Category Archives: Pennies for Kids

What to Keep an Eye on in Tony Evers’ Budget (updated)

Eyeball sculpture by artist Tony Tasset from the Eye Si(gh)t blog.

Mavis Staples, “Eyes On The Prize” (click to listen or download).

Update: Still haven’t seen the details, but according to the Press Release, the answer to question number three is a partial yes, with calls for “full funding” of SAGE (it isn’t really “full funding,” see here on the complexities of SAGE funding), increased sparsity aid, increased Bilingual/BiCultural aid in the second year, increased special education aid in the second year, new grant programs around STEM and vocational education, “educator effectiveness, ” and more).  No poverty aid.  For overall state funding  the combined  “categorical and general school aid”  Evers calls for would be  “a 2.4 percent increase in the first year of the budget, the same as the Consumer Price Index, and 5.5 percent in 2014-15.”  I don’t see anything on Revenue Limits.  More later.

Update #2: From a second Press Release, on Revenue Limits: “The plan restores revenue limit authority to all districts. It calls for an increase in the per pupil revenue limit to $225 per student in the first year of the budget and $230 per student in 2014-15.” More details on Fair Funding and other matters in this Press Release also.  A district by district tally may be found here.

Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers will reveal the remainder of his 2013-15 budget proposal on Monday (the first portion was released in September, but it lacks full school finance information;  WisconsinEye will be covering the event).  Evers has also announced he is seeking re-election next April (campaign website here; see here for thoughts on elections and holding Evers and others accountable for their actions and inaction).

We know that Evers budget will be based on the Fair Funding For Our Future framework.  We know that in outsourcing how our state defines what it means to be educated to  American College Testing (the ACT) it will call for an increase in spending of time and money on standardized testing and the processing of standardized test based data (for a horror story outsourcing testing related things in Florida, see “The outsourcing of almost everything in state departments of education,” from Sherman Dorn.  We know that it will in most ways be better than what Governor Scott Walker proposes, especially if the rumors that the Walker proposal will include Tim Sullivan’s “Performance Based Funding” are true ( by design this would direct resources away from those students and schools that are struggling and toward those that are thriving, an incredibly bad idea and the essence of the Republican philosophy).  But there are some essential things we don’t know.  Here are three things I’ll be keeping an eye on.

1. How much of an increase in State Aid will Evers call for?

Wisconsin school have endured huge cuts in state aid in both the last budgets.  Depending on how you count the combined dollar total is close to $2 Billion.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,  the per pupil cuts in Wisconsin have been the fourth largest in the nation.  Here is their chart:

The vast majority of districts have experienced cuts in state aid (the most recent figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, here).  How much of this lost ground will Evers try to make up?

2. What increases in Revenue Limits will Evers call for?

The FitzWalker gang essentially froze cut Revenue limits for 2011-12 and provided a $50/student increase for most districts for 2012-13.  Revenue Limits matter.  Higher Revenue Limits give local district the power to make up for lost state aid and more.  To what extent will the DPI budget restore this local control?  As the bar in expected achievement keeps getting raised, through a combination of state and local resources, we need to give the schools the resources they need to meet their challenges.

3. Will the DPI budget direct resources to those students and schools with higher needs?

In particular, will it call for increases in aid for English Language Learners,  for Special Education, for SAGE reimbursements, for Sparsity (see this column for Kathleen Vinehout on school budgets in general and sparsity in particular)?  Will it direct real aid to those schools identified as needing improvement by the new “Accountability” system (see here for a discussion of that system, including this issue).

One thing the new State Report Cards confirmed is that poverty is a great predictor of which students and schools are struggling.  Will the Evers budget address this in a real way by providing additional resources instead of the property tax cuts to based on student poverty that have been in every other iteration of the Fair Funding plan?  Property tax cuts don’t help students; students need help.  For more on school funding “fairness,” see this report from the Eduction Law Center (Wisconsin doesn’t rank very well).

Last Thoughts.

