“School Candidates Face Tough Issues”

WSJ Editorial:

Now they need to offer specific ideas for helping the district meet its many difficult challenges, such as:
The projected $6 million to $8 million gap in the 2006-2007 budget. How will the candidates keep educa tion levels high and costs low? What will be their priorities?
Shifting demographics. Many schools on the West and South sides, and some on the East Side, are crowded. Do the candidates agree with a task force’s preliminary options, including expanding Leopold and Chavez elementary schools and constructing a school on the far West Side?

More on the candidates here.

I wonder where these priorities came from?
The WSJ’s editorial is rather light on what I see as the most important issue for the Board: curriculum. The District’s curriculum strategy should drive all decisions, including budget, staffing, schedule, training and technology. It appears that I am not alone in this view as this site’s curriculum links are among the 10 most popular articles for 2005.

  • david cohen

    While there is no doubt that curriculum is important, I don’t think curricular issues exist in a vacuum. We really cannot separate issues of curriculum from issues of equity, the budget, and socio-economics- they are all completely inter-dependent on each other in the modern MMSD demographic picture.
    How a given Board member or candidate reacts to this inter-dependence, and how he or she prioritizes these issues, is what I notice most.

  • Ed Blume

    An effective curriulum, i.e., one that assures success for all students, addresses issues of equity, budget, and demographics.
    Many Milwaukee schools (with 90% low-income populations) have 90% of the third graders reading at proficient or advanced. When the school achieves that level of success because of an effective currilum, equity and socio-economic issues fade away, as well as the added costs of special ed and remediation.

  • Tim Schell

    Ed,
    I agree with your general point on the importance of a high quality curriculum, although I’d term it more broadly as student learning. Public schools exist to help children learn and everthing else should follow from that objective.
    But that doesn’t mean it is easy. I’m not sure what source claims that there are many Milwaukee schools with 90% low income where 90% are proficient/advanced on the old 3rd grade reading test. It is not accurate. While there are many elementaries in Milwaukee County that had 90% proficient/advanced on the 2004-2005 reading test, only two (Clemens Elementary and Kluge Elementary, both in Milwaukee) had 90% in free-reduced lunch. Milwaukee’s Hawthorne Elementary hit the 90% proficient mark with 87% FRL. This is based on comparing the WINSS information for schools in Milwaukee County.
    Turning to the 4th grade test, I went to http://www.schoolmatters.com, which has a better interface for sorting, but doesn’t carry the old 3rd grade test. For the Nov. 2004 WKCE in reading, 86% of 4th graders at my daughter’s school (Mendota) scored proficient/advanced. Statewide, only five schools met or exceeded that proficiency percentage with a higher poverty rate than Mendota (68.2%). These were Grand Marsh Elementary in Adams-Friendship (90% prof, 70.6% pov), Almena Elementary in Barron (100% prof, 71.2% pov, n.b. total K-5 enrollment of 66), River Trail Elementary in Milwaukee (92% prof, 72.1% pov), Jefferson Elementary in Green Bay (88% prof, 82.6% pov), and Brown Street Elementary in Milwaukee (86% prof, 88.2% pov).
    I agree completely with the point you have expressed well on several occasions. Poverty should not limit a student’s prospects and high poverty cannot be used as an excuse for chronically poor performance in a school. However, it is very challenging to consistently achieve a high proficient percentage in a high poverty school. It’s not easy. It’s hard to replicate to scale. There’s no single silver curriculum bullet.
    Like any district, there is plenty of room for improvment in MMSD. There are also schools that compare well. Do I wish every elementary in MMSD had a track record like Mendota or Lapham-Marquette? You bet. Raising achievement to that benchmark district-wide would be a great goal for the board. And achieving that, raising the bar would be a second great goal. But I don’t want anyone entering into this endeavor thinking that there is a widely successful curriculum that can be introduced to MMSD and voila! Better, I think, to look at our existing lighthouse programs and try to scale their best practices. Going to scale is always the challenge, in both the public and private sectors. Look how many corporations struggle to disseminate and implement best practices across divisions and locations!

  • Barb Schrank

    This blog began by talking about board candidates and issues facing the district. I can’t think of any more important responsibility for a school board than academic achievement (student learning) for all children in the district.
    I would like to see our school board take a more active leadership role in developing and monitoring goals and objectives that will keep the board’s focus on academic achievement, ongoing assessments and changes.
    The board’s Performance and Achievement Committee is the lead committee in this area. Last year, the Performance and Achievement Committee did not meet after January 2005 for many months. In the fall, the full board is presented with a report on the three board priorities. Following this report’s presentation would have been an opportune time for the Performance and Achievement committee to identify areas of focus. There was a “presentation” on the district’s reading curriculum, but this presentation was not tied to goals, next steps, strategies, etc.
    What might this central committee do? For example, look at/discuss the board priority that says students read at or above 3rd grade level by the end of 3rd grade. In 2004, approximately 17% of MMSD’s 3rd graders performed at the basic or minimum performance if I read the data correctly. The performance and achievement committee could a) consider developing in draft additional goals/objectives for the district to reach at earlier grades that could be considered / adopted by the full board, b) learn more about what is working for children’s in various schools and for different students – what curriculum, what costs, etc., c) what barriers are teachers facing?
    I look forward to hearing what our candidates have to say about these issues, and what they would do as board members.

  • Ed Blume

    Tim,
    I agree.
    Curriculum, in the classroom and at the district level, is a blueprint for learning and instruction. An excellent blueprint doesn’t guarantee an excellent building, but an excellent blueprint certainly enhances your chances of producing an outstanding structure, just as an excellent curriculum improves the possibilities of academic success.
    Unfortunately, the MMSD chooses to ignore its own curriculum successes in Read 180 at a few schools and Reading Mastery at Lapham to name a couple of examples. Neither have I’ve ever heard anyone in the MMSD administration say, “Mendota is doing well. Let’s see what they’re doing and try it in other schools.” In fact, the superintendent said to me more than once, “What works at Lapham works at Lapham,” as if Lapham’s successful reading program can’t be duplicated anyplace else in the district or the world, despite mountains of research to the contrary.
    I’ll double check the 90/90 schools in Milwaukee, which I did not do independently as Tim did. The blog has a video of a presentation on the success of an excellent reading curriculum in the Milwaukee schools where the presenters were principals: http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2004/11/norm_and_dolore.php