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2017-18 MMSD Budget Questions and Notes

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Chuck Berry — “Thirteen Question Method” (click to listen/watch)

At 5:45 on Monday, May 8, 2017 the Madison Metropolitan School District Operations Work Group will hold our first extended discussion of the the 2017-18 Budget since receiving the draft Budget Book.  Also on the agenda is the first of two scheduled discussions of possible changes to the Behavior Education Plan (summary here, many other related files attached to the agenda on BoardDocs, linked above).  It will be a busy evening.

In anticipation of these meeting, and this phase of the budget work, I sent two communications to the rest of the Board, and the Administration (here and here).  The first concentrates on some of the areas where I am thinking about offering amendments (there may be other areas, but I wanted to start with these); because the it appears the meeting will focus on the administrative “Priority Actions,” the second is on these.

In the interest of transparency and public awareness, I am posting these here, annotated with some extra commentary, notes, and links.  First up are the “Questions Related to Possible Budget Amendments.”

Wright Uniforms

  • What would be the cost to provide all Wright staff with 3 shirts/tops, 2 pair of pants or skirts, and one sweater or fleece in compliance with the uniform policy and the Handbook requirement that “In the event that any employee shall be required as a condition of his/her employment to wear any particular kind of uniform or other special clothing…clothing….shall be furnished by the District”?
  • What would be the cost to provide all Wright students with 3 shirts/tops, 2 pair of pants or skirts, and one sweater or fleece in compliance with the uniform policy?

I was one of two votes against this policy, but believe that if this is the will of the Board the burden should not fall on the staff and students.  As far as staff goes, I am not inclined to revise the Handbook to exempt Wright.  With students, despite the claims of the uniform industry, the best academic research I could find indicates that school uniforms do not save families money through decreased clothing purchases.   Wright is our highest poverty school, imposing added costs on the school’s families renders a bad idea even worse.

Class Size

  • What would be the costs and the additional FTE required to achieve each of the following class size caps:
    • AGR (formerly SAGE) schools, K-2, leave as is (soft cap at 20, hard cap at 22).
    • Non-AGR schools, K-2, soft cap at 22, hard cap at 23.
    • AGR schools 3-5, soft cap at 23, hard cap at 24.
    • Non-AGR schools, 3-5, hard cap at 25.
    • MS, English and Math, soft cap at 27, hard cap at 29.
    • HS, English and Math soft cap at 30, hard cap at 32.
  • Note: My understanding is that initial allocations are done based on the soft cap and projected enrollments, but that additional staff allocations are not done unless the hard cap number is exceeded. This may not be exactly how it works, and any corrections would be appreciated.

Class size matters; it matters for academics, it matters for behavior, it matters for family involvement, it matters for climate, it matters for working conditions and retention…class size matters.  There is a growing recognition in Madison (thanks Cris Carusi), that too many classes are too large.  These questions are intended as the beginning of a conversation about class sizes, not an end point.  I would like smaller classes across the board (all subjects, all grades),  and even smaller classes in high poverty and/or struggling schools, but you have to start somewhere.

Here are some links that provide important local context for these questions:

  • January and February Operations Work Group Presentations with discussions of staffing process.
  • Equity Charts” showing current (2016-17, not projected for the 2017-18 Budget…updated staff projections have been requested) staffing, as well as which schools  receive state Achievement Gap Reduction program and federal Title I funding, as well as other information.
  • Tableau interactive presentation showing Fall 2016 class sizes with filters for schools, subjects, and more.  The questions I asked concern the maximums allowed, but the distributions are of interest too.

The other items on this list are less concrete and don’t contain questions.  They were shared with the Board and the administration in order to alert them to possibilities that may develop into proposals/amendments.  They also are not exhaustive; the “Line Items” could lead many places and there are things like the “Special Assistant for Equity and Innovation” position, that I am not sure what to try to do about (I heard interviews were done last week, but no hire is final till the Board approves).

  • BEP Staffing and Implementation (including PBIS, Social Emotional Learning, Security…)
    • The May discussions of the BEP and answers to some of the questions on Priority Actions may lead to a proposed amendment. I continue to see a need to have more consistent professional supports and educational services available for students who have been removed from classes (suspensions, and less lengthy removals).

Not much to add to this, except I would love to hear ideas for how we could better deploy the millions of dollars we are spending on BEP implementation and related things.

  • Title I
    • The current Title I school Budget Allocations use Direct Certification and shift about $120,000 from K-5 to Middle Schools. Some of my Priority Action questions address district level Title I spending. Upon receipt of answers to those questions, I may want to work with staff to develop an alternate plan.

I have a lot to say here, but I am going to try to keep it brief.

Title I is a federal program that provides funding to improve the education for children in poverty.  Within the Title I regulations, districts have some choices on how this funding is used.  These choices include which schools are designated Title I (and receive funds), how those funds are allocated among the schools, and what measure of poverty is used in these processes (other choices include some of the “Reservations” and district level expenditures, some of which are related to the questions in the “Priority Actions” section).

These choices became more complicated when MMSD was able to enroll some schools in the “Community Eligibility” program that provides free lunch funding for entire schools that are high poverty.  One result is that the numbers and percentages of families at those schools filling out the Free/Reduced lunch paperwork decreased compared to other district schools.  Upon the recommendation of DPI, MMSD began using what is called “Direct Certification” for the Title I poverty counts (MMSD still uses “traditional” poverty counts for things like achievement data, adding to the confusion).  Direct Certification involves cross checking enrollments in other state and federal programs and using the result to estimate poverty counts.  Among other things, this produces much lower counts (when Milwaukee went to Direct Certification the percentage of students in poverty dropped from 82.7 to 67.3).  It also changes the distribution among schools  It isn’t clear what accounts for these changes.  I looked at the possibility that Direct Certification results in an undercount of undocumented students, but the results were inconclusive and indicated that although that may be part of the answer, there are other things going on. More on Community Eligibility, Title I, and Direct Certification, here and here, plus a post by me from last year covering some of this.

