I’d like to ask more about rejecting $2 million for reading

Barb Schrank started a discussion below about questions people would like to ask the board and superintendent during the MMSD’s budget deliberations. Here post actually hasn’t generated much discussion, so I’m re-posting the questions that I’d like to ask:
I’d like the Board and Superintendent to tell the community more about why the Superintendent choose not to use the Reading First funds ($2 million approximately) to expand Read 180 which is currently used and supported by the district.

Here’s what was reported in the newspaper about Read 180: “Read 180 has expanded from a pilot program at Wright Middle School in the 2001-02 school year to 15 schools serving 1,100 students, said Sharyn Stumpf, secondary language arts resource teacher. The district wants to add 150 more students and upgrade materials, which would cost about $154,400.” You can read the full story here.
Read 180 is a highly scripted program, but the district said it didn’t want the Reading First funds because they would have to be used for a highly scripted reading program. Read 180 is so highly scripted that the students work on a computer. What could be more scripted?
The district rejected the money because the scripted Reading First programs would take the teacher out of the learning process, so the Superintendent said. Yet, Read 180 takes the teacher completely out of the teaching process when the student works at a computer.
The Superintendent said the district didn’t want the Reading First funds because the federal government has no place in directing the education of Madison children. If that’s true, will the Superintendent and school board return ALL federal money that requires the district to meet certain standards or provide certain programs?
There have to be other reasons for why the Superintendent decided not to pursue $2 million in federal funds. What were the REAL reasons? There’s more behind the decision than anyone has been told. I’d like parents, students, teachers, and taxpayers to press for answers.
Ed Blume
See the Web site for Read 180 here.

6 thoughts on “I’d like to ask more about rejecting $2 million for reading”

  1. The decision to turn down the $2mm in federal funds may have made sense from an educational standpoint (I don’t know enough to make that determination) but from a public relations standpoint, it was a monumental blunder. With that decision, Rainwater may have doomed the operating budget referendum (and perhaps all 3) to failure. How can you ask taxpayers to pay more taxes to fund the operating budget after you’ve just turned down $2mm in federal money? It takes a lot of chutzpah. And I say this as someone who will vote yes for and otherwise support all 3 referendums.

  2. Let me rephrase my previous comments in question format: How much consideration was given to how the public would react to the decision to turn down the $2mm? What kind of public reaction, if any, did the administration expect? Were the decision’s implications vis-a-vis prospective referenda taken into consideration?
    I ask these questions because I’m dismayed that the administration would make such a decision knowing that an operating budget referendum may be held. To me, it demonstrates an alarming obliviousness to (or blatant disregard for) public opinion.

  3. I do find it unusual that the $2M Reading First decision was not sufficiently material to merit a public Madison School Board discussion. The net taxpayer effect of this is actually more than $2M, given “negative aid” (Negative Aid means that state education funds actually decrease as local spending increases beyond state mandated revenue growth rates via referendums).
    I also think that recent decisions to hold referendums on special, sparsely attended election dates is terrible public policy (and costs Madison taxpayers 87K to 90K per special election). We should hold referendums on standard election dates, including those with Board Candidates.
    On these issues, I have to agree with Don Severson that it’s all about credibility. The District and Board must demonstrate some concern for the local taxpayers or risk losing the ability to actually pass referendums. The referendum dates (and expenses) are bad public policy.
    I also think the Madison School Board should lead a state effort to change the way we fund schools, rather than let the lobbyists fight it out on Capitol Square.

  4. I appreciate the opportunity to read and make posts on schoolinfosystems.org, however, I invite you at any time to come the Madison School Board meetings to talk about your concerns. The door is almost always open.
    I want to give you my perspective regarding the Reading First grant. I first heard about it when a reporter called my home and stated on the voice mail, �I want to talk to you about the $2 million dollar Reading First grant, and why the district has turned it down.� My first reaction was, �Two Million Dollars!� I wasn�t even thinking about what it did or covered, my mind was fixated on the �Two Million Dollars!� Which is a lot of money but that�s where the issue stops for most people�
    There is no secret that the MMSD is in a very challenging situation as it relates to the budget. However, I don�t believe that money can be the central reason to alter curriculum or deviate from an educational model such as Balanced Literacy. I know that teachers work hard in this district whether they�re teaching Direct Instruction, Reading Recovery, Read 180 or �Brown Bear, Brown Bear� which happens to be my 15 month old daughter�s favorite book.
    I have investigated this issue further but have come to several conclusions. First, the district teachers and administrative staff know far more about teaching children how to read than I do. I have to trust their judgment relating to the education of our students. I have asked many teachers about their opinions regarding this issue. All of them agreed that subjecting all of their students to a curriculum that had no data wouldn’t have been good for the district. In addition, several additional assessments would have had to be used. Just what students need – more tests! Second, I called Dr. Kathy Howe of Oregon University who was the coordinator of Reading First and who met with the district staff to get some additional information. She wouldn�t talk to me other than state that the MMSD no longer was a part of Reading First. To be honest, her tone to me was very condescending. Third, as a former center director, I do know about grants. When you are awarded a grant from the Federal level (or any level), you must conform to their rules. The Reading First grant was not flexible. Yes, it was two million dollars but the majority would have been spent on materials. Which is what they want you to do! This grant of two million dollars would not have changed the operating budget. It also couldn�t be used for Read 180, which is a pilot program at Lincoln and Allis Elementary School. Read 180 is mostly used in Middle and High Schools for struggling readers. Read 180 is partially funded by a grant. You can�t mix the two! Honestly, I don’t think that the decision to turn down the Reading First grant was made easily or haphazardly.
    Lastly, I grew up in Madison and attended Madison schools. When I attended Lindbergh I was one of the top readers in my grade level. My daughter Tasia was one of the top readers at Wright Middle School. For these very two reasons, I can�t subscribe to the theory that African American children should have X curriculum or low-income students should have Y curriculum and the rest have Z curriculum. There is no magic bullet! Meaning there is no curriculum that is can be used to solve every student�s challenge to read or learn. This is why I support good teachers because that�s where the magic happens. Thanks for the opportunity to state my opinion.
    Johnny Winston, Jr.
    Madison School Board, Member

