The Six Major Components of the MMSD High School Plan

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

In an earlier post, I provided my understanding of the background of the protest at West High about the proposal for changes in the District’s high school curriculum. I explained how the proposal was an outgrowth of the work that has gone on at the high schools for the last few years under the auspices of a federal grant, known as the REaL grant (for Relationships, Engagement and Learning).
That proposal, which will affect all four of the District’s comprehensive high schools and is now known as the High School Career and College Readiness Plan, has since evolved somewhat, partially in response to the feedback that has been received and partially as a consequence of thinking the proposals through a bit more.
Here is where things currently stand.
The high school proposal should start a conversation that could last for a few years regarding a long-term, systematic review of our curriculum and the way it is delivered to serve the interests of all learners. What’s currently on the table is more limited in scope, though it is intended to serve as the foundation for later work.
The principal problem the proposal is meant to address is that we currently don’t have any district-defined academic standards at the high school level. There is no established set of expectations for what skills students should be learning in each subject area each year. Since we don’t have any basic expectations, we also don’t have any specific and consistent goals for accelerated learning. A corollary of this is that we really don’t have many ways to hold a teacher accountable for the level of learning that goes on in his or her classroom. Also, we lack a system of assessments that would let us know how our students are progressing through high school.

Lots of related links:

All-male Madison charter school a tough sell

School District and School Board members expressed interest in the concept, though they’re still waiting for more details, especially a financial plan.
“I don’t want more charter schools simply for the sake of having more charter schools,” board member Ed Hughes said. “It (has to be for) something we would have a hard time achieving or even attempting under a traditional structure.”
Madison hasn’t approved as many charter schools as other parts of the state. Of the 208 public charter schools in Wisconsin, only two are in Madison, though on Nov. 29 the School Board is expected to approve a third – an urban-agriculture-themed middle school south of the Beltline near Rimrock Road.
The biggest hurdle, however, might involve a proposal to use non-union teachers employed by the charter school’s governing board, as opposed to the School District. Only 21 of the state’s public charter schools have a similar setup.
John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., said teachers would oppose a non-union charter school.
“It would be foolish public policy and a foolish commitment of the public’s funds to finance a project over which the elected body committing the public’s money does not have full control over both the expenditures and the policies of the operation,” Matthews wrote in an e-mail.
Caire wants the school year to span 215 days, rather than the standard 180 days, and the school day to run from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Perhaps Kaleem’s initiative will work with a neighborhing school district. Watch an interview with Kaleem Caire here. Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy here.

Virtual makeover: Open enrollment, online schools alter education landscape

Susan Troller

Eighth-grader James Roll enjoys learning math, science, English and social studies through an online school that lets him learn at his own pace using a computer at home. But he says he likes the art and music classes at what he calls “real school” — Kromrey Middle School in Middleton — even more.
James is a pioneer of sorts, and so is the Middleton-Cross Plains School District, when it comes to computer-based, or virtual, learning.
This year, Middleton launched its 21st Century eSchool. It’s one of just a dozen virtual schools in Wisconsin, and the second in Dane County; last year the McFarland School District became the sponsoring district for the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA), which opened for the 2009-2010 school year with about 400 students and this year counts twice that many.
The two schools share several key elements: They offer a broad range of online courses, beginning at the kindergarten level and continuing all the way through high school, employ licensed Wisconsin teachers to oversee online learning, and require that students participate in mandatory testing each year.
……
Hughes’ obvious irritation was fueled by recent open enrollment figures showing that Madison has lost more than 150 students to McFarland, both to the Wisconsin Virtual Academy and to McFarland bricks-and-mortar schools.
Hughes expanded on his frustration in a recent piece he wrote for his Ed Hughes School Blog: “Since we have to send about $6,800 per student to districts that receive our open enrollers, this means that we’ll be cutting a (perhaps figurative) check in excess of $1,000,000 to the McFarland School District.”
But McFarland Superintendent Scott Brown says his district is only getting $300 to $350 per student per year from the online school and says the Wisconsin Virtual Academy is not necessarily poaching students from the traditional classroom. “Schools like WIVA have brought a lot of students who may not have been under the tent of public education into school districts like ours.

More options for our children is great for them, parents, business, our communities and taxpayers.
With respect to Ed’s post, providing alternative models at what appears to be substantially lower cost than Madison’s annual $15K per student expenditures is good for all of us, particularly the students.
The financial aspects of the open enrollment and alternative education models gets to the heart of whether traditional districts exist to promote adult employment or student education.
The Khan Academy is worth a visit.. Standing in front of new education models and more choices for our children is a losing proposition. Just yesterday, Apple, Inc. announced the end of hard drives for volume computers with the introduction of a flash memory based notebook. Certainly, hard drive manufacturers will be fighting over a smaller market, but, new opportunities are emerging. Some will take advantage of them, others won’t. Education is no different.