Here is the most recent information given to the Board on the proposed Title I allocations.

Title I allocationsHere is some information I sent to the Board and administration earlier this year, highlighting the impacts of the choices made on borderline schools (and the possibilities of using a different poverty measure):

Title I tjm

Note that any changes would involve altering the “dollars per Title I student” numbers and levels, and unless there are reallocations from the district level Title I spending, “cuts” to some schools.  I am not committed to making changes, but I would like to explore the possibilities.

The “Possible Budget Amendments” note ended with this:

  • Line Item Issues
    • I will be setting up an appointment to meet with [Assistant Superintendent for Business Services] Mike [Barry] on some line item questions (like the shift of Salary Savings budgeting between Fund 10 and Fund 27, the budgeting for Substitutes…I don’t have the whole list yet). My guess is Mike’s explanations will satisfy my curiosity and concerns, but if they don’t, I may make some requests or amendments.

Nothing to add at this time.

That leaves the questions on “Priority Actions.”  Before sharing the questions, I’d like to offer some context.  The Board consideration of “Priority Actions” began in November 2016 (minutes here).  In part because of the inclinations of Board Members, in part because of the Budget process, and in part because the way Health Insurance issues have dominated meeting after meeting, the “Priority Actions” have thus far received little sustained attention from the Board.  That should change at the May 8th meeting.

The discussion of “Priority Actions” begins on page 24 of the Budget Book. Here is a chart from the Budget Book:

Priority Chart

Here are the questions I submitted (some items  — including big ones like $625,000 for the Tech Plan — I had no questions for), with some links inserted (and dollar amounts added where appropriate).

Priority Actions

  • Intensive Support for Reading Intervention (LEXIA) – $190,000.
    • Can we get an update on current implementation (which schools, which students, how often…) and results?
    • Which schools (specific names)/students would this expand to if funded?
    • [Related] – Can we get a detailed accounting for the use of Title I Reserved Funds, highlighting any changes from the 2016-17 Budget?
    • In the past we have been told that MMSD does not use or classify LEXIA as an “Intervention” as defined by Response to Intervention mandates, has this changed?
  • Race and Equity Professional Development — $200,000, $80,000 new.
  • Principal Leadership Coaching
    • It isn’t clear how much of this is for “online module” development and deployment, and how much is for “face-to-face coaching,” nor who will be doing the work. A budget or a more detailed description which addresses these is requested.
  • New Teacher Mentoring and Forward Madison Sustainability Plan — $350,000 total.
    • What 2016-17 Title II activities/programs/personnel will be re-purposed or cut in order move $200,000 to this?
    • Is the March/April summary evaluation report referenced here available?
  • Bilingual Education and ESL Support — $349,000 total.
    • If the 2 OMGE Teacher Leaders are approved, would they only be working with Title I DLI schools?
    • See note above about changes in Title I Reserved Funds budgeting.
    • The deadline for DLI and the Lakeview Hmong program applications was 4/28. Can we get an updated estimate for transportation costs and numbers of students, including home school and school they applied to attend?
  • Middle School Report Card Redesign and Infinite Campus Customization — $40,000 total.
  • AVID Expansion — $40,000.
    • What are the projected class sizes for AVID sections with and without this increase?
  • School Based Support for Implementation of Personal Pathways — $460,000 total.
    • Are the Learning Coordinator Learning Liaison positions 0.2 at each high school, or single district positions?
    • Will the ACP Coordinators serve all students, or only Pathways?
    • Is the Lead Counselor position 0.0825 at each school, or a single district position?
    • Is there a projection for how these positions will increase as Pathways expands (can we expect to add the equivalent each year in proportion to new students entering Pathways)?
    • What are the current FTE’s devoted to Pathways for the people listed here (some appear to have partial Pathways assignments and partial assignments in other roles): https://pathways.madison.k12.wi.us/contact-us
  • Pathways Professional Development — $200,000 total.
    • Can we get a breakdown for how much of this is release time/extra time (Summer?)/subs, how much is contracted services, how much is other?
    • Is any of this covered by the Joyce Grant?
  • Experiential Learning Coordination and ACP Support  — $90,000 total.
    • Can we get a budget that breaks down student transportation, release time, and other?
    • Is there any evidence that the GMCC [Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce] Foundation has improved their work on behalf of our students since the November 2016 update?
  • Developing Future Teachers — $18,000 total
    • Approximately how many students are expected to be enrolled in TEEM in 2017-18?
    • Who is doing this work now?
    • Who is expected to fill these Coordinator roles (current positions if MMSD employees)?
    • As TEEM takes on new cohorts is it expected that the stipends will increase?
  • Expansion of Grow Our Own— $100,000 total
    • What are the 2016-17 allotted and expended budgets for each of our “Grow Our Own” programs (I know there is one for staff wishing to become teachers, and at least one for teachers seeking Special Ed, ESL, or Bilingual certification; I don’t know if there are others)?
    • What are the numbers and demographics of 2016-17 participants in each?
    • I know there was a problem and the Fall cohort for one program were told they had to wait. Can we get an update on that (is this budget line related to that issue)?

The Budget Book designates some of the “Priority Actions” as “Accelerated.” Here are my questions related to those:

Accelerated Priority Actions

  • Quarterly Grade Level Release for Teachers — $100,000 total.
    • Is this in addition to the $135,000 for Intensive Support Schools Quarterly K-2 release days approved as a Priority Action in the 2015-16 budget?
    • Can you confirm that the $400,000 increase under Required Allowances is separate from this and other Priority Action Substitute budgets?
    • Are this and other Priority Action Substitute expenditures reflected in lines 3 and 122 of The Fund 10 Expenditures?
  • Reading Software to Supplement Core Instruction for Students — $60,000 total.
    • See the question above under Intensive Support for Reading Intervention, requesting updates on LEXIA use and results.
  • Student Led Conferencing  — $116,000 total.
    • I think projections are for 305 non-Pathways 9th Graders at East, and 479 Pathways 9th Graders district-wide, yet the Funding for East non-Pathways is more than double the district-wide Pathways funding. Is there a difference in design that accounts for this?

