Focus on front lines of achievement gap: Questions on Madison Administrative Spending

Adaeze Okoli:

I understand closing the achievement gap is a huge task. But the Madison School District often fails to take the right measures. It is a mistake, for example, to spend more money hiring top-level staff to coordinate meetings and oversee district plans. If we truly want to close the achievement gap, resources need to be on the front lines — at the schools working with kids. This is not the approach the district is choosing.
Recently, the School Board voted to hire a chief of staff for interim Superintendent Jane Belmore. The position will cost $170,000 and last one year. The superintendent said: “We’re about doing everything we can to start to close that achievement gap and in order to do that this position is critical.”
I disagree. I understand the need for staff support and accountability. Overseeing a large school district is a huge undertaking. But hiring more top-level staff who earn six figures will not teach third-graders at Glendale Elementary how to read and write.

Related: 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.
Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay.
Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 Madison Rotary Club speech:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

  • william.p rowe

    Agree,the $170.000 wasted,the Interim Superintendent dosent need that position. The underachieving students are being tought in the same building,by the same teachers as students who are acheiving at grade or higher. We need to get help to parents of underachievers who are not parenting. The cause of impaired parenting varies from emotional to physical but includes various addictions and other causes. Schools are not equipped to work with adult problems,schools must turn this over to other community leaders in business and other areas.we are losing grade levels by holding teachers responsible for the increasing percentage of parents with impaired parenting skills.

  • Millie

    It doesn’t necessarily come down to “impaired parenting”. There is too much evidence of an achievement gap with middle class African American students, and “even with” African-American or mixed race students with white or biracial parents in relationships that span decades, and that include one or more highly educated and caring parents.
    I agree that six-figure salaries in newly created administrative positions are not likely to fix our achievement gap. However, I do find it ironic that a graduate of the Middleton schools is telling MMSD how messed up they are in dealing with an achievement gap. I don’t know how it makes me feel at the base of it, but it made me cock my head and re-read the writer’s background. Why did she “get to” go to Middleton schools? Who is she to tell Madison schools (as an outsider) how to deal with MMSD achievement gaps? Did her family move to get out of Madison? Was her own educational experience that much better simply because she moved out of Madison schools, if that’s what happened? Why is an achievement gap less obvious in a school district (Middleton) with far fewer African-American and other minority students? If it were as simple as “Black kids don’t do well – it must be the parenting – and that’s all there is too it,” why would that not be even more glaringly obvious where there are fewer students of color?