Those are the big three.  I’ll also be looking at the size of the guaranteed state funding per pupil (which in essence replaces the levy credits in Fair Funding), what kind of “hold harmless” provisions Evers includes, and like all of us I’ll be looking at the impact of the package on my school district (along with a variety of other districts I’ve been informally tracking for years).

This is step one; the next steps involve key players like WEAC and WMC, advocates in general, the Governor and the Legislature.  Much of what will happen with these is predictable.  I can say with great confidence that I will consider whatever Tony Evers proposes to be better than what comes out of the Republican controlled budget process.

One thing I don’t know is how advocates and Democratic Legislators will react.   If past actions and the recent press release from Senator Chris Larson  are indications, they will follow Tony Evers lead and take up Fair Funding as their own.  Depending on the answers to the questions offered here, I hope that people who care about our students, inside and outside the Legislature, keep an open mind to advocating for something better than Fair Funding, something that does make up the ground lost over four years of cuts, something that does give real local control, and most of all something that does a better job directing resources to the schools and students who most need the opportunities of quality public education.  Penny for Kids would be a start, perhaps in conjunction with Fair Funding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz

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Been down so long it looks like up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first is total state equalization aid to Bonduel.

The second is per member aid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz

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

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

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

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

Andy Heidt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Funding levels based on the actual cost of what is needed to provide children with a sound education and to operate effective schools and classrooms rather than based on arbitrary per pupil spending levels.”
  • State resources sufficient to satisfy state and federal mandates and to prepare all children, regardless of their circumstances, for citizenship and for post−secondary education, employment, or service to their country.”
  • Additional resources and flexibility sufficient to meet special circumstances, including student circumstances such as non−English speaking students and students from low−income households, and district circumstances such as large geographic size, low population density, low family income, and significant changes in enrollment.”
  • A combination of state funds and a reduced level of local property taxes derived and distributed in a manner that treats all taxpayers equitably regardless of local property wealth and income.

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

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz



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

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

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

You can read the bill here.

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

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

Cute, huh?  Not.

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

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

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz

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Save the Dates

Wednesday April 20, 10:30 AM, “A Better Way”  School Funding Alternatives Press Conference

Parents, Religious and Education Leaders Call for Balanced Approach in Budgeting for Public Education.
MADISON, Wis. – A broad coalition of parents, student advocates, religious leaders and educators has come together to call on the Wisconsin Legislature to take a more balanced approach to the state budget process.
To make their voices heard, the group’s members will hold a press conference that will detail how the budget will impact people from a wide variety of perspectives. The event will be held in the Senate Parlor of the State Capitol Building. WHAT: Press conference featuring parents, students, teachers and advocates, who will speak about how the state budget will impact them and their local schools and students. The event will also outline options the Legislature and governor should consider before making massive cuts to education.

  • WHEN: Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 10:30 a.m.
  • WHERE: Senate Parlor, State Capitol Building, Madison
  • WHO: The event will feature a number of speakers, including:

• MC: Julie Underwood is dean of the University of Wisconsin-
Madison School of Education

• Nancy Holmlund is president of WISDOM, a network of 145
congregations representing 17 denominations across Wisconsin that
work together to promote fairness and the common good

• Beth LaBell is a parent and member of the Paris Vote YES
Committee, a group that promotes the Paris School District

• Terri Raatz is mom to three little boys, the oldest of whom, Patrick, is
seven years old and has autism

• Jasmine Alinder is the founder of I Love My Public Schools, a group
of concerned Wisconsin parents who are fighting for the rights of
children to have a quality public education

• Danielle Barbian is a senior at Hamilton High School in Sussex and
president of the Wisconsin Association of School Councils

• Kim Hoffman is a music teacher at Stone Bank Elementary School in
Waukesha County and member of the Wisconsin National Guard

WHY: The proposed state budget includes over $1.7 billion in cuts to education over the next two years, while increasing spending over $600 million for corporate tax breaks and transportation projects. The result will mean program cuts, fewer opportunities for students and increased class sizes.