And last comes “Innovative Priority Actions.”

Innovative Priority Actions and TID #25

  • Reservation for Innovation Opportunities
    • Note: Here and elsewhere a $800,000 multi-year reservation for “innovation opportunities” is mentioned. This concept was presented at the 10/17/16 OWG meeting, but neither my memory nor the minutes reflect a consensus in favor of this.
    • If we are going to set aside a reserve sum for Innovation Opportunities to be funded this year, there should be a process for proposals and decision-making.
  • TID #25 Budget (p 152)
    • Can we get an update on expenditures to date for the items listed for 2016-17?

Here is the TID #25 Budget from the Budget Book:

TID 25

A few words on the TID #25 funds and “Innovation.”  First, the rule of thumb with one-time funds like the TID #25 money is that you don’t spend them for ongoing operating expenses.  In general, that makes sense, except it fails to account for the uncertainty around all school funding.  This week possible cuts to Medicaid reimbursements are in the news; a couple of weeks ago it was Community Learning Center funding, nobody is confident the proposed $200 per student categorical aid increase will survive intact till the end of the state Budget process.  Uncertainty everywhere, yet because we know it will eventually run out, TID #25 money is in some ways treated as more uncertain than money we may never see.  The other side of the picture is that what is an ongoing expense is also uncertain.  Yesterday’s “Strategic Priority Action” may become tomorrow’s ongoing expense, or it may end up a one-time experiment.  With all that in mind, I believe we should be cautious when using one-time funds for what we believe to be ongoing expenses, but not categorically eliminate this from consideration.

Generally, due largely to my training as a historian, I am an “Innovation” skeptic and a firm believer in “The Conservationist Ethic” in education reform.  As David Tyack wrote:

In reform circles enamored of change and inclined toward Utopian solutions to improve schooling, a belief in progress can obscure the task of conserving the good along with inventing the new. In mitigating one set of problems, innovations may give rise to new discontents.

This skepticism is reinforced when the attraction of “Innovation” leads to a lack of critical thinking and careful vetting.

More specifically, I am not clear how the notion of dedicated “Innovation” funding (and the whole TID #25 budget) came to be included in the Budget.  Hence, my question.

On to next steps.

After Monday’s discussion, and receiving answers to my questions, I will start working on any Budget Amendments I would like to have considered.

Feel free to contact me (tjmertz@madison.k12.wi.us) or comment here with any questions or thoughts.

As with any matters before the Board, there are opportunities to make your voice heard.  Take advantage of them.

These our your schools; make your voice heard!

Thomas J. Mertz

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MMSD Budget (Crunch) Time (Updated)

“Money Talks,” Alex Chilton (click to listen or download)

Update:

The materials for Monday’s meetings (Budget Input and Operations Work Group)have been posted on BoardDocs.  I’ll list and link here, but first there are some things that were not posted that need to be addressed.

A choice was made to exclude from the meeting materials all of the suggested cuts/funding sources that were part of the the Budget Amendments submitted by Board Members (at this time it is not clear who made that choice). The full Amendments are in the original post below.

This is unprecedented.  It is absolute and basic that proposed amendments submitted in advance be included in the materials distributed to the public and Board Members.  They must be part of the record, they will  be part of discussion, and the public has a right to know what is on the table (especially in advance of a “public input meeting). 

It should also be noted that those Board Amendments that are present in the meeting materials, are present only in summary form.  My Amendments did not include extensive rationales, but Anna Moffit’s did, and to not share these with the public is wrong.

Additionally, the full Title I chart included in this post (below) is not posted, with only an explanation of the process provided.  There is also no further information on Title III and tuition for Ell certification (listed in my Amendments as something I would “like to explore”).

An earlier Budget Presentation included the “Goal” of “Greater transparency in budget development.”  The choices that have been made to not include Board Member Amendments take us further from that goal.

Here is what is there:

Starting next week, there are a few important meetings for the Madison Metropolitan School District Preliminary Budget (much budget info at the link, a bit more below).  Here are the key meetings:

If you can’t make these, you can always write the Board: board@madison.k12.wi.us.

A couple explanatory things at this point.  First, detailed agendas and materials for these meetings will be posted on BoardDocs in advance, usually at some point on Friday for a Monday meeting.  Second, the final Budget is not passed until October, after many things — especially the state aid certification — are set.  Amendments and changes are possible up to that point, but the Preliminary Budget is what is in place when schools open in September, and for this and other reasons is important.

From my point of view there are three major places where there may be action: 1)Budget Amendments from Board Members (Anna Moffit and I both submitted amendments, more below); 2)Title I funding (Federal poverty aid, more below in the discussion of my amendments, with some linked documents and  information previously not posted by MMSD); 3)The structure of employee health insurance contributions (because my spouse is employed by the district, I recuse myself on this).  The latest on this is here (expect more before the meetings listed above).

May as well start with my Amendments.  Here is what I submitted for consideration (I may or may not make motions on individual items).

Initial Budget Amendments

TJ Mertz

May 23,2016

I understand that in the current budget situation any additional spending must come from reallocations, but believe that it is counterproductive to match each proposed addition to a cut. Instead I have listed cuts and additions separately, with a final item on Title I and Title III.

Items to Be Cut

  1. Eliminate Assistant Principals at Allis, Kennedy, Stephens and Cherokee.

Note: 4k at Allis may mean that numbers justify this position. [Note:  My understanding is that traditionally an Assistant Principal is added when school population is above 500; these are all below.  I asked about this at a meeting and did not get an answer.]

  1. Cut Tech Plan Spending by $300,000.

The Baird projections show an initial $8.74 Million gap for 2017-18, and this assumes the continued $250/student categorical aid, and an additional $100/student. Under these circumstances I do not believe that increasing Tech Plan spending by $625,000 is sustainable.

