Take Nothing from the MMSD at Face Value

The MMSD’s “data-driven” administration provides plenty of numbers and authoritative sounding assertions.
Take none at face value. The facts are often riddled with incomplete data, and the assertions are usually unsubstantiated.

My efforts to get budget and spending information on Reading Recovery stands as a typical example of problems with data. I asked for a couple of months for 1) how much the MMSD budgeted for Reading Recovery in 2004-2005, 2) how much was spent in 2004-2005, and 3) how much the board budgeted for 2005-2006.
Roger Price, Assistant Superintendent-Business Services, finally provided 2004-05 Reading Recovery Totals on the MMSD Web site. However, they are in no way totals of anything. As Superintendent Rainwater wrote, after I questioned the figures, the posted “total” isn’t the total “because the budget for Reading funded through Title 1 is not included as part of the Teaching and Learning budget. Only the expenses are charged to the Department as they are incurred.” Additionally, the “total” does not include any salaries.
So don’t take any MMSD numbers at face value.
When I commented in an e-mail to board members that the spending appeared to exceed the budgeted amount, Superintendent Rainwater asserted, without any proof, “We have not increased the expenditure level for reading recovery.” How can we possibly know, when the MMSD cannot (or won’t) provide the amount budgeted for last year, amount spent for last year, and amount budgeted for this year? We simply cannot.
Never is caveat emptor more true than when dealing with the MMSD administration.

One thought on “Take Nothing from the MMSD at Face Value”

  1. I agree with Ed’s assessment. The numbers and statistics are problematic for several reasons. My interests are in performance and achievement, the real results of education, though the financial side comes in a close second — cost/benefit analysis, anyone?
    1) Incompleteness is an issue, but so is completeness. I remember Roger Price indicating that when he is asked (by the Board) for detailed analysis, he is required to be accurate.
    Assuming that is the goal, perfect accuracy takes an awfully long time and significant effort, whereas for policy purposes, for which the Board and public should be interested (most of the time), getting accuracy means enough significant information to make accurate policy decisions.
    2) The same is true for student achievement. It seems that one either performs detailed (and not made public) statistical analyses at the scientific research level, or very little analysis (such as looking only at one demographic variable at a time — that is no multi-dimensional analysis). This is true at MMSD as well as reported by other educational organizations (for examplel, recent average ACT/SAT scores) — averages need to be seen in the context of a full distribution — let’s see the curve.
    3) Then we have those cases cited by Ed, where MMSD doesn’t deliver any significant information — concluding that there is no interest in informing the public of anything.

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