Category Archives: Local News

Urge MMSD to Collectively Bargain, Now! (Update — Victory #1)

Booker T. & the MGs – “Time is Tight” (click to listen or download)

Update:  The MMSD Board of Education will begin bargaining with the staff unions.  Victory #1, step #1.  The clock is ticking.

The Dane County Board approved new union contracts last week  (YEAH and thanks to the  Sups!);  other local government units can do the same, including MMSD.

The Board of Education will be considering ” Negotiations strategy concerning successor Collective Bargaining Agreements for MMSD Bargaining Units, pursuant to Wis. Stat. §§19.82(1) and 19.85(1)(e)” at a closed meeting 5:00 Monday.

If you support Collective Bargaining and want our school staff to continue to enjoy those rights and protections, YOU NEED to contact the Board before Monday.  The easiest way is to email board@madison.k12.wi.us.

Here is my letter:

Members of the Board of Education

I urge you to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the recent decision in MTI v. Walker to reengage in collective bargaining with the unions representing district staff as soon as possible, and to seek speedy conclusions to these negotiations prior to any ruling on the request for a stay.

I realize that negotiating and approving contracts with a short and uncertain timeline is far from ideal.  However, I believe that for all involved  — students, staff, administrators, the Board and the community — this would be preferable to the lengthy and difficult handbook process.

New contracts would give the district stability and avoid prolonging the inevitable conflicts involved in setting terms of employment (whether by contract or handbooks).  This past year and half has been a difficult one for the district, our community and public education in our state.  The year ahead holds many challenges, with a Superintendent search; continued work on achievement and achievement gaps; new mandates on standards, assessments, response to intervention and more; and familiar financial pressures.  With contracts settled, the administration, staff, Board and community will be better positioned to give due attention to these important matters and are more likely to reach the understandings that will help move things forward for the students.

Please make the effort to settle contracts now and lay the groundwork for success in the future.

Thank you

TJM

Thomas J. Mertz

MTI and AFSCME are also asking people to show up at the open 6:00 meeting, wearing Red for Public Ed (or AFSCME Green).

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Contracts, education, Local News, Scott Walker, Uncategorized

The table is (almost) set: MMSD handbook process (and a few other things)

Thomas Nast, “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner,” Harper’s Weekly,
November 20, 1869.

Wilbert Harrison, “Lets-Work-Together, Part1” (click to listen or download).

It has been a busy week, so this is a late and short update on the Madison Metropolitan School District Employee Handbook process.  The news is good.

One of the things keeping me busy has been joining others in support of the fundamental rights to free speech and assembly against the unprecedented attacks directed  by new Capitol Police Chief Davidl Erwin.  You can read all about that via the excellent coverage by the Wisconsin Citizen’s Media Cooperative; ; you can show your support by joining the Solidarity Sing Along, every day at Noon at the Capitol.  Please do.

Last I wrote about the Handbook process, the MMSD default position was that the drafting would be done by a work group composed exclusively of administrators, with input from other staff being limited.  At a special Wednesday meeting, Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore provided more information on this vision of the process, and Board Member Arlene Silveira offered a  much more inclusive alternative, with seats at the adult table for diverse staff  (click the links to see the documents, I do not believe these have been posted on the MMSD web site).  Silveira’s proposal clearly had the support of a majority of the Board (you can watch here).  There are details to be worked out and in their only formal action that evening the Board directed Silveira and Board Member Ed Hughes to meet with Belmore to work out those details and bring them back to the Board.  This could happen as soon as Monday, 9/17.  Good news.  As Board Member Maya Cole pointed out, this is a definitional moment, what we do makes  a statement about who we are in the context of Act 10 and other threats to public education and democracy by the Fitzwalker gang.    So far, I’m proud of who we are being.

Two related events this weekend (this is all related, including the things going on at the Capitol).   Today (Friday 9/14/2012) there will be a “Solidarity Rally for the Chicago Teachers Union Strike” at the Capitol at 5:00 PM.  Fighting Bob Fest is in town and on Saturday at 11:30 I’m moderating a discussion/networking session called “Shape the Future of Education in Wisconsin.”  As the name indicates, this is about exchanging ideas and organizing.  Lots of great people have confirmed as participants.  I hope you can join us.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Seats at the Table

David Hockney, Walking Past Two Chairs 1984-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz

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

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

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

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

From the introduction:

On the schools, the labor movement and combating inequality:

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

On Vocational Education (more here):

On Lifelong learning:On teachers in the labor movement:

Closing thoughts:

Powerful and important ideas.