  1. Eliminate Special Assistant To the Superintendent for Special Projects.

  1. Cut Employee Travel Conferences (0344) from $468,803.63 to $300,000.

  1. Cut Space Rental Events/Meetings (0328) from $175,875.99 to $111,774.14.

The proposed budget includes an increase, this amendment returns the amount to that in the 2015-16 budget. The Badger Rock rental was moved to object 0329 and is not impacted.

Additions

I support Anna’s proposals on expanding Intensive Support Team staffing and targeting class size at “intensive touch” schools, (as well as the reallocations she proposes).

  1. Add Board Research and Data NUP, $70,000

This position would work for the Board of Education and assist in fulfilling data requests, researching policies, and preparing analyses and briefs independent of administrative structures.

Strategic Framework Priority Area – Accountability.

  1. Restore Middle School Staffing (to the extent possible)

According to the March OWG presentation, 12.000 FTE, budgeted at $1,181,679 will be cut from Middle Schools. Without the detailed information in the Equity Chart, it is impossible to know what these cuts might be, but I would like to explore restoring some or all. Many of our Middle Schools are struggling with a variety of issues, and I think we need to make sure they have the capacity to be successful.

Strategic Framework Priority Areas – Coherent Instruction, Thriving Workforce, (and perhaps Personalized Pathways and Family and Community Engagement).

Title I

I may be offering amendments addressing the Title I Reserved budget (funds not allocated to schools), the poverty measure(s) used to allocate Title I to schools, the formula used to determine the allocations to schools (my understanding is that we can allocate a higher dollar amount per student to schools at higher poverty levels, I don’t know if we are doing that, but would like to explore the possibility).

Title III

It is my understanding that that $300,000 three year budget for ELL certification tuition reimbursement appears to be much more than anticipated spending (Mike provided me with a summary). I believe this is Title III money, which means there are limits on how it might be reallocated. I would like to explore the possibilities, especially using some of this money to replace unrestricted funds, or to improve direct services for ELL students.

I would be glad to answer any questions about any of these, but am going to mostly forgo long explanations and justifications here (the bracketed note on the Assistant Principals was added as an explanation for this post).  The two exceptions are Middle School Staffing and Title I.

On Middle School Staffing, just a couple of things.  First, budget pressures and choices made in drafting the preliminary budget led to school-based cuts at all levels.  At the Elementary level, there were two big factors.  The first was decreased enrollments; the second was what might call a “relaxed” approach to class sizes in the early grades (Anna Moffit has an Amendment on this, below).  The Middle School cuts were pretty much straight out budget based.  At this point — less than a week before we have the penultimate meeting to discuss the Budget and less than a month before we vote — I don’t know how these cuts were decided (other than the phrase “Equity-based” has been used, whatever that means), nor what schools got what cuts.  We have some info (below, and it may be out dated), but not much.  This make it hard to do the job we were elected to do.   I believe school based staffing allocations are at or near the top of budget issues and have been asking for information on the processes and results since at least February.  I hope we get this in the “Equity Chart” this week, and if changes seem like a good idea, I hope it isn’t too late.

Here is a staffing chart, with Title I information as of late March (read the notes in the link, about what this chart represents).

Title I Staffing Enrollments

The “Equity Chart” should provide more detail and be more up-to-date.  In reference to Anna Moffit’s second Amendment below, it is also worth noting that some of the Elementary School cuts do not seem to align with (projected) enrollment changes, this may be due to the interactions of grade level projections and desired class sizes (I have not looked closely, but will try, and would appreciate it if anyone else would like to make the effort, and share their findings). Depending on what I learn (and what else happens), I may or may not go ahead with an Amendment on Middle School staffing.

We do have new information on Title I since I offered the Amendments and it is good news.  Some background, first.  You can find everything you would want to know and more about Title I at the Department of Education page.  Essentially, it Federal aid to schools serving students in poverty.   It is also the biggest source of Federal money in k-12 education, so from a policy perspective, it gets used as a carrot and a stick.  In fact there are all sorts of of controversies about how Title I will be distributed under the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act.   Local districts have a number of choices to make with Title I.  We decide (with some limits) how much is allocated to schools, and how much is “reserved” for district initiatives (see here for information on MMSD “Reservations”).  We decide what measure or measures of poverty will be used to distribute funds to schools.  We decide (with limits) what the poverty percentage cut-off will be for designating a school Title I.  We decide what levels — Elementary, Middle, High —  we will fund via Title I.  We decide how we will allocate to schools on a per qualifying student basis (do we give higher poverty schools more per student)?  All these decisions and more.  In Madison four things have brought Title I to the fore.  First, in 2014-15 MMSD expanded Title I to Middle Schools.  Second,  because some Madison schools are participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) which provides free meals to all students, the traditional Free/Reduced Lunch poverty measures have been impacted (see here for much much more on Title I and CEP, including analyses of some of the decisions listed above, worth a read).  In response, MMSD, like many districts is using what is called “Direct Certification,” a method that matches students to family enrollments in other government aid programs to arrive at student poverty numbers.  Third, for the first time since the 2008 referendum MMSD does not have unused revenue authority, this budget is especially tight.  Last — and this is the good news — recent reallocations show MMSD receiving $788,000 in additional Title I funding.  The initial Title I allocations (similar to the above chart) showed many schools with funding cuts (often on top of other staffing cuts).  With the $788,000 this has changed.  See here:Title I with 788000

You can see almost all schools received an increase, and that the schools are tiered, with higher poverty k-5 schools getting more per student, and Middle Schools getting a flat (and low) $750 per student.  More on the process MMSD used here.

But questions remain.  Is direct certification the best way to estimate poverty?  Are the tiers, the cut points, and the differences per student between them the right things to do? Is the Middle School/Elementary difference good policy (remember k-5 schools also have SAGE (now AGP) for the early grades)?  I am not committed to any changes from the proposed allocation, but I do want to think about these questions, hear from the community, and discuss the choices with other Board Members.