The Backstory on the Madison West High Protest

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

IV. The Rollout of the Plan: The Plotlines Converge
I first heard indirectly about this new high school plan in the works sometime around the start of the school year in September. While the work on the development of the plan continued, the District’s responses to the various sides interested in the issue of accelerated classes for 9th and 10th grade students at West was pretty much put on hold.
This was frustrating for everyone. The West parents decided they had waited long enough for a definitive response from the District and filed a complaint with DPI, charging that the lack of 9th and 10th grade accelerated classes at West violated state educational standards. I imagine the teachers at West most interested in this issue were frustrated as well. An additional complication was that West’s Small Learning Communities grant coordinator, Heather Lott, moved from West to an administrative position in the Doyle building, which couldn’t have helped communication with the West teachers.
The administration finally decided they had developed the Dual Pathways plan sufficiently that they could share it publicly. (Individual School Board members were provided an opportunity to meet individually with Dan Nerad and Pam Nash for a preview of the plan before it was publicly announced, and most of us took advantage of the opportunity.) Last Wednesday, October 13, the administration presented the plan at a meeting of high school department chairs, and described it later in the day at a meeting of the TAG Advisory Committee. On the administration side, the sense was that those meetings went pretty well.
Then came Thursday, and the issue blew up at West. I don’t know how it happened, but some number of teachers were very upset about what they heard about the plan, and somehow or another they started telling students about how awful it was. I would like to learn of a reason why I shouldn’t think that this was appallingly unprofessional behavior on the part of whatever West teachers took it upon themselves to stir up their students on the basis of erroneous and inflammatory information, but I haven’t found such a reason yet.

Lots of related links:

$12 an Hour for Teachers, $1.7 Million a Year for the Teachers’ Boss: Your Property Tax Dollars at Work in McFarland

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

We received the Open Enrollment numbers for this year and they provide much grist for thought. My first reaction is prompted by the fact that 158 MMSD students have open enrolled in the McFarland School District. Since we have to send about $6,800 per student to districts that receive our open enrollers, this means that we’ll be cutting a (perhaps figurative) check in excess of $1,000,000 to the McFarland School District.
Since last year, McFarland has operated a virtual school. This year, according to Gayle Worland’s article in last Sunday’s State Journal, the virtual school has enrolled 813 students, and a grand total of 5 of them live in McFarland.
Actually, it is overly generous to say that McFarland “operates” the virtual school, known as Wisconsin Virtual Academy. More accurately, McFarland has contracted with a publicly-traded corporation, K12, Inc., to operate the charter school, through another organization called Four Lakes Education.

Georgia School Board Report Card

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DaShonna Taylor, parent
Grade: B –
“I’m grateful to the school board and transportation department who came together to reinstate the bus routes for my corridor. There’s always room for improvement and it’s early in the (school) year. I just moved to the county and I’m still trying to evaluate some things with the board.”
Kenny Ruffin, Riverdale councilman
Grade: A-
“They’ve pretty much met most of the goals set for them by SACS. They’re the board I would credit with helping restore Clayton County’s school accreditation. The only thing that keeps me from giving them an A is that there’s still a couple of members who still need to work toward working together cohesively for the benefit of the community.”

Madison residents will have an opportunity to evaluate two school board seats in the April, 2011 election. Marj Passman and Ed Hughes currently occupy those positions. The City of Madison Clerk has posted candidate information here.

Madison School Board Wants To Challenge Gifted Kids

Channel3000, via a kind reader:

Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education members are trying to fight a perception that the school district doesn’t pay enough attention to the city’s brightest students.
School Board member Marj Passman told WTDY Radio that the perception of ignoring gifted students needs, along with the changing demographics of the district, have resulted in a tripling of the number of students transferring out of the district in the past five years.
Passman said despite budget cuts, the board will still strive to launch new partnerships and initiatives this year to push students further, and retain more of them.

Related: Madison School District Talented & Gifted Plan, English 10 and the recent Madison School Board discussion and vote on outbound open enrollment.
A reader mentioned that the Madison School Board meets this evening, but that Talented and Gifted is not on the agenda.
Finally, two Madison School Board seats will be on the April, 2011 spring ballot. They are currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman.

A Reluctant No Vote on the Edgewater TID; Madison School Board Votes No on the Edgewater TIF

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

That brings us to Edgewater.  In brief, my position is that I respect the decisions the City makes with respect to the use of a TID, but just don’t ask the School District to subsidize a project.  To my mind, the School District would be subsidizing a project if, using appropriate valuation techniques, we conclude that the value of potential property tax revenue foregone as a result of investment in a project exceeds the value of potential additional property tax revenue the project is expected to generate.
In other words, for a project like Edgewater, there is a City investment.  This investment can be measured in terms of property tax revenues foregone.  Using an appropriate discount rate, we can place a present value on that stream of foregone property tax revenues.  Let’s call that present value X.
A project like Edgewater will result in increased property values and so in increased future property tax revenues.  We can also place a present value on the projected future stream of increased property tax revenues the project generates.  Let’s call that present value Y.
If Y > X, then the project makes financial sense and, generally, there is no reason for the School District to complain about it.   However, if X > Y, then the deal is a financial loser, and the School District would in effect be called upon to subsidize the shortfall in revenues.
So, for Edgewater, is X > Y, or Y > X?  Fortunately, City Comptroller Dean Brasser and his staff have provided helpful data that allow us to address that question.
The City says that without the Edgewater amendment, TID #32 is projected to close in 2017.  With the closure, the increment in value in the properties included within the TID would be restored to the property tax rolls.  This addition would result in a broader base of property value from which to collect property taxes, and so would result in a property tax decrease for all other property owners, all else equal.  The City calculates that, in the absence of the Edgewater amendment, the closure of TID # 32 in 2017 would result in a property tax savings on the average Madison home of about $35, beginning in 2018.