  5. I made the below argument (posted on my website) at the Glendate Forum recently. No one understood it. Maybe it will be more understandable in writing.
    Five schools were involved in the $2M Reading First grant: Glendale, Hawthorne, Lincoln, Midvale, and Orchard Ridge. These schools were considered failing because more than 20% of the kids were not achieving proficient or advanced status on reading tests.
    The district received $700,000 to modify their reading program (Balanced Literacy) to fit within the guidelines of the Reading First curriculum (an NCLB-approved curriculum). After the district did so, the NCLB refused to accept the changes, and demanded the district replace the Balanced Literacy curriculum with the Reading First curriculum in the 5 “failing” schools. The district refused, did so without the Board’s prior approval or consultation, and the Board refused to consider it in open discussion.
    Setting aside the Board’s obvious lack of leadership, their lack of concern for the public and the politics of not allowing discussion, and any issues regarding which curricula are better than others (which I’m not competent to address), the question to address is “Was the Administration’s decision ultimately correct?” When analyzed thoroughly, the answer is yes.
    Here is the analysis.
    Any curriculum will divide the kids into two populations: kids for whom the curriculum works and kids for whom the curriculum does not work. This is just a law of nature, and holds for medical treatments (medicines will work for some, fail for others), food flavors (some with like a flavor, others will not), and it holds for the district’s Balanced Literacy approach (and holds for NCLB’s Reading First approach — Reading First admits it will not work for 20%).
    All schools in the district have these two populations, the “succeeding” schools as well as the 5 “failing” schools. In the succeeding schools, the split is 80%-20%; in the failing schools, the split is 70%-30%. All the schools have kids in the “not working for” population.
    Now comes the analysis! First, frame the problem. One framed problem is “Why the difference between the failing and succeeding schools?”. This is the diagnosis phase of analysis.
    The first reason could be that the population of kids for whom the curriculum does not work is not evenly distributed across the district, and perhaps in the areas served by the 5 schools, the percentage of that population is higher. That is, the assumption that the “failing for” population is 20% across the District is wrong.
    A second reason could be that the 5 schools are not implementing the Balanced Literacy curriculum correctly and thus not picking up the 10% that the other schools are.
    A third reason is perhaps the succeeding schools are augmenting the curriculum and thus picking up another 10%.
    There could be other reasons or a combination of the above. In any case, we have to remember that whether “failing” or “succeeding”, every school is not reaching a significant minority of kids.
    In any case, we need to collect additional information to determine which diagnosis is correct. The administration didn’t do this, and the Kathy Howe of Reading First did not want to do this.
    Next, having found the correct diagnosis, we set the direction.
    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And KISS (keep it simple, stupid!).
    For a significant majority of kids in the 5 “failing” schools, Balanced Literacy is working. And, when one comes across a problem, it’s usually best to focus on solving the problem, rather than replacing everything. (You don’t buy a new house because your current house needs a new roof!).
    The NCLB demand to replace Balanced Literacy with Reading First makes no sense because it is not focusing on the problem!; and would make sense only if there were proof that the Reading First approach was significantly better than Balanced Literacy approach overall. But, then, we should replace the curriculum in all schools, and this issue, as I said previously, is for experts and beyond my scope of competency
    In any case, what I perceive in both the Balanced Literacy world and the Reading First world is a strong tendency of the proponents to wed themselves to theory over facts, to make the curriculum the master instead of the slave to the real goal of teaching our kids to read.
    The other problem in the analysis to address is understanding the population of kids for whom Balanced Literacy (and Reading First) does not work.
    Frame the problem: Why does the curriculum not work for this population of kids?
    Some possible diagnoses — just off the top of my head.
    Diagnosis: Up to 10% of the population suffers from dyslexia. Some of our kids suffer from ADD (attention deficit disorders). The curriculum is not set up to address kids with these needs.
    Direction: Identify these kids, and augment or modify the curriculum to handle this population of students.
    In any case, the discussion surrounding these issues was less than enlightening, with no one, in my estimation, performing the kind of analysis that is required.

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