Here are Anna Moffit’s Amendments.  As stated above, I support them.  I am not going to say more at this time, Anna Moffit has already published a strong op ed on the first, and I am sure she will be equally eloquent on the other at the appropriate time.

#1 – Intensive Support Teams

Budget Amendment
Increase the Intensive Support Team staff by 3.5 FTE (1 FTE for the Autism /Significant Developmental Delay team/ 2 FTE for the behavioral health team and .50 for a clerical assistant).

Rationale:

Based on community feedback and staff input there is an increased need to support   our students with intensive behavioral and mental health needs. According to   anecdotal information and district data there are a small number of students that are currently receiving a disproportionate amount of behavioral referrals (about 1% of our students make up 95% of behavioral referrals). Many of these students have documented or undocumented diagnoses, learning difference or a trauma history that require an acute and elevated levels of support in order to be successful in our schools.

Rather than restrict eligibility criteria that create more barriers for students to accesss specialized services, we should be proactive and prevent escalating disciplinary measures that lead to exclusionary practices by increasing our capacity to serve more students in a timely matter. By investing in programs that prevent suspension and expulsion, hundreds of thousands of dollars can be saved for our district.

Building the capacity at the district level to provide immediate help and ongoing professional development to non-Student Services staff via our Intensive Support Team is more cost effective in comparison to paying for expensive, outside consulting services and trainings. Based on staff feedback, there is an increased need for professional development in the area of working with students that have intensive mental health and behavioral challenges in our district.
Currently, the Intensive Support Team doesn’t have the capacity to organize, schedule and provide professional development in an efficient and effective manner due to limited capacity. By providing additional team members and a clerical position, scheduling professional development during educators’ planning time would be more consistent across the district. This increase would also of-set some of the the cuts made in the previous year to Students Services staff (21 Student Services staff).

Possible funding streams:
BEP professional development:
Based on anecdotal data from one-on-ones with staff and Board presentations,
opportunities for professional development have been limited and difficult to attend due to other commitments, not due to lack of interest or need. There was no additional information provided to the Board that would support lack of interest or need as the basis for not utilizing professional development funding. In fact, Behavior Education Plan surveys continue to indicate their is a high interest in increased professional development in order to meet the diverse and dynamic needs of our student body.

Access to bilingual education:

The district will not be expanding the DLI program to all schools put forth in the ELL plan which should lead to a decrease in FTE by .50 for an additional DLI planner. This would provide about $43,755 dollars in additional funds. There are very few students and families (currently 4 families based on feedback from Principal) that have shown interest at Thoreau Elementary in the DLI program at a to-be-determined school, therefore $36,000 dollars appears to be an excessive amount of money set aside for transportation costs for busing. In total, there would be about $70,000 dollars in additional funds.

Other possible funding sources:

TID 25 loan

Reduce spending on Technology Plan

Reduce spending on Educational Resource Officers

Utilize funds saved from not filling the position of Special Assistant to the Superintendent ($125,000 dollars).

#2 Elementary School Staffing

Provide additional FTEs to all of our “intensive touch” elementary schools in order
to ensure that all K-2 classrooms can begin the year 16 students in each classroom. The funding source is undetermined at this time due to lack of information in regard to Employee Premium Compensation limits for district staff members, as well as resolution in regard to TIF 25.

Rationale:

Based on extensive research, class size has the most significant impact on student achievement in the early childhood years. Smaller class sizes have shown to have a greater impact on academic achievement than aligned curriculum, as well as instructional coaching. Smaller class sizes also ensure that students and teachers have the time to develop strong, positive and reciprocal relationships which lay the foundation in developing a child’s resiliency. Resiliency has been shown to counter-act the effects of Childhood Trauma that is a direct result from children experiencing toxic stress at home, school and community. Students that experience chronic toxic stress are more likely to develop learning disabilities, maladaptive behaviors, as well as an increased risk of substance abuse issues and mental health challenges.

Although Governor Walker has provided district a “tool” called AGR to increase class sizes for our most vulnerable students, I believe that it has a detrimental effect on student learning for our youngest learners. With large numbers of black students, students receiving Free and Reduced Lunch, English Language Learners and students with disabilities not reaching adequate reading and math outcomes, leading to huge disparities, it is critical to invest our resources in high leverage strategies that can close these gaps.

Lower class sizes has also been a priority identified within our budget feedback from schools and the community.

There may be other ideas that lead to late amendments, or revisions of these.  Please remember, these are our schools, our children, and the School Board Members are your representatives; be part of “the village” by participating, making your voice heard at (or prior to) the meetings listed at the top.  I’ll be listening, and others will too.

Thomas J. (TJ) Mertz

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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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Vote to be heard!

Chis Stamey and Yo la Tengo, “Vote” (click to listen or download)

Check the Wisconsin League of Woman Voters for all your voting information, including your rights, your polling place, the candidate answers, referendum information, and same day registration.

VOTE TO BE HEARD!

Thomas J. Mertz

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How Many Strikes? or Whither Accountability? #2

The Isotopes – “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” (click to listen or download)

A recent post  —  Who cuts the barber’s hair? or Whither “accountability”?  — centered on some of the failings of the new Wisconsin “Accountability” system designed by team led by  Scott Walker and Tony Evers and adopted in order to gain an NCLB waiver from Arne Duncan and what we as citizens can do to hold them accountable for the bad choices they have made.  With the second iteration of the “Accountability Requirements for Achievement Gap Plan“(online version ahs been updated on pages 58-9 ,see here) on the agenda of the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring Committee this Monday (11/5, 5:30 PM, rm 103, Doyle Blg) I thought it would be a good idea to do something similar on the “Accountability” work being done by MMSD.  This time via an extended and at times strained baseball metaphor.

Who’s at bat?

