Category Archives: Gimme Some Truth

(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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The news from Lake Gonetowoe

On the agenda at tonight’s (08/13/2012) Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring Committee meeting (5:00 PM, rm 103, Doyle Building) is a presentation on the first year Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) scores in MMSD.  Explicitly and implicitly this presentation makes assumptions about test scores, cut scores, standards and achievement that are both wrong and dangerous, creating what I am calling the Lake Gonetowoe Effect, the inverse of the Lake Wobegone Effect, which posits “all the children are above average.”  In Madison we’ve decided that only half the students in the nation are “proficient,” while retaining the idea that all of our students should be “above average.”  The worst of both worlds.

 Matt DeFour’s State Journal story on the MAP scores emphasized that these test scores offer another way to document achievement and gaps in the district.  That’s not what this is about, but a few words before moving on.  Whether they are a better or more accurate measure than the ones used previously is an open question.   MAP is designed as a diagnostic, to be used to help teachers better identify their students’ weaknesses.  From my conversations with teachers, it appears that little or no professional development was done prior to implementation in MMSD.  Unlike Kansas City, for example, where “teachers in the district” were reported “drilling students for the test… practicing like a team would before a big game,” in Madison the tests stood largely outside of instructional practices.  This makes a difference, especially since changes in scores from Fall to Spring are a big part of the report.  If other districts are using the Fall results to “teach to the test” in preparation for the Spring tests and we aren’t, then it it would be expected that MMSD students would show less change.  Some more (and different critiques of MAP here).

I also need to insert the usual caveats about all standardized tests being of limited utility in understanding students, their teachers, their schools and their districts.

Both the grade level benchmark scores and the growth measures in the MMSD MAP presentation are based on the national sample of MAP test takers and are “normed” to match the demographics and school characteristics of the United States school population as a whole.  The demographics and school characteristics used to norm are  different from those found in Madison and different in ways that are associated with lower achievement, yet there seems to be a sense that our students should out-perform the national norms.  There are no published national MAP mean scores broken out by subgroup, but this from a MAP pilot in Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools has some interesting data to look at by way of comparison (not direct with the MMSD presentation, different measures were used).  That’s certainly something you want to work for, but it also leads to unrealistic expectations.  At the national level a majority of students, much less ‘all students” can not, by definition, be “above average.”  To expect a majority of students in MMSD to be above average doesn’t help in any way.  High expectations are one thing when used in a classroom to motivate and inspire students,; they are something else all together when analyzing data and making policy.

This conflation of high expectations in the classroom with higher cut scores on standardized assessments has led to the Lake Gonetowoe Effect on display in the MMSD MAP presentation.  The explicit move in this direction comes in the section comparing NAEP to the WKCE:

Comparing MAP to WKCE. Proficiency bands of advanced-proficient-basic-minimal for WKCE are established by DPI. To provide a comparable look at results, similar proficiency bands are calculated for MAP by MMSD staff. The national mean is used to mark the difference between Basic and Proficient. Students that are more than one standard deviation from the average are at the Advanced level. Students that are more than one standard deviation below are at the Minimal level.

I’m going to leave the parts about setting other cut scores via one standard deviation aside in order to highlight the definition of proficient as equal to or above the score attained by exactly one half of the normed national sample.  With that definition they label 1/2 of the nation’s (and more than 1/2 of MMSD’s) students as failures.  And this isn’t based on some platonic ideal of what students should know, it is an absolutely subjective and even arbitrary choice (all cut scores are subjective, but few seem this arbitrary).  The weird thing is that the people who produced MAP have done sophisticated alignments of  achievement levels to various state standards and tests, including the WKCE, so this wasn’t necessary.