Gayle Worland:

The Madison School Board voted unanimously Monday against supporting an expansion of the State Street tax incremental financing (TIF) district that would deliver $16 million in public assistance to the proposed $98 million Edgewater hotel redevelopment.
School board member Lucy Mathiak, the school district’s representative to the city’s TIF Review Board, cast doubt on school board approval last month, when she said that taking more properties off the tax rolls for the Edgewater project would be difficult for local taxing entities, such as Madison public schools, to bear.

Memo to the Media on Open Enrollment: When We (The Madison School Board) Unanimously Reject a Proposal, That Means We Don’t Support It

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

The Board discussed the issue. Individual members expressed concern about the 3% cap, suggesting that this wasn’t the way for us to deal with the open enrollment issue. I was one of those who spoke against the proposal. The Board voted unanimously to support the other two proposed changes to WASB policy, but not the 3% cap. This amounted to a unanimous rejection of the 3% limit. (A video of the Board meeting can be found here. The WASB discussion begins about 48 minutes in.)
From the Board’s perspective, the endorsement of the proposal regarding financial stability wasn’t seen as one that had much bearing on our district. But we’d like support from other districts on our push for a fiscally neutral exchange of state dollars, and so we were willing to support proposals important to other districts, like this one, as a way of building a coalition for fresh consideration of open enrollment issues by the WASB.
The “financial stability” proposal certainly wasn’t intended by us as a dagger to the heart of the open enrollment policy; I don’t suppose that it was ever the intent of the legislators who supported the open enrollment statute that the policy could render school districts financially unstable.
The State Journal never reported that the Board rejected the 3% cap proposal. It ran letters to the editor on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday that all seemed premised on the assumption that we had in fact supported such a cap. The Wednesday letter said in part, “[T]he Madison School District’s answer to its shortcomings is to build a Berlin wall, preventing students from leaving.” From the Thursday letter, “Unfortunately, instead of looking inward to address the problems and issues causing flight from Madison schools, the School Board would rather maintain the status quo and use the coercive force of government to prevent its customers from fleeing for what they think is a better value.” From Friday’s letter: “So the way you stem the tide of students wanting to leave the Madison School District is to change the rules so that not so many can leave? That makes perfect Madison School Board logic.” (The State Journal also ran a letter to the editor on Friday that was more supportive of the district.)

Much more on outbound open enrollment and the Madison School Board here.
I’m glad Ed continues to write online. I continue to have reservations about the “financial stability” angle since it can be interpreted (assuming it becomes law…. what are the odds?) any way the Board deems necessary. Further, I agree with Ed that there are certainly more pressing matters at hand.

Mitch Henck Discusses Madison’s Attempts to Restrict Open Enrollment

15.8MB mp3 audio file, via a kind reader.
Related:

Thinking about Seattle School Board Elections

Melissa Westbrook

I’ve been giving thought to the School Board elections next year. I might run. I say that not for anyone to comment on but because I’m musing out loud on it. There are many reasons NOT to run but I have one main reason TO run.
Accountability.
To this day, I am mystified over the number of people who run for office that don’t believe they have to explain anything to voters AFTER they are elected. And I’m talking here about people whose work is not done with a vote (like the Mayor) but people who have to work in a group (City Council, School Board).
I truly doubt that these people get challenged on every single vote but I’m sure people ask on some. Why would they not respond? If asked, what data or information did you use to make this decision, why can’t they answer in specific? Why wouldn’t you be accountable to explain how you came to your decision?

Locally, the April, 2011 school board election features two seats, currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman.

Ouch! Madison schools are ‘weak’? and College Station’s School District

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial

Another national magazine says Madison is one of the nation’s best cities in which to raise a family.
That’s something to celebrate.
But Kiplinger’s, a monthly business and personal finance periodical, also raps ours city schools as “weak” in its latest edition.
That’s troubling.
“Madison city schools are weak relative to the suburban schools,” the magazine wrote in its analysis of the pros and cons of living here with children.
Really?
The magazine apparently used average test scores to reach its conclusion. By that single measure, yes, Dane County’s suburban schools tend to do better.
But the city schools have more challenges – higher concentrations of students in poverty, more students who speak little or no English when they enroll, more students with special needs.
None of those factors should be excuses. Yet they are reality.
And Madison, in some ways, is ahead of the ‘burbs. It consistently graduates some of the highest-achieving students in the state. It offers far more kinds of classes and clubs. Its diverse student population can help prepare children for an increasingly diverse world.

Madison School Board member Ed Hughes compares WKCE scores, comments on the Kiplinger and Wisconsin State Journal article and wonders if anyone would move from Madison to College Station, TX [map], which Kiplinger’s ranked above our local $15,241 2009/2010 per student public schools.
I compared Madison, WI to College Station, TX using a handy Census Bureau report.