Or who should be held accountable for the accountability design work being done by MMSD? These aren’t easy questions.  Accountability is confusing, maybe not as confusing as the Abbott and Costello routine, but confusing (who should or should not be held accountable for the results of accountability measures is even more confusing….add teachers, families, the economy, inequality, …. to the list below).   The chain of accountability goes from the voters who elect Board Members, to the Superintendent who the Board hires, fires and evaluates, to the administrators the Superintendent hires (with the consent of the Board, but for better or worse this has been a rubber stamp consent), supervises and evaluates.  It also loops back to the Board, because they are responsible for making sure administrators have the resources they need to do good work, but this chain continues back to the Superintendent and the administrators who prepare draft budgets and should communicate their needs and capacities to the Board.  The Superintendent is the bottleneck in this chain each time it loops around because the the MMSD Board has almost entirely limited their action in evaluation, hiring and firing to the Superintendent.  Right now MMSD has an Interim Superintendent, so evaluation, hiring and firing  is moot and the key link in the chain is broken.  Like I said, confused.

What is clear is that the only lever of accountability community members hold is their vote in school elections.  Three seats are up in April (Board President James Howard has announced his intent to run for re-election; Maya Cole and Beth Moss have not publicly stated their plans).

The impetus for creating the “Accountability Requirements” was a budget amendment from Board Member Mary Burke.  I believe it passed unanimously.   For the purposes here, I’m saying “The Administration” is at bat and the Board of Education is the manager sending signals from the dugout.  I didn’t count, but there are at least a half dozen administrator names listed on the “Accountability Requirements for Achievement Gap Plan,” if you want to get more personal with who should be accountable, feel free.

Swinging for the Fence or “Small Ball”?

The public loves power hitters; the long ball is a crowd pleaser.   Baseball insiders and aficionados understand that swinging for the fence increases the likelihood of striking out and that often the situation calls for “small ball,” like trying to draw a walk, attempting a sacrifice bunt, hitting behind the runner, or lining a single in the gap. the key to small ball is that you do many little things and they combine to produce runs.

With educational “accountability” I would argue that setting “goals” (any goals at all, but especially unrealistic ones like the NCLB 100% proficiency, or the “goals” listed in the draft MMSD”Accountability Requirements,” more on the latter below) is the equivalent of swinging for the fence.  This is part of the “data driven” mentality.  I think the situation calls for an educational version of small ball, something not as crowd-pleasing, demanding a higher level of engagement by all involved, and more likely to produce a productive unerstanding.  What I have in mind is monitoring multiple measures, or “data guided” decision making.

Although the reporting has not been good, MMSD tried something like this with the Strategic Plan “Core Performance Measures.”  Unfortunately there seemed to be collective agreement among Board Members and administrators at a recent meeting that these measures would be set aside in favor of the “Accountability Requirements” now under consideration and by implication that all the Strategic Plan work would be left to gather dust.  There were targets associated with “Core Measures”  but the main idea was that the Board and the Administration pay regular attention to multiple measures and their movement, individually and collectively.   This is far different than stating as a goal that 90% of students will score in the proficient range by year 3.  The first thing  policy makers need to know is whether things are getting better or worse and at what pace.  The use of standardized test score goals  (and goals for many other measures)  in “accountability” doesn’t help with that and creates difficulties.

What is the “accountable” action if some measures go up and some go down?  What if demographics or the tests themselves change along the way?  And then there are the uncomfortable questions of who will be held accountable and how  if none of the goals are met. We should have learned from NCLB that this approach is not what the situation calls for, but apparently MMSD administrators did not.

At a previous meeting on the   “Accountability Requirements” Board Member Ed Hughes moved closer to the small ball position by suggesting that instead of absolute goals, the goals be presented in terms of change or growth.  Better, but the problems identified remain.    The whole goal oriented approach could be called “Strike One,” but I’m not going to do that.

Strike One

The first draft of the “Accountability Requirements”  was presented to the Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring Committee on September 30th and appeared essentially unchanged on the full Board October 29th agenda as part of a Committee Report.  In baseball parlance it was a unbalanced, badly mistimed swing for the fences at a ball well outside the strike zone.  It isn’t pretty.  Strike one.

Some managers would have been tempted to pull the batter and send up a pinch hitter, but instead Board Members  sent some signals from the dugout, pointing out some of the mistakes and offering tips for improvement.

Mary Burke noted that the left hand and the right hand didn’t appear to be coordinating.  To be more specific, she pointed out that on page 15 (of the pdf) there is a chart with the stated goal “95% of all 11th graders will take the ACT in 2012-13,”  but chart itself  shows  annual incremental increases, culminating at 95% for all groups in 2016-17.   It was long ago decided that all students would take the ACT in 2012-13, whoever prepared the left part of the chart knew this, but whoever did the increments on the right did not (and apparently didn’t read the left part).  Here it is:

Other problems with the swing are more subtle.  There is also another section where ACT goals are expressed in terms average scale scores.  This appears to be another case of lack of coordination between the two hands.  As discussed below, the sections related to students reaching the ACT “College Readiness” benchmarks are left mostly blank in recognition of the fact that increased participation due to the test-taking mandate will almost certainly lower the starting point.  The people doing the average scale score section don’t seem to have understood that.   Their chart shows steady and unrealistic growth (except a 0.1 drop for white students in the final year), with all reaching 24 after five years.  Here it is:

This is absurd.   At Hersey High School in Arlington Heights IL, a much less diverse school with much lower poverty  than MMSD (14% low income) that since 2001 has become the Mecca for those who worship at the alter of the ACT/EXPLORE/PLANN system of placing ACT prep at the center of school activities, no doubt starting above the MMSD full participation benchmark, it took six years to get the composite average  to 24.0 (the current is 25.2).  Closer to home, the temple for ACT worshipers is (much less diverse, at 15.8% Free/Reduced Lunch, much less impoverished) Monona Grove.   They joined the ACT religion in 2008-9.  That year their ACT composite was 21.7; it is now 22.3Nationally, only 26% of (mostly self-selected) test-takers achieve a 24 composite.  Absurd and incompetent.

You may think this is nitpicking, but these are highly paid professionals who didn’t do their homework to arrive at realistic goals and have made the kind of stupid errors that would cost students serious points on the standardized tests that these same highly paid professionals are employing in the name of “accountability.”  Shouldn’t they be accountable?

