Responding to Ed Hughes

Dave Baskerville (7 April 2016)

Mr. Ed Hughes, Member, MMSD Board 4/7/16

Ed, I finally got around to reading your “Eight Lessons Learned” article in the 3/9/16 edition of CT. Interesting/thanks. As you know from our previous discussions, we have similar thinking on some of the MMSD challenges, not on others. For the sake of further dialogue and to continue your tutorial style (‘learned’, ‘not learned’) without my trying to be either facetious or presumptious., let me comment as follows:

LESSON ONE. “It’s Complicated”. Certainly agree, but not an excuse for catching up with the rest of the First World. Did you learn that? Challenges which you rightly say are ’multiyear and multipronged’ become far more complicated when there is not a clearcut, long term direction for a company or system. It seems that every responsible board of private/public or NGO institutions has that responsibility to the CEO (read Superintendant).

You talk of improvement (kaizen), but “better” for the status quo alone is not enough when we have been falling behind for several generations. What you apparently did not learn is that with our global rankings and radical changes in technology and the future world of work, serious transformation of our system is needed?

LESSON TWO. “No Silver Bullet”. There can be 1~3 long term goals, but agree, 426 WI school districts need to figure out in their own ways how to get there. (And where things are measured, they are more often done. Dare you provide, as 300 HSs around the country and 14 in WI have done, the PISA tests for all of our MSN 15 years olds. $15,000 per HS, and indeed, does that ever prod Supt’s, and citizens to set their goals long term and higher! And execute!)

LESSON THREE. “Schools Are Systems”. Agree with Gawande that “a system-wide approach with new skills, data-based, and the ability to implement at scale” is needed. Look at Mayo Clinic where my wife and I spend too much of our time! As you say, a significant cultural shift is required. But what you did not learn is what he said later: “Transformation must be led at the top”. That means clearly articulating for the CEO, staff and public the long term destination point for rigorous achievement and the quantitative means to measure. You did not learn that it does not mean getting involved in the vast HOW of ‘defining the efforts of everyone’, innovation, implementation and details. A good CEO and her team will handle all of that.

LESSON FOUR. “Progress Requires Broad Buy-in”. True. Yet, are you not as a Board getting way into the nitty gritty issues, while at the same time not having a clear long term goal with a Scorecard that not only educators can comprehend but all of us citizens? You did not learn that much of strategy and most all of tactics is not a Board’s prerogative to dwell in/muck around in. But the responsibility to articulate a few goals and a scorecard to vigorously monitor for the broader public is a critical constituency responsibility for the MMSD and the broader buy-in.

LESSON FIVE. “Buy-in can’t be bought”. Agree, many business values are not relevant in education.. But to me , what was not learned from the Zukerberg:Newark disaster was rather that you cannot transform a poorly performing system by simply pouring many more resources and monies into it and enabling/enhancing the status quo. (Believe now in San Francisco, Zuckerberg has learned that as well.)

LESSON SIX. “No substitute for Leadership”. Certainly. That’s why I give you folks a rough time! But your reference to a balance of ‘the best system’ and’ teacher /staff commitment’ is valid. Very much mutually needed for global achievement. And you certainly should be discussing those with Jen, as she sees fit.. But it’s not primarily your Board responsibilities. Again to repeat, by mucking around too much in those Supt. Management, and tactical areas and completely missing the long term, measurable goals/ direction, you have not learned the most critical Board role as I outlined in Lesson One above. In addition where management meets political or union road blocks to substantial progress towards those goals, boards must often step in.

And I would add in most institutions, charisma does not transfer. Milt McPike was a great leader that I’m sure considerably improved the achievement levels at East HS. But is not the Purgolders back to mediocre? If the MMSD Board would have had a transformed system with very clear long term goals for East with a PISA Scorecard that involved the public, I’m betting Milt’s accomplishments would be being built on. If we lose Jen in the next few years, I fear likewise. (Or better, you really challenge her with some 20 year global targets, get out of the way, and maybe she’ll stay with us that long.)

LESSON SEVEN. “Improvement Takes Time”. Of course. But you have simply not learned a sense of urgency. Finland, South Korea, Japan, Shanghai-China, etc….are not going to just watch and wait for 20 years our MMSD kids to catch up. They are all forthrightly after further improvement. Those countries unlike you MMSD Board Members really believe/expect their kids can be trained with the best in the world. Very high expectations! You look at where investment in the world is made…where in the USA millions of jobs lack needed skilled people….why over 65% of the UW-MSN doctoral/ post doc students in almost all of the critical science, engineering and math courses are non-Americans. You have not learned, ED, that a long term direction AND urgency must go together!

LESSON EIGHT. “Incremental progress is good progress”. Agree, lurching about in goals/system approach is not good. A “sustainable school…and coherent approach guided by a system-wide vision…” is good. But as said above, you’ve not learned that your ‘incremental progress’ is not enough! The MMSD approach essentially does not recognize the global job market our kids will walk into. Does not recognize that 20 years hence 65% of the careers now do not exist. ( So only major achievement/competency in the basics {MATH, Science, Reading} will provide some assurance of good work/salaries/further trainability during their lifetime.) That with todays transformation of technology, STEM and blue collar jobs as well as universties will definitely require those kinds of skills for social mobility and self-sufficiency.

That’s it for now. See you at the Club, give me a call if you wish to discuss further,
And either way, best regards,

Dave Baskerville (608-259-1233)

Much more on Ed Hughes, here.

Unfortunately, Madison’s monolithic, $17K+ per student system has long resisted improvement. We, as a community have tolerated disastrous reading results for decades, rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory IB Charter school and astonishingly, are paying to expand our least diverse schools (Hamilton middle and Van Hise elementary) via a 2015 referendum….

Further reading, from 2005! When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before.


Two of the most popular — and most insidious — myths about academically gifted kids is that “they’re all rich, white kids” and that, no matter what they experience in school, “they’ll do just fine.” Even in our own district, however, the hard data do not support those assertions.
When the District analyzed dropout data for the five-year period between 1995 and 1999, they identified four student profiles. Of interest for the present purpose is the group identified as high achieving. Here are the data from the MMSD Research and Evaluation Report from May, 2000:

Group 1: High Achiever, Short Tenure, Behaved
This group comprises 27% of all dropouts during this five-year period.
Characteristics of this group:

Finally, a few of these topics arose during a recent school board member/candidate (all three ran unopposed this spring) forum. MP3 audio.

Change is hard and our children are paying a price, as Mr. Baskerville notes.