“Road Map to a Better Way” from The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES).

Thursday April 21,  Noon — On the Airwaves — WORT 89.9 FM.

I’ll be on A Public Affair with Allen Ruff discussing “the state of public education, the assault upon it and what we can do.”  Listen and call in:  256-2001.

Thursday, April 28, 6:45-8:45West High Roundtables Conversation

Thursday, April 28, 6:45-8:45, in the West High Cafenasium

Calling All Parents, Students, Teachers!

Excerpt from the April 2011 PTSO Regent Reporter article:

Our school, like every other school across our state, will
likely be confronted with some major changes in the near future.  The
events of this school year at West have shown us the importance and
the power of joining together and sharing our voices, so that we can
all be heard.

Now, in the face of potentially drastic cutbacks, it is more crucial
than ever that we identify the issues, concerns and decisions that we
need to explore as a community, and then establish the lines of
communication through which we can all effectively contribute to the
decision-making process, which helps to ensure inclusive input of all
affected stakeholders.

These issues will be the focus of our West Roundtables gathering,
scheduled for Thursday, April 28th, 6:45 p.m. in the Cafenasium.

We can be best prepared to protect the interest of our school by being
informed of the concerns and needs of all, and we can only accomplish
this if we have a system in place that facilitates a free exchange of

Please save the date Thursday, April 28th, to attend this important

Sponsored by West’s PTSO & the West Cares Group

[Spanish Language version]

Thomas J. Mertz

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The Other Shoe, or Will You Be Marching in March?

There is so much good stuff out there on what has been happening in Madison and around the state this week that I really don’t have too much to add.  I will point toward the CAST Statement I helped draft, Rep Mark Pocan’s “Scott Walker’s Top Ten Lies” for a good fact check and Alder Brian Solomon’s  “Madison, WI: A Prelude for Economic Justice” for some questions and context.  I’ve been energized and filled with hope by the the rallies and protests this week, but like Brian I have concerns about the limits of the agenda being put forward.

That is why I want to try to focus attention on what comes next, the other shoe waiting to drop, Governor Walker’s Biennial Budget.  It is going to be a giant shoe and we need to be ready to catch it and throw that one back too.

Throughout this, Walker has made it clear that the so-called Budget Repair bill is only a prelude to the Biennial Budget.  The GOP talking points have been that destroying public worker unions is a way to give local governmental units (counties, municipalities and school districts)  the tools to deal with the budget cuts that radical slashes to state aid, shared revenue and unprecedented limits on local control of revenues — all anticipated in the Biennial Budget —  will bring.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the way to actually help local governmental units and the people of Wisconsin is to provide sufficient revenues.  For more, see the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future/Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Catalog of Tax Reform Options for Wisconsin and of course Penny for Kids.

Scott Walker and the GOP don’t want you to know what is in the budget bill, they especially don’t want this information out there while the people are in control of the Capitol and paying attention.  So, instead of releasing the Budget on Tuesday February 22 as scheduled, they have moved it to March 1.  Whether in the Capitol or elsewhere, we all need to be paying attention and we all need to mobilize on this too.

There have been some hints and leaks about what will be in the Budget and it ain’t good.

What do we know from all this?

  • Anticipated $900 Million in cuts to State School Aids.
  • Unstated, but large cuts to shared revenue
  • Talk of a hard cap in property tax increases equal only to growth in property wealth (se the video above),  taking away the ability of local governing units to mitigate the cuts in state aid.
  • Rumors of new refusals of federal aid, including Title I, a longstanding program targeted at the education of children in poverty.
  • Hard times ahead for Counties, Municipalities and School Districts and all those who depend on them for services.

Geez — Title I.  This is beyond insane.  For me this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Everything else  — tax cuts, aid cuts, revenue limits, union busting…– is maddening and insane, but refusing Title I is so stupid and so offensive that as Marvin Gaye said “It makes me wanna Holler, ” and scream and organize.