Despite some coaching from the Board that resulted in fixing the above issues, problems related problems remain the second version.  Those are covered in the “Strike Two” section.

Strike Two

The second swing  — the version of the “Accountability Requirements for Achievement Gap Plan” on the 11/5/12 agenda —  is much expanded (61 pages in comparison to 31), but not much improved.  Another wild, unbalanced and mistimed lunge at an almost unhittable pitch.  Like the first (and so many of the things produced by MMSD administration) much space is devoted to documenting that staff are very busy (of course repeatedly documenting this helps keep people busy) and very little to what is going on with students (I’m not sure why this is “accountability’).  Like the first, the actual “accountability” focus is on “goals.” Like the first, many of these goals (and many of the benchmark starting points) are left blank or labeled “TBD.” Like the first, where there are numbers attached to the goals, they are wildly unrealistic.

As the play-by-play announcer, I’m going to limit detailing how this swing misses to two places where numbers are attached to standardized test based goals.  The first involves the ACT; the second the state achievement tests (now WKCE, soon to be  “SMARTER Balanced Assessments”).

As explained above,  I  don’t like “goals” in standardized test based “accountability systems” (I’m not very fond of standardized test based “accountability systems” in general, but no room for all that here), but if you are going to have goals, they should be realistic, they should be based on in-depth knowledge of the tests, the performance of comparable students on these tests, and the improvements achieved elsewhere using similar programs.  As one Board Member pointed out at a recent meeting, this is exactly the kind of expertise that the Board expects from their highly paid professional administrators.  They ain’t getting what they paid for (in baseball terms, we are approaching  Alex Rodriguez in the last post-season).

The error Mary Burke pointed out with ACT participation has been corrected..  At the previous meeting there was a discussion of how expanded ACT participation will yield new baseline starting scores, and this was (in the first version) and is (in the second version) reflected by leaving blank most those portions  covering percents of students scoring at or above the college ready benchmarks set by the ACT.  For the same reasons,  the ACT “Average Composite Score” section discussed above is now blank.  All this is good,  but in the left hand column of the benchmark charts in both versions ,for each subject area there is a 40% goal (page 32).  I’m going to leave aside important criticisms of the ACT Benchmarks, to address why the 40% goal is problematic.   Nationally last year, only 25% of the mostly self-selected test-takers met the benchmark in all four subjects.  The percents varied greatly, from 67% in English to 31% in science.   At Hersey High (with their test friendly demographics and over ten years of emphasizing the ACT) only 39.2% of test-takers made all four benchmarks.   The goals for MMSD should reflect this reality, (and similar evidence on subgroups;i it should be noted that you can reach the 40% goal in each individual subject and still not have 40% meeting all four benchmarks, but my point is that the data we have shows that 40% is easier or harder for different subjects , and that 40% in any may be  out of reach in some subjects).

There are similar, but more pronounced and complex problems with the section that sets goals of 90% “proficiency” on state tests in Mathematics and Literacy at the end of five years (page 17).  Here is the chart for literacy (sorry for the bad reproduction):

Although the WKCE is referred to, the numbers in the far right column reflect the very problematic “WKCE as mapped to NAEP cut scores” (see “The news from Lake Gonetowoe” for some of the problems with these cut scores) and the WKCE is on the way out to be replaced by “SMARTER Balanced Assessments,”   Some confusion here that I’m going to avoid by simply saying “state tests.”  Since the NAEP derived cut scores are the order of the day, I guess MMSD has to use them, but they have a choice about which levels to concentrate on and “Proficient” is the wrong level.

My preference would be to do the multiple measures, small ball thing and track movement among scale scores, or failing that movement among the various cut score defined levels (which is what the “Growth”  calculation in the new Report Cards does).    If you are only going to use one level and are going to set goals, “Basic” is the level you want.  It is where you will see the most movement and get the most useful information.

Eventually I hope to do a few more posts about the meaning of NAEP cut score levels and how they compare to the old WKCE levels and many related things.   For now I’m going just repost my new favorite quote from National Academy of Sciences publication, “Grading the Nation’s Report Card: Evaluating NAEP and Transforming the Assessment of Educational Progress,”

and add the general NAEP level descriptions (there are more detailed ones for the grades NAEP tests, 4, 8, and 12).  Here is the quote (again):

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)

Here are the descriptions:

Achievement Level Policy Definitions
Basic This level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.
Proficient This level represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.
Advanced This level signifies superior performance.

I think that at this time the “Achievement Gaps” work in MMSD should concentrate on getting students to the “Basic” level, as defined by NAEP.

This belief is reinforced by national data on student NAEP performance.  This first chart shows the 8th grade NAEP level distribution for all students (NAEP tests a sample of students and adjusts reporting to reflect the entire population, charts from here):

In 2011 42% were in the “Basic” level.  This is where the median and mean are.  If we are most concerned with the students who aren’t reading and can’t do simple math, that means moving them from “Below Basic” to “Basic.”  I have no problem with also monitoring “Proficient” and “Advanced,” but the heart of this is in the basic category.

Two more graphs to show a little more of this and transition to the goals being set.  This one shows the distribution of scores for those students not eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch:

The next is for Free Lunch students (NAEP reporting here does not combine Free and Reduced):

I’m not going to deny that the “proficiency” gap between these two groups of 28 points isn’t worthy of attention, but I will argue that the gap in “Basic” or above of 26 points and the gap of 22% in those reaching “Basic” are more important and more likely to be narrowed by the programs in in the Achievement Gaps Plan.  This is where the action should be and what we should be watching (if we are only going to watch one level).

If it isn’t already obvious from these charts, the 90% “Proficiency” in five years set as a goal in versions  1 and 2 is a pipe dream, like the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.  No competent education professional familiar with NAEP cut scores and performance levels and MMSD would put this before the Board of Education for consideration, yet some combination of MMSD administrators signed off on it, twice.  Strike two.