93.8% of College Station residents over 25 are high school graduates, a bit higher than Madison’s 92.4%.
58.1% of College Station residents over 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to Madison’s 48.2%

Madison does have a higher median household and per capita income along with a population about three times that of College Station.
Turning to the public school districts, readers might be interested in having a look at both websites: the College Station Independent School District and the Madison Metropolitan School District. 75% of College Station students took the ACT (average score: 22.6) while 67% of Madison students took the exam and achieved a composite score of 24.2.
College Station publishes a useful set of individual school report cards, which include state and national test results along with attendance and dropout data.
College Station’s 2009-2010 budget was $93,718.470, supporting 9,712 students = $9,649.76 per student. . They also publish an annual check register, allowing interested citizens to review expenditures.
Madison’s 2009-2010 budget was $370,287,471 for 24,295 students = $15,241 per student, 57.9% higher than College Station.
College Station’s A and M Consolidated High School offers 22 AP classes while Madison East offers 12, Memorial 25 (8 of which are provided by Florida Virtual…), LaFollette 13 and West 8.
College Station’s “student profile” notes that the District is 59.3% white, 31.4% are economically disadvantaged while 10.3% are in talented and gifted.
Texas’s 2010 National Merit Semifinalist cut score was 216 while Wisconsin’s was 207. College Station’s high school had 16 National Merit Semi-Finalists (the number might be 40 were College Station the same size as Madison and perhaps still higher with Wisconsin’s lower cut score) during the most recent year while Madison’s high schools had 57.

As the Madison school year starts, a pair of predicaments

Paul Fanlund, via a kind reader:

In fact, the changing face of Madison’s school population comes up consistently in other interviews with public officials.
Police Chief Noble Wray commented recently that gang influences touch even some elementary schools, and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz expressed serious concern last week that the young families essential to the health and vitality of Madison are too often choosing to live outside the city based on perceptions of the city’s schools.
Nerad says he saw the mayor’s remarks, and agrees the challenge is real. While numbers for this fall will not be available for weeks, the number of students who live in Madison but leave the district for some alternative through “open enrollment” will likely continue to grow.
“For every one child that comes in there are two or three going out,” Nerad says, a pattern he says he sees in other urban districts. “That is the challenge of quality urban districts touched geographically by quality suburban districts.”
The number of “leavers” grew from 90 students as recently as 2000-01 to 613 last year, though the increase might be at least partly attributed to a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that greatly curtailed the ability of school districts to use race when deciding where students will go to school. In February 2008, the Madison School Board ended its long-standing practice of denying open enrollment requests if they would create a racial imbalance.
Two key reasons parents cited in a survey last year for moving children were the desire for better opportunities for gifted students and concerns about bullying and school safety. School Board member Lucy Mathiak told me last week that board members continue to hear those two concerns most often.
Nerad hears them too, and he says that while some Madison schools serve gifted students effectively, there needs to be more consistency across the district. On safety, he points to a recent district policy on bullying as evidence of focus on the problem, including emphasis on what he calls the “bystander” issue, in which witnesses need to report bullying in a way that has not happened often enough.
For all the vexing issues, though, Nerad says much is good about city schools and that perceptions are important. “Let’s be careful not to stereotype the urban school district,” he says. “There is a lot at stake here.”

Related: the growth in outbound open enrollment from the Madison School District and ongoing budget issues, including a 10% hike in property taxes this year and questions over 2005 maintenance referendum spending.
The significant property tax hike and ongoing budget issues may be fodder for the upcoming April, 2011 school board election, where seats currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman will be on the ballot.
Superintendent Nerad’s statement on “ensuring that we have a stable middle class” is an important factor when considering K-12 tax and spending initiatives, particularly in the current “Great Recession” where housing values are flat or declining and the property tax appetite is increasing (The Tax Foundation, via TaxProf:

The Case-Shiller index, a popular measure of residential home values, shows a drop of almost 16% in home values across the country between 2007 and 2008. As property values fell, one might expect property tax collections to have fallen commensurately, but in most cases they did not.
Data on state and local taxes from the U.S. Census Bureau show that most states’ property owners paid more in FY 2008 (July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008) than they had the year before (see Table 1). Nationwide, property tax collections increased by more than 4%. In only four states were FY 2008’s collections lower than in FY 2007: Michigan, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont. And in three states–Florida, Indiana and New Mexico–property tax collections rose more than 10%.

It will be interesting to see what the Madison school District’s final 2010-2011 budget looks like. Spending and receipts generally increase throughout the year. This year, in particular, with additional borrowed federal tax dollars on the way, the District will have funds to grow spending, address the property tax increase or perhaps as is now increasingly common, spend more on adult to adult professional development.
Madison’s K-12 environment is ripe for change. Perhaps the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy charter school will ignite the community.

Madison School Board Priorities: Ethics, Achievement, or ?

TJ Mertz makes a great point here:

Last up, is “Next Steps for Future Board Development Meetings and Topics.’ Board development is good and important, but with only 2/3 of the term left I hate to see too much time and energy devoted to Board Development.
I keep coming back to this. Every year about 1/3 of the time and energy is devoted to budget matters, that leaves 2/3 to try to make things better. Put it another way; it is September, budget season starts in January. Past time to get to work.
This just leaves the closed meeting on the Superintendent evaluation. Not much to add to what I wrote here. My big point is that almost all of this process should be public. I will repost the links to things that are public:

Charlie Mas continues to chronicle, in a similar manner to TJ, the Seattle School Board’s activities.
In my view, the Madison School Board might spend time on:

  • Public Superintendent Review, including oversight of the principal and teacher review process. Done properly, this should improve teaching effectiveness over time. This process should include full implementation of Infinite Campus. Infinite Campus is a potentially powerful tool to evaluate many activities within the District.
  • Implement a 5 year budget.
  • Evaluate ongoing MMSD Programs for their effectiveness, particularly from a spending and staffing perspective.