I think it is a reflection and extension of something larger, and potentially destructive (I don’t think this was the intent, but rather that those who prepared the presentation have internalized all of the reformy messages around cut scores and did this without thinking). The big idea seems to be that if we set cut scores for “proficient” at a level few students will attain, then somehow more students will attain that level in the future.  Raising the bar via high cut scores does not help students learn.  I guess it is easier than looking at the systematic inequality, or asking what resources are need to help kids learn and then providing them.  It certainly distracts from those kind of things and as a bonus plays into the “our schools are failing” bash the teachers, bash the “status quo,” “burn the village in order to save it” mentality of many “reformers.”

This can also be seen in the adoption of the very problematic NAEP based cut scores by DPI in the new Wisconsin “accountability” system,” Many of the issues with the NAEP cut scores are detailed in the National Academy of Sciences publication, “Grading the Nation’s Report Card: Evaluating NAEP and Transforming the Assessment of Educational Progress,” especially chapter 5, “Setting Reasonable and Useful Performance Standards.  Read the whole thing.  Here’s the money quote from the intro:

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.

Are you listening Chris Rickert?  How about you, Superintendent Tony Evers?   Good, while I have your attention, surf on over to Jay Bullock’s Using NAEP cut scores devastates, disserves our students to get the view from the classroom on the Lake Gonetowoe Effect.

I understand the problems with cut scores that are set so low that they little of use in identifying varying degrees of achievement and create unearned good feelings.  Many states did this in order to avoid the forced and unproductive reforms associated with NCLB sanctions.  The pendulum appears to be swinging in the other direction and we seem to be entering the era of where cut scores
are designed to inspire reformy Jeremiads (if not actual learning).   I hope our stay at Lake Gonetowoe is short, because it isn’t going to be pleasant or productive.

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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Garbage In, Garbage Out: MMSD Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategic Plan:

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

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

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

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

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

Talented and Gifted

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

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

Equity

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

Reporting

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

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

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

From the final 2010 version

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

This what was reported in 2011

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

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

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

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

Assumptions

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

Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz

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Correction and Apology — The Search is On (Updated)

The Coasters, “Searchin'” (click to listen or download).

Correction and Apology:

I mistakenly read and presented Gary Solomon’s association with The SUPES Academy as being with the Broad Foundation Superintendent Academy and subsequently based much of the post below on that association.  This was sloppy and wrong and I apologize to my readers for my mistake.

That said, it was clear from his career and presentation last night that Solomon’s beliefs and work are aligned with the Broad agenda.

Update: The Board voted unanimously to hire Ray & Associates.  Good move.

At open and closed meetings this evening (7/16/2012. starting at 5:00 PM, no public testimony, so write them at board@madison.k12.wi.us if you have thoughts), the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will take the next step in finding a new, permanent Superintendent by considering and maybe  hiring a search firm.  The two firms under consideration are ProAct (Madison materials here) and Ray & Associates (Madison materials here).  I did some digging on both and unfortunately found that both had ties to the Broad Foundation’s Superintendent Academy, a major cog in the school deform machine.  I also concluded that the ProAct principals are much more involved in these efforts and that for these and other reasons, I think Ray & Associates are the better choice for Madison.

Before offering some background on the Broad Academy, the firms and their connections, I want to say that whichever firm is chosen, I think that the most important thing to have included in the contract is a requirement that the report to the Board on candidates include a section that explicitly explores reasons why that candidate might not be right for MMSD.  Both ProAct and Ray & Associates have run in trouble with searches where they seemed to have put more effort into selling their candidates than in vetting them.  An example for ProAct is not catching and informing the Board about false work history items for a candidate in Racine;   Ray had similar, though larger problems with a search in Kentucky, where one post on the matter was headlined “Confidential Candidate File for Barbara Erwin accentuates the positive, eliminates the negative” (more on this situation here).  The district is the client and for the fees paid we need to demand that both the positive and negative are put before the Board for consideration.

Eli Broad is a “disaster capitalist” who through his “philanthropy” has been big part of creating the sense of crisis in public education and then exploiting that crisis to reshape schools in the model of business, including expansion of charters and privatization of services and schools.  The motto he espouses is “never let a crisis go to waste,” the truth he doesn’t want exposed is the role of his ilk in creating the sense of crisis and offering self-serving “solutions that distract from and reinforce the structural inequalities that have provided them with the means to assert undue influence on public policy and institutions (that’s another story, see Valarie Strauss here for part of it).