The Next Pitch

I wanted to get this finished and posted before the 11/5 meeting, but I didn’t.  I also wanted to attend the meeting, but it is/was my son’s birthday.  I hope that some of these issues and some others were raised at the meeting (I’ll watch the video and find out).

There are many other issues, like the fact that the AVID section doesn’t appear to recognize that if the other “goals” are reached, the comparison group will be an upwardly moving target; that “Stakeholders” is most often defined as district staff and not students, parents or community members; that the Cultural Responsiveness work has no academic results attached to it; that in Madison — a Union Town — the Career Academy section has no role for organized labor in planning or implementation, but business interests have the best seats at the table (and some will be paid for being there, this is what you expect from Scott Walker, not MMSD);  and to repeat what was said above that much of this is documenting staff being busy and in many key places where measurement of one sort or another is called for the lines are blank or say ‘TBD.”   On this last (with the exception of the ACT where the mandated participation warrants holding off) , the idea of attaching a requirement to have an accountability plan was to have a plan, not a promise to come up with one at some future date.  I could go on (and on), but I think I’ve made the point that the quality of  thought and work that has gone into this by the administration thus far has been lacking in many areas.

It looks like another draft (the third pitch)  will be coming back to the Board on November 26th.   I very much hope that draft is much better than the work we have seen to this point.  I hope it isn’t strike three.  The administrators have demonstrated that they can make corrections when problems are pointed out to them (like the inecusable errors with ACT participation in the first draft), when they get good coaching from the Board.  That is a good thing, but expectations should be higher.  It isn’t the Board’s job to know the distribution of NAEP scores, and it certainly isn’t their job to educate the administration on this (it goes without saying that there is something very wrong when it falls to me — an interested community member  —  to point out their apparent ignorance in the very areas they are being paid to be experts in).   There needs to be some accountability here,  the Board and the community have a right to expect better work.  If we aren’t getting it from those now responsible, we need to find people who can provide it.   The Board is not going to make good decisions without good information. The improvements our students and community need and deserve are not going to happen without competent people at the top.  There needs to be some accountability.  The Board needs to hold the administration accountable , and we need to hold the Board accountable for doing that.

Three Board seats on the ballot in April 2013.  Could be a whole new ballgame.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Opt Out — Just Say No to the WKCE

The Zombies – “Tell Her No” (click to listen or download)

The WKCE testing and related assessments are scheduled for next week in the Madison Metropolitan School District schools (full schedule of MMSD assessments, here), but your child doesn’t have to be part of it.  You can opt out.  Families with students in grades 4,8, & 10 have a state statutory right to opt out of the WKCE; I have been told that it is district practice to allow families to opt out of any and all other, discretionary, tests.  We opted out this year.  In order to opt out, you must contact your school’s Principal (and do it ASAP, (contact info here).

The WKCE does your child no good.  Just about everyone agrees that even in comparison to other standardized tests, it is not a good assessment.  Because results are received so late in the year, it isn’t of much use to target student weaknesses or guide instruction.  There are no benefits for students.

There are also no benefits for schools and the district, and some potential for harm.  The WKCE is central to the new Wisconsin “Accountability” system (discussed here) and will be part of the new “Educator Effectiveness” system, being implemented.  Both of these are built on the — likely false (see: “Snookered by Bill Gates and the U. S. Department of Education“) — promise of  “SMARTER Balanced Assessments,” but because the Report Cards include a “growth measure” and the educator evaluations include a Value Added component, the WKCE will be part of the calculations for at least two more years (this will be accomplished by pretending that the WKCE is essentially the same as the new test, which in fact it likely is, in that it will no doubt measure scocio-economic status better than it measures anything else).

Way back in 2007, a DPI staffer wrote to a Monona Grove School Board Member that:

A large-scale, summative assessment such as the WKCE is not designed to provide diagnostic information about individual students. Those assessments are best done at the local level, where immediate results can be obtained. Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum (emphasis added).

But in the mania to compare and rate and evaluate that is the new Status Quo, this is almost exactly how the WKCE is being used.  Not the WKCE alone, but in the Report Cards the WKCE dominates and in the Educator Evaluation the WKCE test scores may be decisive (test scores only account for a small part of the evaluations, but if the other portions show little variance, the test score portion will be determinative).  No good can come from this and the mis-impressions created  —  about districts, schools, educators and students  —  are harmful, if only because they create confusion and make it more difficult to have productive policy deliberations.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that opting out can have consequences for schools and districts.  The new Wisconsin system takes away points based on low participation, so there will be an impact there.  If your child is likely to score in the higher ranges, their absence will lower the scores used to produce the “accountability” measures.   If the school consequently falls into one of the two lower tiers,  extended day programs and school improvement plans are required.  If it is in the lowest tier, then the plans must include out-sourcing to an approved “turnaround” vendor.  As I noted before, this is privatization of public services and turnaround specialists do not have records of success that inspire confidence.  A school or district that fails to “turnaround” is subject to further intervention by the State Superintendent.  A school or  that does not cooperate with these directives “will close.”

Although school administrators have criticized the system,  I doubt districts will choose the noncooperation option.  Too bad, that would be a fight that would shine a bright light on the this conception of “accountability.”

Opting out is a smaller version of noncooperation that is available to every family.  You don’t have to be part of the madness.

It can also become something larger. Without all of childrens’ test scores, the machine grinds to a halt.  There is a national Opt Out movement.    Here are some places to find out more (including opt out rights and procedures in other states and districts):

The “Opt Out” page from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing

The Opt Out of Standardized Tests Site

United Opt Out National

Parents & Kids Against Standardized Testing (Facebook)

OPT OUT OF THE STATE TEST: The National Movement (Facebook)

In closing, I want to point to an alternative to the over-use and abuse of standardized testing.  Thee are many;  this one — New York Performance Standards Consortium’s  performance-based assessments — was featured in a Washington Post post, “An alternative to standardized testing for student assessment,” by Monty Niel today.  Check it out.  We can do better.

Thomas J. Mertz

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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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