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

Previous AMPS Labor Day posts:

Labor Day Mega Music Post.

Happy Labor Day!

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz

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Class Size: “Getting Mighty Crowded”

Video from the 2006 MMSD school referendum campaign.

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what I think is the most recent public info on class size in MMSD (from this post):
…The first was  an October 3, 2011 discussion of class size, cut short in order to waste more time on Madison Prep, that featured a confusing and incomplete presentation of data.  Despite promises made, in the intervening 10 months  the better data has not come before the Board, nor has the Board returned to the topic.  For what they are worth and those interested, the Middle School info is here (not too bad, but no trend info) and the Elementary info is here  (really useless).  There is nothing worth mentioning on High Schools.  For the hardcore, there was also what looks to be an outdated practices document given to the La Follette Area study committee, note that it says that the non-Sage grades 3-5 limit is 27 (it also still has SAGE classes at 15/1, over a year after MMSD went to 18/1).

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

TJM

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

For more on class size, see ClassSizeMatters.org.

Thomas J.  Mertz

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Vocational Education and the Voices of Workers: Blast from the Past #2

Rocky Mountain News, 15 October, 1896.

The Clash – “Career Opportunities” (click to listen or download).

This is the second in a new series on AMPS: Blasts from the Past.  The series is devoted to historical materials that comment on or illuminate contemporary issues in education.  Today’s is about education, work and vocational education.  There is so much going on in this area, especially here in Wisconsin, that I am sure there will be future posts, Blasts from the Past, and others.   Today I just want to look at the how the voices of workers (and to a lesser extent teachers and students) were present and are now absent in discussion and governance of Vocational Education.  Rebecca Kemble at the Progressive has been doing an amazing job covering this in Wisconsin; see these articles to catch up:

“Wis. Committee Says High Schools Need to Serve Business.”

“The Corporate Rot Eats Away at Wisconsin.”

“Walker’s Workforce Czar Wants to Make It More Expensive to Get a Second Degree.”

Cronyism and Corruption Define Walker’s Reign.”

In 1911, Wisconsin passed a pioneering Vocational Education law.  It was far from perfect, but in two places the law made sure that in making public provision for explicitly preparing students for employment our state was not simply turning education over to businesses and employers.  This was done by guaranteeing that labor had an equal voice in the programs that were created.  On the state Board:

and on local Boards:

This has not been the case with the recent planning for expanding vocationalism in Wisconsin public education.

There are three state groups working to expand vocationalisn:  The Special Committee on Improving Educational Opportunities in High School, The Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment, and The [Governor’s] College and Workforce Readiness Council.  The first has 19 members including 4 representatives of business and none from labor.  The second has 44 members, at least 23 from business (including the Widow Hendricks of “divide and conquer” fame, and two from labor unions (both from unions that have been relatively supportive of  Scott Walker’s agenda).  I can’t find a member list for the last (how’s that for open governance?).  The proclamation creating the Council called for 15 members  with one representing employees and two from employers.  The news release announcing Scott Walker’s appointments lists three business people and no workers.

The never-been-elected-to-anything, Walker appointee, Special Consultant to the Governor on Economic, Workforce and Education Development,  dissembling Tim Sullivan heads the last two and you can see the details of the plans for education (and more) in Wisconsin in the recent report issued by him.

The Career Academies in the initial Madison Metropolitan School District Achievement Gaps Plan (now on hold),  seem to have been planned with no role or contemplated future role for labor, but much input from employers and business organizations.  This despite the record of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce run Youth Apprenticeship Program’s record of doing fine spending MMSD money, but not so well serving our students.

Preparation for employment is certainly one function of public education, but in 1911 and in 2012, it is far from the only function.  As Wisconsin recognized over 100 years ago, allowing business to dominate this or any part of public education increased the risk that vocationalism would dominate, that the interests of employers would be put above the interests of students and workers.  By providing formal roles fro labor to balance the interests of business, in 1911 Wisconsin attempted to make sure that vocational education empowered students and future employees via an education that gave them broad knowledge and flexible skills, and that vocational programs did not simply become employee training done at the expense of taxpayers.  In 2012 we need to heed that lesson.

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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