I know I’ll be marching in March and probably April, May and beyond (even though I should be campaigning for the District 13 seat on the Madison Common Council instead).

Who else will be organizing and marching isn’t clear at this point,  but I’d guess if you contact/join the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, The Institute for Wisconsin’s Future, Progressive Dane, The Wisconsin Wave Madison Area Urban Ministry, and the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, you’ll be in the loop and know when to lace up your marching boots.

Save the date.

Thomas J.  (TJ) Mertz


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On the Agenda, MMSD the week of October 25, 2010

Note: For awhile, I’m going to be illustrating the “On the Agenda” posts with various graphs documenting achievement gaps in MMSD as revealed by the admittedly flawed and limited WSAS/WKCE results. I think regular reminders may do some good.

A busy week for the Madison Metropolitan School District, with the biggest item being the finalization of the 2010-11 budget and tax levy.  This is somewhat anti-climactic,  with most of the action coming in the Spring and only relatively minor changes now on the table.

The budget will be voted on at the 5:00 PM Monday meeting (Doyle auditorium).  I’ll be at work at that time, but there will be public appearances and it would be good to give one more reminder that people in Madison support public education and are willing to support it via increased property tax levies when the state doesn’t do its part.   Speak now or forever hold your peace.  More on the changes below.

This will be followed at 7:00 PM by the regular Board of Education meeting.

On Tuesday at Noon in Doyle rm 103, the Ad Hoc Hiring and Diversity Committee meets.  Other MMSD meetings for the week are: MMSD Wellness Committee (Tuesday, 3:00 PM, Doyle rm 103);  Common Council/Board of Education Liaison Committee (Tuesday, 5:30 PM, Doyle rm 103);  and the Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) Advisory Committee (Tuesday, 6:30 PM, MSCR/Hoyt building,  rm 21).  Agendas for all of the above are here.

The short version of the budget story is that MMSD will levy about $10 million less then they allowed for educational programs, at best limiting the improvements to education in Madison; at worst harming the educational opportunities of our children (there is also about $2 million in Fund 80 “underlevy).  The slightly longer version is that the Board — like Boards around the state — caught between a state budget that cut educational investments and property taxpayers who are struggling  sought a happy medium between cuts and tax levies (helped by some real savings due to efficiencies), nobody ended up happy.  The way to start changing this story and get to a happier ending is Penny for Kids.

There are many documents linked off the agenda for the budget meeting ( and more here from the report of the October 11 Operational Support Committee).  The two most enlightening are the Recommended Motions and the Budget Amendments and Tax Levy Adoption.  The first refers to the second.  Here is what it says:

Many of these changes are related to (slightly) higher than (and still inadequate) state aid.   This also resulted in some recommendations for “add backs” from the administration.  An interesting list (and note half is designated for tax relief):

Item #2 is further described as including (among other things)  “resources to address possible high school curriculum revisions.

Other documents directly related to the budget being voted on include an Update (overview),  Salary Savings (and open enrollment offset), Budget Profile by Department, and a Technology Breakdown.

There is also an update on ARRA funds, that if I read it correctly says that 59.92% of this money (over $7 million) has not been allocated to any project!  The clock is ticking…I’m not sure why this money is not being used.  More on ARRA things in the Operations Support Committee Report.

There is also a document with options for 4K funding in 2011-12 and the following years. As expected these include EduJobs money and Fund Equity.

That’s about it for the budget.  I’m only going to highlight a limited number of things from the regular meeting that follows.

Some info on Leadership, Teacher, Parent and Staff Councils (no membership lists).  I don’t know about the rest, but with one parent from every school (selected by the Principal, so you’ll be sure to get those with  “issues”) the Parent Council is so large that it is unwieldy.

There is an update on 4K sites.

Some updates on Key Student Performance Measures (here and here).

Nothing of note on the La Follette Attendance Area Planning (there may be an oral report that tells more).

There are some items from the Ad Hoc 5 Year Budget Committee, including recommended parameters from the Administration.