Voters will have another chance to weigh in on the Madison School Board during the spring, 2011 election, when seats currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman will be on the ballot. Those interested in running should contact the City of Madison Clerk’s office.
Update: I received the draft Madison School Board ethics documents via a Barbara Lehman email (thanks):

  • Board Member Ed Hughes 241K PDF

    Presently we do not have a policy that describes expectations regarding the performance of School Board members. The Committee developed this list on the basis of similar policies adopted by other Boards as well as our own discussion of what our expectations are for each other. The Committee members were able to reach consensus on these expectations fairly quickly.
    Expectation No.4 refers to information requests. We realize that current MMSD Policy 1515 also refers to information requests, but our thinking was that the existing policy addresses the obligation of the superintendent to respond to information requests. We do not currently have a policy that addresses a Board member’s obligation to exercise judgment in submitting information requests.
    Expectation No. 10 is meant to convey that School Board members hold their positions 24-hours a day and have a responsibility to the Board always to avoid behavior that would cast the Board or the District in a poor light.

    How might Number 10 affect an elected Board member’s ability to disagree with District policies or activities?

  • Outgoing Madison School District Counsel Dan Mallin 700K PDF.:

    These paragraphs are a modification from existing language. Although the overall intent appears to remain similar to existing policy, I recommend the existing language because I think it does a better job of expressly recognizing the competing interests between the “beliefstatements” and a Board Member’s likely right, as an individual citizen (and perhaps as a candidate for office while simultaneously serving on the Board) to accept PAC contributions and or to make a statement regarding a candidate. Perhaps the langnage could make clear that no Board Member may purport to, or attempt to imply, that they are speaking for the School Board when making a statement in regard to a candidate for office. That is, they should be express that they are speaking in the individual capacity.

  • Draft ethics policy 500K PDF:

    The Board functions most effectively when individual Board Members adhere to acceptable professional behavior. To promote acceptable conduct of the Board, Board Members should:

  • Outgoing Counsel Dan Mallin’s 7/15/2010 recommendations.

On State Standards, National Merit Semifinalists & Local Media

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

I’m not so sure we have all that much to brag about in terms of our statewide educational standards or achievement. The Milwaukee public schools are extremely challenged, to put it mildly. The state has one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation. The WKCE is widely acknowledged as a poor system for statewide assessment of student progress. Just last week our state academic standards were labeled among the worst in the country in a national study.
We brag about how well Wisconsin students do on the ACT, and this is certainly good. But about 30 states have higher cut scores than Wisconsin when it comes to identifying National Merit Scholars, which means that their top 1% of students taking the test score higher than our top 1% do. (We in the MMSD are justly proud of our inordinate number of National Merit semi-finalists, but if – heaven forbid – MMSD were to be plopped down in the middle of Illinois, our number of semi-finalists would go down, perhaps significantly so. Illinois students need a higher score on the PSAT to be designated a National Merit semi-finalist than Wisconsin students do.)

There is generally no small amount of bragging on Madison National Merit Semi-finalists. It would be interesting to compare cut scores around the country.

A Deeper Look at Madison’s National Merit Scholar Results

Madison and nearby school districts annually publicize their National Merit Scholar counts.
Consequently, I read with interest Madison School Board member Ed Hughes’ recent blog post:

We brag about how well Wisconsin students do on the ACT, and this is certainly good. But about 30 states have higher cut scores than Wisconsin when it comes to identifying National Merit Scholars, which means that their top 1% of students taking the test score higher than our top 1% do. (We in the MMSD are justly proud of our inordinate number of National Merit semi-finalists, but if – heaven forbid – MMSD were to be plopped down in the middle of Illinois, our number of semi-finalists would go down, perhaps significantly so. Illinois students need a higher score on the PSAT to be designated a National Merit semi-finalist than Wisconsin students do.)

I asked a few people who know about such things and received this response:

The critical cut score for identifying National Merit Semifinalist varies from state to state depending on the number of students who took the test and how well those students did on the test. In 2009, a score of 207 would put a student amongst the top 1% of test takers in Wisconsin and qualify them as a National Merit Semifinalist. However this score would not be high enough to qualify the student as a semifinalist in 36 other states or the District of Columbia.

View individual state cut scores, by year here. In 2010, Minnesota’s cut score was 215, Illinois’ 214, Iowa 209 and Michigan 209. Wisconsin’s was 207.

