All posts by Bill Herman

Oconomowoc — unanswered questions

Regarding Oconomowoc’s proposal to let go 20% of its high school teachers, get rid of prep time, give the remaining teachers a $14,000 pay increase, and evidently move to a flipped classroom model supported by some kind of online system that provides content and creates individualized learning plans for the students —
It’s extraordinarily bold, and it may represent the wave of the future, but — I’m glad they’re going first. Reading between the lines of the Journal-Sentinel article, their plan will put a lot of weight on an online learning system that students will use at home, at night. The system will assess where each kid is on a learning continuum (probably the Common Core) and will “deliver appropriate content.” Teachers, during school, will help the kids with their homework. This is why the concept is called a “flipped classroom.” I’m oversimplifying, but this is the basic concept.
Some of this sounds good. Depending on class size, kids could end up getting more personalized attention from teachers than they do under the current lecture format. Kids also might have more opportunities to collaborate and problem solve together than they do now, lined up in rows and facing forward.
But there are concerns, too. A lot of students don’t even do schoolwork when at home, which means that in a flipped model they would never learn the subject matter in the first place. Online systems of this kind are expensive, which will put pressure on districts to increase class size. This could come to seem palatable since more and more of the instruction will be happening out of class, but it could backfire: the model depends on teachers having a manageable number of kids to help. And, most worrisome, online systems to support a flipped classroom are in their infancy. If I had kids at Oconomowoc HS, I’d be extremely concerned.
It would be nice if the Chris Rickerts of the world, before trumpeting the value of whatever disrupts the status quo, would look a little closer at the details, and ask a few more questions.

To the School Board: Why transfer 6 principals?

I sent the following message to the School Board yesterday, in reaction to MMSD’s announcement that 6 elementary principals will be moved to different schools this summer in a series of transfers.
I realize that it’s easy to talk tough from the sidelines, but I think that this is a significant personnel decision that will affect a lot of teachers, kids, and communities. If the School Board hasn’t received a thorough explanation of its rationale, I think they should request one.
A few people have suggested that I post my message to the Board here, so here it is.
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To the MMSD Board of Education:
I don’t think I understand why Elizabeth Fritz was transferred from Crestwood. It appears that Art Rainwater has decided to remove an effective leader from a healthy school–one whose health she has helped to develop. His letter did not make the reason clear, except to suggest that he thinks it is good to move principals from one school to another every so often. Is this really his view, or the view of the School Board? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Perhaps there are good reasons for these principal moves that I’m not aware of. But from the outside they give a worrisome impression–that the Superintendent might be “protecting his own” at the expense of the students he is serving. From the outside, and with incomplete information, it looks as though Mr. Rainwater might be doing the easier thing instead of the better thing–shuttling some unsuccessful principals to different schools instead of firing them. This would at least be a plausible motivation. Rotation for the sake of rotation does not seem to be.
I think the role of principal is the most important role in a school district, and that a principal has more impact on a school’s climate than any other person. Good ones are not so easy to come by, and I don’t think they should be transferred out unless there’s a good reason. I hope the School Board will question Mr. Rainwater closely on his reasons. If it appears he’s trying to protect weak principals, or if he can’t do better than to say that it’s good to rotate principals every so often, I hope the School Board will consider overturning his decision.
Thank you for your consideration.
Bill Herman

Question for Ruth Robarts: Better fallback plan required, or new building?

Thanks, Ms. Robarts, for calling attention to the problems with MMSD’s fallback proposal for boundary changes on the west side, if a referendum to build a new elementary school should fail. You point out that under the fallback plan, too many kids would be coming and going from some schools, and that the boundary changes would disproportinately affect certain schools on the west side.
Do you know if anyone has come up with a better proposal to handle west side growth, in the event we can’t build a new school?

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Are MMSD Programs Effective? Who Knows?

This is my first post to this blog, so I�ll start by introducing myself. My name is Bill Herman. I have two kids at Crestwood ES, and a third will start in the fall. Also, I work in K-12 education; I�m the technology director for Monona Grove Schools.
I read �Paper #1,� criticizing MMSD for declining $2 million of federal money for reading, with interest and some dismay. With interest because it does seem odd that the district would reject such a sum even if some strings are attached. With dismay because neither side in the debate had a good way to weigh the district�s key claim�that the existing program has improved student reading.
Both sides used WKCE scores to support their claims. Unfortunately, the WKCE is not a useful tool to assess the effectiveness of programs at MMSD or anywhere else, because it isn�t designed to measure student progress over time, or to compare scores from one year with scores from another year. This means that we have a bigger problem than not knowing if elementary reading instruction is effective in MMSD. We are not able to decisively assess the effectiveness of any instructional program in the Madison schools.

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