On the consent agenda is a donation of $28,510 from the Reading Recovery Council of North America to support tuition, texts and travel for teacher training.

Just a once over lightly this week.  Maybe some follow ups later.

Thomas J. Mertz

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The Mess with West (Updated)

The Raunch Hands “Mess Around” (click to listen or download)

[Update: I just got emailed this letter as a West parent.  Crisis communication is happening.  Not much new here, but some clarity.]

The first steps with the  “High School Curricular Reform, Dual Pathways to Post-Secondary Success” are a mess, a big mess of the administration’s own making.

Before I delve into the mess and the proposal, I think it is important to say that despite huge and inexcusable problems with the process, many unanswered questions and some real things of concern; there are some good things in the proposal.  One part near the heart of the plan in particular is something I’ve been pushing for years:  open access to advanced classes and programs with supports. In the language of the proposal:

Pathways open to all students. Students are originally identified by Advanced Placement requirements and other suggested guidelines such as EXPLORE /PLAN scores, GPA, past MS/HS performance and MS/HS Recommendation. however, all students would be able to enroll. Students not meeting suggested guidelines but wanting to enroll would receive additional supports (tutoring, skill development classes, AVID, etc.) to ensure success. (emphasis added and I would like to see it added in the implementation).

Right now there are great and at times irrational barriers in place.  These need to go.   I hope this does not get lost as the mess is cleaned up.

This is in four sections:  The Mess; What Next?; The Plan: Unanswered Questions and Causes for Concern; and Final Thought.

The Mess

The exact size and shape of the mess — like so much else with this — aren’t clear.  You can gauge for yourself by visiting the Facebook pages “Save Our Future- Madison West High” and “Walk-Out Against MMSD High School Reform.”   I heard reports that 200 or more students met at lunch yesterday and likely the number will be greater today.  The fact that students care and want to do something is great.  I’m sure that Administrators and Board Members have also heard from parents and teachers.

Then there is this video:

It is great to hear the passion and desire to be part of the process; it is sad to realize that they feel they have been shut out.

As far as I can tell the proximate cause of the student reaction at West was confused and incomplete information relayed by teachers.  The ultimate cause is that this has been drafted and communicated in what seems to be a rushed and top-down manner.

Note the “seems to be.”  Much of this has been in the works  — at least indirectly — for a long time and there have been some opportunities for input and collaboration along the way (see the High School Initiatives presentation from earlier this year).

So while this doesn’t come out of nowhere,  it has also been rushed out in a manner and form that leave much to be desired.  Extensive changes of this sort need to be considered  and revised in an open, inclusive, deliberate process.  To do otherwise misses opportunities for improvement and creates distrust instead of buy-in from those most affected.

At least one Board Member is saying that “the proposed curricular changes are not related to the DPI complaint re. failure to comply with state law on TAG programming.”  You can parse that statement carefully and maybe say it is true because things have been in the works prior to the TAG complaint, but it is equally true that the the timing and failed roll out were a reaction to the complaint.  To deny or not acknowledge the relationship to the TAG complaint in how this was “finalized” and presented (not conceived) only exacerbates the distrust that is perhaps the biggest mess of all.

You don’t have to take my word on this being rushed and incomplete, just look at some of the early items in the plan that have dates attached:  “Plan communicated to all stakeholders in September” with a variety of information to be compiled in September to support the communications.  This communication didn’t happen in September and if the supporting information has been prepared, it has not been shared.   If it has been prepared and not shared there is much more wrong here than a rushed time-line, there is a basic lack of understanding of communications principles.

There may also be a basic misunderstanding of policy formation principles at work.    Part of that communication item for September reads:

Develop data-based rationale for reforming the MMSD high school curriculum providing both an accelerated pathway and a preparatory pathway.

I’m going to be nice and assume that the intent here was to say “Develop a presentation of the data-based rationale…,” because otherwise our self-styled “data -driven” district is making policies and then creating “data-based ratuonale(s)” after the fact.  Let’s chalk this up to the rush job.

