MMSD Equity Policy Exists – Board Not Overseeing Policy

On Monday, October 31st, the Madison School Board voted to establish an equity policy task force even though a board equity policy exists – The existing equity policy goals are twofold: (1) that all students will be provided an equitable educational opportunity in a diverse setting and (2) that all students will achieve in accordance with the 100% success objectives. MMSD School Board members are not taking the necessary steps to ensure that the existing School Board Equity Policy is being implemented as stated in the policy requirements. Why not? It seems to be easier for the Board majority to punt to another new task force and confuse the situation, further delaying action.
There are serious flaws and confusion in the ‘reasoning’ and applications of the ‘equity policy’ by the majority of the Board: equity and equal are NOT the same; nor do the equity policy and the equity formula mean, nor do the same things. The Board majority and the Administration conveniently hide behind the confusion and lack of accountability they create to ‘assure’ everyone they are doing everything they can given financial constraints that prevent them from doing more. The lack of prior board oversight, work and actions simply do not support the board majority’s statements on Monday night.
For example, as Chair of the Performance and Achievement Committee last year, Board member Juan Jose Lopez had both the power and the authority to set the agenda for his committee. Did his committee make closing the achievement gap a priority? No. Did his committee examine curriculum, identify where resources are being allocated and what support resources are needed, review test results, budgets and make recommendations for changes to improve the achievement gap? No. I attended all the Performance and Achievement Committee meetings. What was done? District administrators made “seminar type” information presentations on various subjects and curricula, but no data on MMSD’s students were presented.

Few decisions were made – none directly tied to improving student achievement and support services as needed, which is implicit in equity for our students. There was no attempt to find out what curriculum issues might exist that would hamper children’s academic achievement and which curricula or aspects of a curricula are helping our children achieve academically. No serious work was done on improving academic achievement for all our students. Further, after January 2005, while Mr. Lopez attended other Board and Board committee meetings, his Performance and Achievement Committee did not meet for the remainder of his term as Chair of that committee.
Why hasn’t the School Board overseen this policy more rigorously? The equity policy requires that “the Superintendent will present to the Board an annual report which will include each school’s educational goals and diversity profile. The report will also contain the progress or lack of progress each school has made toward reaching its goals, and appropriate recommendations for further action designed to achieve the goals.” The Superintendent does report to the School Board on the Board’s three priorities. The information contained in this report is necessary but not sufficient to oversee and to monitor the implementation of the equity policy. Succinct summaries needed to be presented to the School Board for their review and discussion. Why weren’t they?
There is no oversight or consistent follow-up by the board or a board committee, there is no reporting from the administration to the School Board as required in the policy. There is no committee work to assess curriculum that may be contributing to the achievement gap. So, when Board members say they are concerned about equity, their prior actions do not appear to support their statements. Financial challenges definitely exist for the District (I voted yes on all three referenda last spring), but that does not explain the School Board’s absence of monitoring important policies so they and the public can learn what is working/not working and what needs improvement. There are steps that need to be taken before making broad, sweeping statements that make for good press. There is an equity policy in place – the Board needs to do its job and enforce this policy.
If all that were needed for reducing the achievement gap were dollars, the School Board could have made that money available this year, for example, by making extracurricular activities self-funding. With high school sports at $2 million – the district could instead use that money to pay for 20-40 positions that could be used to teach children who need help. Or, maybe the Board needs to revisit the Reading Recovery program, which helps the neediest (but not all the neediest) first grade students vs. other reading curriculum assistance designed to help teachers work with children needing help in grades K-5. Reallocating Reading Recovery personnel would make available 20+ teaching positions. Or, perhaps the District could revisit Federal funding for reading programs – at least have some public discussions about possible next steps before turning our backs on such funding sources. Or, perhaps, make more programs in fund 80 self-funding and use part of that budget to support for kids that would qualify under the fund 80 guidelines. Lastly, the School Board could have reduced administrative staff.
There are positive steps that can be taken, but first the School Board needs to do the work of monitoring important policies such as the existing Equity Policy. If differences exist between the administration and parents/community members (such as on Madison’s northside) re. the implementation of this policy, it’s up to the School Board to work through these issues in a public format. How much longer does this community have to wait for this School Board to wake up and do its job?