Notes on Teacher Merit Pay

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Susan Troller had a typically good and very substantive article in the Capital Times this week about merit pay for teachers and other dimensions of teacher evaluations.
Merit pay is an issue that highlights the culture clash between the new breed of educational reformers and the traditional education establishment that finds its foundation in teachers and their unions.
Educational reformers nowadays frequently come to education as an avocation after successful business careers. These reformers, like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, believe that our approach to education can be improved if we import the sort of approaches to quality and innovation that have proved effective in the business world.
So, for example, let’s figure out what’s the single most important school-based variable in determining student achievement. Research indicates that it’s the quality of the teacher. Well then, let’s evaluate teachers in a way that lets us assess that quality, let’s put in place professional development that will allow our teachers to enhance that quality, and let’s have compensation systems that allow us to reward that quality.

Governance, or Potted Plant? Seattle School Board To Become More Involved In District Operations and a view from Madison

Phyllis Fletcher:

The Washington State Auditor told the district this week it has problems managing its money. They’re the same problems he’s told them about before. The school board oversees the district. And auditors for the state say it’s time for board members to get more involved.
Carr: “To the State Auditors’ point, we have work to do. And they’re right: we do.”
Sherry Carr chairs the audit and finance committee of the Seattle School Board. She says the board needs to do more to make sure problems that are found in audits don’t pop up again.
Carr: “We haven’t always had the check in prior to the start of the next audit. So, I think that’s the key.”

Washington State Auditor’s Office:

The Washington State Auditor’s Office released an audit report this week about the Seattle School District’s accountability with public resources, laws and regulations.
We found the School Board and the District’s executive management:
* Must improve oversight of District operations.
* Are not as familiar with state and federal law as the public would expect.
We identified instances of misappropriation and areas that are susceptible to misappropriation. We also found the School Board delegated authority to the Superintendent to create specific procedures to govern day-to-day District operations.
The Board does not evaluate these procedures to determine if they are effective and appropriate. Consequently, we identified 12 findings in this report and in our federal single audit and financial statement report.

Documents:

  • Complete Report: 700K PDF
  • Complete Report: 700K PDF
  • Washington State Auditor’s Office Accountability Audit Report 190K PDF
  • The Seattle School District’s response 37K PDF:

    Seattle Public Schools establishes rigorous process for addressing financial year 2008-09 audit findings.
    As part of the Washington State Auditor’s Office annual audit process, an Accountability Audit of Seattle Public Schools was issued on July 6, 2010. The audit’s emphasis on the need for continued improvement of internal controls and District policies for accountability is consistent with multi-year efforts under way at Seattle Public Schools to strengthen financial management.
    “Because we are deeply committed to being good stewards of the public’s resources, we take the information in this audit very seriously,” said Superintendent Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D. “We acknowledge the need to take specific corrective actions noted in the report. It is a key priority to implement appropriate control and accountability measures, with specific consequences, for situations in which policies are not followed.”
    The School Board will work closely with the Superintendent to ensure corrections are made. “We understand and accept the State Auditor’s findings,” said School Board Director Sherry Carr, chair of the Board’s Audit and Finance Committee. “We accept responsibility to ensure needed internal controls are established to improve accountability in Seattle Public Schools, and we will hold ourselves accountable to the public as the work progresses.”

Much more on the Seattle School Board.
After reading this item, I sent this email to Madison Board of Education members a few days ago:

I hope this message finds you well.
The Seattle School Board is going to become more involved in District operations due to “problems managing its money”.
http://kuow.org/program.php?id=20741
I’m going to post something on this in the next few days.
I recall a BOE discussion where Ed argued that there are things that should be left to the Administration (inferring limits on the BOE’s oversight and ability to ask questions). I am writing to obtain your thoughts on this, particularly in light of:
a) ongoing budget and accounting issues (how many years has this been discussed?), and
b) the lack of substantive program review to date (is 6 years really appropriate, given reading and math requirements of many Madison students?).
I’d like to post your responses, particularly in light of the proposed Administrative re-org and how that may or may not address these and other matters.

I received the following from Lucy Mathiak:

A GENERAL NOTE: There is a cottage industry ginning up books and articles on board “best practices.” The current wisdom, mostly generated by retired superintendents, is that boards should not trouble themselves with little things like financial management, human resources, or operations. Rather, they should focus on “student achievement.” But what that means, and the assumption that financial, HR, and other decisions have NO impact on achievement, remain highly problematical.
At the end of the day, much of the “best practices” looks a lot like the role proposed for the Milwaukee School Board when the state proposed mayoral control last year. Under that scenario, the board would focus on public relations and, a distant second, expulsions. But that would be a violation of state statute on the roles and responsibilities of boards of education.
There are some resources that have interesting info on national trends in school board training here:
http://www.asbj.com/MainMenuCategory/Archive/2010/July/The-Importance-of-School-Board-Training.aspx
I tend to take my guidance from board policy, which refers back to state statute without providing details; I am a detail person so went back to the full text. When we are sworn into office, we swear to uphold these policies and statutes:
Board policy:
“The BOARD shall have the possession, care, control, and management of the property and affairs of the school district with the responsibilities and duties as detailed in Wisconsin Statutes 118.001, 120.12, 120.13, 120.14, 120.15, 120.16, 120.17, 120.18, 120.21, 120.40, 120.41, 120.42, 120.43, and 120.44.”
Because board policy does not elaborate what is IN those statutes, the details can be lost unless one takes a look at “the rules.” Here are some of the more interesting (to me) sections from WI Statute 120:
120.12 School board duties.
The school board of a common or union high school district shall:
(1)MANAGEMENT OF SCHOOL DISTRICT.
Subject to the authority vested in the annual meeting and to the authority and possession specifically given to other school district officers, have thepossession, care, control and management of the property andaffairs of the school district, except for property of the school dis-trict used for public library purposes under s. 43.52.
(2)GENERAL SUPERVISION. Visit and examine the schools ofthe school district, advise the school teachers and administrative staff regarding the instruction, government and progress of the pupils and exercise general supervision over such schools.
(3)TAX FOR OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE.
(a) On or before November 1, determine the amount necessary to be raised to operate and maintain the schools of the school district and public library facilities operated by the school district under s. 43.52, if the annual meeting has not voted a tax sufficient for such purposes for the school year.
(5)REPAIR OF SCHOOL BUILDINGS.
Keep the school buildings and grounds in good repair, suitably equipped and in safe and sanitary condition at all times. The school board shall establish an annual building maintenance schedule.
(14)COURSE OF STUDY.
Determine the school course of study.
(17)UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SYSTEM TUITION.
Pay the tuition of any pupil enrolled in the school district and attending an institution within the University of Wisconsin System if the pupil is not participating in the program under s. 118.55, the course the pupil is attending at the university is not offered in the school district and the pupil will receive high school credit for the course.