What Next ?

Hard to say what will come next.  There may or may not be a protest walkout at West on Friday.  There may or not be a crisis communication strategy from the administration [there is, see the update at the top].  There may or may not be an attempt to go beyond crisis communication and initiate a more open and extensive collaborative process (I’d like that).

The Board of Education will see this on an agenda in some form I have heard (not confirmed) that this will be the first week of November.  What form isn’t clear.  They may be asked to approve the proposal or they may may simply receive or reject a report.  I hope it is the former.

I also want to note that how this comes before the Board matters not only in terms of democratic governance, but because the new Communication Plan protocols require certain things — such as equity and budget analyses —  with some Administrative proposals.   These are not part of  the materials circulating.

My guess is that whatever happens in the coming weeks, at least part of the time-line is out-the-window.   Supporting work will be ongoing, but I’d be surprised if the scheduled significant changes to Language Arts and Mathematics are fully implemented in 2011-12.  I’ve been surprised before.

In the meantime, effective involvement is crucial.  Let the Board know your concerns (  Let Superintendent Nerad know too (  Before voicing an opinion, it is good to do some study and get your facts straight and concerns clear.  Keep and eye on the Board agendas (and this space) to see when it comes up and in what form.  At every juncture, ask for a chance to be part of the process.  If asking doesn’t work, demand.

The Plan:  Unanswered Questions and Causes for Concern

From reviewing the proposal itself, a read of postings elsewhere, conversations and emails —  with and from students, teachers, parents, Board of Education Members and administrators  — some issues have stood out as things that I believe need further attention.  What I’m offering here isn’t comprehensive or thorough, but introductory.

Before proceeding I want to again emphasize that the commitment to open access  with supports is a huge and positive step (and note that it may be possible that this could be accomplished without the radical changes being proposed).

Pathways, Tracking and Ability Grouping:

I have supported the inclusive model for English 9 & 10 and 9th & 1oth grade Social Studies.  I have also thought that real embedded honors would have improved the model.  Some of the positive aspects of this will be lost if the new proposal is implemented.  There will be two “pathways” and this will almost certainly mean an increase in segregation by race, language and income.  I don’t like this.

Despite this inclusive portion of the existing  West program,  you’d be a fool to believe that segregation and something like tracking aren’t already part of the West reality.  I’ll go further and say that I sincerely doubt that in the foreseeable future these will be eliminated.

So the questions become ones about the extent and nature of the segregation or groupings.

Willis D. Hawley makes a useful distinction between tracking and “ability grouping” (read Pathways) based on student movement among the tracks (or programs) and warns that “Ability grouping often turns into tracking.”  This, along with the demographics of the pathways would need close monitoring and if there is great segregation with little or no movement, actions should be taken to remedy.

The existence of “embedded honors in the Preparatory Pathway is supposed to facilitate movement.  I have serious doubts about that.

Doubts based in part on the fact that the access to the Accelerated Pathway is supposed to be open.  This also needs to be monitored and special attention needs to be paid to informal ways that students are discouraged from challenging themselves and the availability of appropriate supports for success.

Standards, “College Readiness” and AP:

I don’t think much of standards as key to successful education reform.  Unfortunately, we are stuck with them — Wisconsin signed on to the Common Core Standards before they were even complete (this says much about how education policy at all levels has been taken over by well-funded rhetoric).  The proposed reform in MMSD and at West adds the ACT  “College Readiness” to the mix.

In general I don’t like the wholesale adoption of any standards, whether from an advocacy group (like the Common Core or for that matter the NACG Standards incorporated in the TAG Plan) or from an organization like the ACT or the College Board (AP), with supporting things for sale (an issue with the Common Core too).  MMSD – and other districts — should pick, chose and adapt what is appropriate for local circumstances.

Advanced Placement is a little different.  There are real concerns about a “cookie cutter” approach stifling creativity and breadth in teaching and learning.  These and other issues have led some districts — including Scarsdale, NY —   to abandon AP.  There is a growing consensus that the rapid expansion of AP is problematic (for balance see here).  Was any of this part of drafting of this plan?

