonomy in the use of Monday Early Release planning time that was recently lost in the under-the-gun contract negotiations.  You can read more here and here.  It seems to me that there is a combination of real concerns and symbolic politics in play on both sides.  I don’t see the district rolling this back when they hold all the cards (thanks to Walker).  I’d suggest a compromise that changes the mandatory activities from once a month to twice.

BOARD PRESIDENT’S ANNOUNCEMENTS AND REPORTS.  Recognitions for accomplishments by students and staff and other feel good items like the project Orange Thumb garden.

SUPERINTENDENT’S ANNOUNCEMENTS AND REPORTS. Much meatier.  Five is items, none starred for action at this meeting, but some may go forward without Board action.

Talented and Gifted Update and Recommendations (the Preliminary DPI Audit Findings and Administrative Recommendation to not contest are here).

Too much here for this post.  I plan to get back to this in the coming weeks or months.

The price tag is an increase in the TAG budget from $1,123,249 to $1,725,880.  This does not appear to include the $60,000 increase for Youth Options and the $70,000 for CogAT tests in the Superintendent’s  (earlier) Recommendations.  I’m not sure why not.

Both identification and follow through are problematic, both in practice and theory.  One frightening revelation from the Preliminary Audit is that MMSD was “unable to provide a list of identified students.’  Think about that.

Anecdotally (and with TAG in MMSD, the lack of data is a big problem), I’ve talked to a handful of parents this year whose children scored in the highest identified grouping on one test or another without the referral process for identification being triggered.  The DPI confirms that this has been hit-or-miss.

I remain skeptical on that there will ever be a  rigorous and equitable identification process that covers “general intellectual, specific academic, leadership, creativity, and visual and performing arts.”  I’d love to see the filings in a complaint based on the “leadership, creativity, and visual and performing arts” areas.  I’m not saying give up — at least not here (for a provocative exploration of that idea, see James H. Boreland “Gifted Education Without Gifted Children The Case for No Conception of Giftedness“) — there is clearly room for improvement.   I am saying there are some basic definitional and conceptual issues that are not going to go away.  I’ve touched on these here; for more see Carol Fertig. “Conflicts in the Definition and Identification of Giftedness.”

Then there are all the questions about what follows identification…

One last observation is that the initial complaint centered on course offerings at West, that issue is only a small part of the DPI findings, has at least tentatively been settled via the changes enacted this year and is only addressed in a very indirect way in the Compliance Plan.

Superintendent’s Goals for 2011-12

I have to say that I was impressed (and somewhat surprised) by the degree to which the past goals had been achieved.  Much more impressed here than with the Strategic Plan report.  Maybe this is a function of the drafting and interpretation of the goals, but hats off to Supt. Nerad.   I think that more specificity is needed going forward on some.

Reorganization of Public Information Department

Three quick thoughts.  First, Joe Quick and the role of Legislative Liaison will be missed.  I think this position was under-utilized recently, but valuable none-the-less.  Second, Marcia Standford is an excellent choice for the Community Engagement work.  Last, I like the realism reflected in the document in acknowledging that if you cut almost $200,000 from the budget and add new responsibilities, you can’t do everything you were doing before.  “More with less,” works better in theory than in practice.

Badger Rock Contract Changes

Some small things clarifying BRMS terms fro withdrawing from the contract.

Additional 4K Sites

I had to read this one twice to believe it.  It appears that in 2011-2012 MMSD will not be offering 4K at the MMSD Allied Drive Learning Center primarily because “Parents have raised concerns about their children being placed at the MMSD Allied Drive Learning Center for 4 programing, therefore some students (20) have been considered for transfers to other sites.”

Other reasons are given, but since Allied is still on the list for 2012-2013, they seem like window dressing to me.

MMSD could, say that the Allied kids — who have great needs and few options — should be given more consideration, they could say no to the transfer requests.

Instead they appear to be pandering to prejudice.  What lesson is being taught here? How does that fit with the Mission Statement line about “embracing the full richness and diversity of our community.”

I haven’t followed this as closely as I should have.  I know that the issue of location and access in relation to poverty was raised earlier (see this story by Matt DeFour), and that some reconsideration was promised.  I’m not sure what happened next, but you can compare maps on the District 4K site (keeping in mind the latest developments).

I think that this is worth calling attention to and protesting.

Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring

K-12 Alignment

Standards and Test, the good and the bad.  Mostly — but not all — the bad in my opinion (see these old posts for some of it and stay tuned for more).

Literacy Plan (Literacy Program Evaluation and Budget RequestsLITERACY RECOMMENDATIONSLITERACY PROGRAM EVALUATION ANNUAL TASKS AND ACTIVITIES).

It looks like the cost is $611,000, most (all?) of which is covered in the earlier Superintendent Recommendations.   One other note is that i don’t think meeting and records for the this group were posted regularly.  When the Board approves the creation of a body that includes more than staff, this should be done as a matter of course.

Instructional Materials Purchase Plan

$415,000 more in purchases tied to the Literacy Plan.  I don’t think this money is part of the costs above or the Superintendent’s Recommendations.

Operational Support

Prepayment of District Debt
I discussed this here (the Fund Balance, surplus material).  My position is that some for escrow is good, but let’s spend to improve our district now.

March Financial Statements

All things considered, lo0ks good.

Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men Future Direction regarding Funding Levels

Seeking some clarity on how MMSD’s contribution to the Madison Prep budget will be calculated and handled if this comes to fruition.  Everyone needs to know how this would impact existing schools and programs and that isn’t clear, at all.

Proposed MMSD Energy Policy and Administrative Guidelines

Just what it says.

Plan for Use of Title I and Flow-Through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Funds (IDEA-ARRA Funding Memo, Title I ARRA Budget Revisions memo, IDEA ARRA Funding Plan spreadsheets)

There have been a lot of changes in plans along the way, with money allocated, not spent and reallocated.  Last year when a similar set of documents should about $7 million allocated, but not spent I made an informal bet with Erik Kass that they wouldn’t get it all spent by the deadlines.  I think Erik is going to win.

Proposed Revisions to Board Policy 8005-Employment

It looks like some new language around consistency in interviews and follow-up questions.

CONSENT AGENDA

All the items with linked documentation are on the main agenda.  Nothing jumped out at me.

Legislative Liaison Report
*1 Senate Bill #95—Mandate Relief
*2 State Budget Bill/Revised Revenue Projections/Save Our Schools Proposal
*3 Reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act
*4 School Voucher Proposals
*5 Children At Risk

I’ve written about SB 95 twice before (here and here).  I’m not all that impressed with the “Save Our Schools” proposals which accede to at least $300  million in state aid cuts, do nothing about local control and generally accept the “we can’t afford to adequately fund education” paradigm.

The use of some of the increased revenue projections for schools is good, as is the shift of the Levy Credits from misdirected property tax relief to education.  More on this later in the week.

The ESEA thing is interesting.  It is from the national school administrator’s group and asks for full local flexibility in moving money among Title programs.  I don’t like it.  the regulations may be unduly cumbersome, but I don’t trust many local officials to not divert money for kids i poverty to other uses.

I don’t see anything on the Children at Risk Program or the Voucher legislation here.  Vouchers, yech.

Thomas J. Mertz

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