The best source on Broad is the Broad Report site.  Here are some other links that provide good background:

Parents Across America’s Guide to the Broad Foundation.

From the Christian Science Monitor, “Is the Broad Superintendents Academy trying to corporatize schools?

John Thompson, “Always Listen to the Billionaire.”

Ann Doss Helms posts on the Broad Foundation.

Diane Ravitch posts on the Broad Foundation.

Seattle Education posts on the Broad Foundation.

I could go on and on with links, but these should give you the idea, make it clear that the chief means employed is the proliferation of superintendents trained at the academy, and I hope lead you to the conclusion that Madison should stay as far away from the Broadies as possible.

In this case, that means hiring Ray & Associates.  Although Gary Ray’s CV includes a stint as faculty at the Broad Academy, Gary Solomon of ProAct sits on the Board of Advisers.   In this deform dominated climate, Ray offers about as large a degree of separation as we can hope for.

You might not think degree of separation from the Broad Academy is as big a deal as I do.  You’d be wrong, but I’ll play along and offer another reason to go with Ray:  Ray and Associates do searches, period; while through his various companies and even a “foundation,”  Gary Solomon seems to be chasing every public education dollar out there by consulting, evaluating, trying to open his own charter schools.  No wonder Broad wants his insights.

Some examples.   Solomon and his team do most of their  work through Synesi Associates, offering Reviews, School Turnaround Kits, Coaching and “Targeted, Intensive Support.”  There is something incestuous about the same people who do the hiring then selling services to those who are hired, but that’s the Broadie way.  Among the clients they boast about are schools and the systems in Detroit, Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia and St. Louis.  At least you can’t accuse them of scrubbing their resume’.  More seriously, in the twisted world of school reform, these are considered success stories.    I also looked at what is labeled “Research” on their site and with the exception of a link to a paper from the Chicago Consortium on School Research, there is next to nothing of value (they also link to the Association of Effective Schools, but what they link to is isn’t very useful doesn’t tell you much about the strengths and weaknesses of Ronald Edmonds’ work).   There is also a Synesi Foundation, which applied to run Charter Schools in LA.

At one point Solomon also had another consulting company, Solomon Consulting Services Inc..  I’m not sure if they are still active.  They seem to have disappeared after being caught trying to sell “The Vallas Model” of school reform without permission or direct involvement by Paul Vallas.  As I said before about Vallas, “there is very little in his version of school reform that our community, or any community will benefit from.”

Finding a new superintendent is about doing a full vetting and matching the person to the community.  The same should be true with the search firm picked to do the search.  With Gary Solomon, I think what I said about Vallas applies, “there is very little in his version of school reform that our community, or any community will benefit from.”

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

Photograph by AP/Worldwide Photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further reading and viewing:

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

PBS coverage of Vallas (extensive on New Orleans).

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

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

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

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

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

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

and since these were mentioned in the Matt DeFour story

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

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz

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Myths of Madison Prep, Part 2

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

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

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

Three things to get out of the way first.

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

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

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

On to the myths, in no real order.

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

The quoted portion  is from Kaleem Caire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some quotes from the Hanover report:

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

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

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

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

And from the conclusions of the case studies:

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

Back to the Hanover Report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz

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Myths of Madison Prep, Part 1

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

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

Three things to get out of the way first.

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

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

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

On to the myths, in no real order.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Is/Isn’t (All) About the Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ULGM makes a couple of main counter legal arguments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On sex segregation:

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

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

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

And this on “College Preparatory Educational Program”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas J.  Mertz

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

ALEC and Bill Gates, the Mask Comes Off

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

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

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

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

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

Not all “reformers” actually want reform.

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

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

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

For more see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz

 

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Filed under Accountability, Arne Duncan, Best Practices, education, Gimme Some Truth, National News, Scott Walker