In defense of expanded AP, it does provide an external measure of achievement and it does give students a head start on college.  Like so much else, some good and some not so good.

Trade Offs: Electives, Budget and Schedules:

Because of budget and schedule constraints this proposal cannot be implemented without other things being cut.  You can’t add support services without either increasing expenditures or eliminating something else.   Teachers and students only have time for so many classes, if they are taking new AP classes, they won’t be taking existing offerings.  So far there has been no clear statement of what these other things might be.

The rumors were that electives in some form were due to be cut.  I have this response from a senior administrator:

This is not true.  We are adding Advanced Placement courses in the four content areas.  They will be open access courses and may be taken or an elective may be taken. For example Advanced Placement offers only two English courses.  We require 4 years of English.  This leaves room for elective choices

How much room, both in terms of budget and schedules remains to be seen.  I think it is clear that many favored electives will be retained.

I’m not going to give my full Wisconsin and MMSD school funding rap, but I will ask those new to this to visit Penny for Kids, sign the petition, share it with friends, join the Facebook group…get involved.

Where Did This Come From?

As noted above, this has been in the works as part of a series of High School Initiatives.  The immediate model for much of it is Hersey High School in Arlington Heights Illinois.  Arlington Heights is not Madison and Hersey is not West.  One statistic stands out — Hersey has a poverty rate of 7% or 8%, West’s is 35%.  A quick review of the Evaluation and Policy Research page at Hersey shows that while the concerns and issues overlap, they are also very different.  The review also showed some very questionable choices in what data is presented and how it is presented.  Maybe more on this later.

Final Thought:

At the top,  I called this mess inexcusable.  I see this as a failure of leadership.  Couldn’t they anticipate this reaction?  Didn’t they read Susan Troller’s “branding” piece?  Don’t they now that successful reform requires buy-in?  This looks rushed and reactive, not considered and confident.  I know lots of very good work has gone into this, but that work is in danger of being lost due to some key failures.

With this in mind, I renew my call for the evaluation of Superintendent Dan Nerad to be made public.  Part of restoring confidence has to be sharing with the public what the Board of Education thinks is is going well and what the Board thinks could use improvement.  I know at this moment many in the West community have some definite ideas about these matters (positive and negative…I see successes as well as failures).

Thomas J. Mertz


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October 7, Rally to Defend Public Education

Thursday, October 7 · 12:30pm – 1:30pm in Library Mall on the UW Campus there will be a rally to defend public education.  This is part of a national effort to combat reduced governmental investments in education at all levels, from pre-kindergarten through grad school.

As the press release says:

Rally organizers call for making public education a top funding priority in Wisconsin, so that every child has access to a high-quality public education from kindergarten through college. Since an educated population spurs the economy and benefits all state residents, they also call for reforming the tax system so that everyone pays their fair share, including the wealthy and large corporations operating in Wisconsin. Increasing access to higher education for underrepresented groups and ensuring fair and competitive pay for academic workers are also top priorities.

Here is the list of speakers:

  • Ben Manski, Coordinator, Democratizing Education Network
  • Mike Bell, UW-Madison faculty member (Sociology)
  • Thomas J. Mertz, Board Member, Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools
  • Mindy Preston, UW-Madison undergraduate student (Computer Sciences; Classical Humanities)
  • Kevin Gibbons, UW-Madison graduate student (Environmental Studies); Co-President of the Teaching  Assistants’    Association
  • Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, UW-Madison graduate student (Sociology); member of the International  Socialist   Organization
  • Mark Thomas, Steward, AFSCME Local #171

I’ll be speaking on K-12 and pushing Penny for Kids.  I could use some help collecting signatures on the Penny petition.  Contact me if you are willing and able.

Strong public education is the best means we have of moving toward a better future.  Join us to make sure that message comes through loud and clear.

Thomas J. Mertz

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