Ed Hughes:

Thanks for contacting us. Can you be a bit more specific about what you are looking for? A general statement about the appropriate line between administration and Board responsibilities? Something more specific about budgeting and accounting, or specific program reviews? And if so, what? I confess that I haven’t followed whatever is going on with the Seatte school board.

My followup:

I am looking for your views on BOE responsibilities vis a vis the Administration, staff and the community.
Two timely specifics, certainly are:
a) ongoing budget problems, such as the maintenance referendum spending, and
b) curricular matters such as reading programs, which, despite decades of annual multi-million dollar expenditures have failed to “move the needle”.
The Seattle District’s “problems managing its money” matter apparently prompted more Board involvement.
Finally, I do recall a BOE discussion where you argued in favor of limits on Administrative oversight. Does my memory serve?
Best wishes,
Jim

Marj Passman:

Here is the answer to your question on Evaluation which also touches on the Board’s ultimate role as the final arbiter on District Policy.
Part of the Strategic Plan, and, one of the Superintendants goals that he gave the Board last year, was the need to develop a “District Evaluation Protocol”. The Board actually initiated this by asking for a Study of our Reading Program last February. This protocol was sent to the Board this week and seems to be a timely and much needed document.
Each curricular area would rotate through a seven year cycle of examination. In addition, the Board of Education would review annually a list of proposed evaluations. There will be routine reports and updates to the Board while the process continues and, of course, a final report. At any time the Board can make suggestions as to what should be evaluated and can make changes in the process as they see fit. In other words, the Board will certainly be working within its powers as Overseer of MMSD.
This Protocol should be on the MMSD web site and I recommend reading it in
depth.
I am particularly pleased with the inclusion of “perception” – interviews, surveys with parents and teachers. I have been leery of just masses of data analysis predetermining the success or failure of children. Our children must not be reduced to dots on a chart. Tests must be given but many of our students are succeeding in spite of their test scores.
I have a problem with a 7 year cycle and would prefer a shorter one. We need to know sooner rather than later if a program is working or failing. I will bring this up at Monday’s Board meeting.
I will be voting for this Protocol but will spend more time this weekend studying it before my final vote.
Marj

Colorado education officials ignore law on teacher arrests

Trevor Hughes:

Colorado education officials have been ignoring a law intended to “flag” the arrests of teachers and then alert all school districts and charter schools across the state, a Coloradoan investigation has found.
The 2008 law requires the Colorado Department of Education to issue an alert every time a licensed educator is ar-rested. The arrest information is provided by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
But a Coloradoan investigation shows CDE officials have largely ignored the law since it was passed, arguing that they didn’t have enough money to implement it. Within days of the Coloradoan inquiring about the situation, CDE officials said they planned to start following the law. They couldn’t provide a specific timeline.

Madison School District Board of Education Progress Report–March through June 2010

Maya Cole, Board President & Beth Moss Board Vice-President, Via email:

The 2009-10 school year is over, and the Board is wrapping up a very busy spring 2010. After several months of hard work, the Board finalized the preliminary 2010-11 budget on June 1. For the second year in a row, the state legislature decreased the amount of per pupil state aid by 15%. This decrease in revenue, coupled with a decrease in property values in the Madison Metropolitan School District, created a much larger than usual budget shortfall. This year is different because unlike previous years when the Board of Education was not allowed to raise property taxes to cover the shortfall, this year the state gave the Board the authority to raise taxes by an extreme amount. The Board and administration have worked hard to mitigate the tax impact while preserving programs in our schools.
2010-11 Budget Details:
The Board approved a preliminary budget of $360,131,948 after creating savings of over $13 million across all departments in the district. This budget represents a decrease of over $10 million from 2009-10. The final tax impact on a home of average value ($250k) is $225. The Board made reductions that did not directly affect instruction in the classroom, avoiding mass teacher lay-offs as experienced by many districts around the country and state.
Other State action:
The School Age Guarantee for Education (SAGE) Act was changed from funding K-3 class sizes of 15:1 to 18:1. The Board is considering how to handle this change in state funding.
Race to the Top is a competitive grant program run through the federal government. The state of Wisconsin applied for Race to the Top funding in round 1 and was denied. The Board approved the application for the second round of funding. Federal money will be awarded to states that qualify and the MMSD could receive $8,239,396.
Board of Education Election:
Thank you for 6 years of service and good luck to Johnny Winston, Jr. Taking his seat is James Howard, an economist with the Forest Service and MMSD parent. New Board officers are Maya Cole, president, Beth Moss, vice president, Ed Hughes, clerk, and James Howard, treasurer.
Sarah Maslin, our student representative from West High School, will be off to Yale University in the fall. Thank you for your service and good luck, Sarah! Congratulations to Wyeth Jackson, also from West, who won the election for student representative to the Board of Education. Jessica Brooke from La Follette will return as Student Senate president and alternate to the BOE Student Representative.
Other news:
In April the board received the following reports:
The Facility Assessment Report, a compilation of district maintenance needs over the next 5 years.
The Board of Education/Superintendent Communication Plan, providing a template for reports to the Board.
The District Reorganization Plan, a plan to restructure the administration and professional development department of the district.
The Board held a public hearing on the proposed budget at UW Space Place. In addition, the School Food Initiative Committee and the 4-K Advisory Committee met.
In May the Strategic Planning Steering Committee met. Stakeholders reviewed accomplishments achieved thus far and discussed and reprioritized action steps for the next year. A second public hearing on the budget was also held in May.
In June the Board finalized the Preliminary Budget after a statutory public hearing. During committee meetings on June 7, the ReAL grant team presented action plans for each of the large high schools and gave the Board an update on the ReAL grant and the Wallace grant. The four high schools have collaborated for the past two years to improve engagement and achievement at our high schools. The Student Services and Code of Conduct/Expulsions Committee presented a proposal for a new code of conduct and abeyance, with an emphasis on restorative justice.
Congratulations and good luck to all graduates! Have a safe and restful summer break.

Don’t lose sight of why we have public schools

Marj Passman:


The need to succeed at teaching children is at the basic core of everything we do in Madison schools.
So why did the very society that depends on us to educate their most precious beings, their children, come to be so apprehensive about us? How did this happen? When did our state Legislature and many of our fellow citizens decide that an increase and/or a change in public financing of education was not in their interest?
Perhaps we all need to calm down and ask ourselves the very basic question of why we have public schools. The following tenets are a good start:
1. To provide universal access to free education.
2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children.
3. To unify a diverse population.
4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society.
5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient.
6. To improve social conditions.
7. To pass knowledge from one generation to the next.
8. To share the accumulated wisdom of the ages.
9. To instill in our young people a love for a lifetime of learning.
10. To bring a richness and depth to life.
Many Americans have either forgotten, disregard, or no longer view public schools as needed to achieve the above. Some, not all, view the public schools in a much more narrow and self-indulgent way — “What are the public schools going to do for me and my child?” — and do not look at what the schools so richly provide for everyone in a democratic society.

There are many reasons that public education institutions face credibility challenges, including:

Having said that, there are certainly some remarkable people teaching our children, in many cases resisting curriculum reduction schemes and going the extra mile. In my view, our vital public school climate would be far richer and, overall, more effective with less bureaucracy, more charters (diffused governance) and a more open collaborative approach with nearby education institutions.
Madison taxpayers have long supported spending policies far above those of many other communities. The current economic situation requires a hard look at all expenditures, particularly those that cannot be seen as effective for the core school mission: educating our children. Reading scores would be a great place to start.
The two Madison School Board seats occupied by Marj Passman and Ed Hughes are up for election in April, 2011. Interested parties should contact the Madison City Clerk’s office for nomination paper deadlines.

27 Madison area seniors selected for National Merit Scholarships

Gayle Worland: Nearly one-third of the 54 scholarships awarded to Wisconsin students went to seniors at Madison public high schools. Those scholars include Nelson Auner of East High School; Laurel Hamers, Lindsey Hughes, Jane Lee, Sarah Prescott, Valerie Shen and Hyeari Shin of Memorial High School; and Timothy Choi, Bryna Godar, Samuel Greene, Benjamin Klug, … Continue reading 27 Madison area seniors selected for National Merit Scholarships

Madison School board votes to save jobs, but doesn’t finalize budget yet; $250,000 home to see a $224.46 increase in property taxes, above the $2186.35 paid in 2009 (roughly 10%)

Gayle Worland:

The owner of a $250,000 Madison home would pay $224.46 more in school property taxes next winter under a budget still under discussion by the Madison School Board.
In what many — including three board members — thought would be a wrap-up Tuesday night of the board’s two-month process to close an initial $30 million budget gap, the board voted to save most of the district jobs still on the chopping block, largely with the help of $794,491 in employee health insurance savings.
But it left several items on the table until a final vote on the preliminary budget June 1, including:

A Madison home assessed at $257,000 paid 2186.35 in Madison School District taxes last year. A $224.46 increase is about 10%……
Much more on the 2010-2011 budget here.
The next school board election is in April, 2011, when the seats currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman will be on the ballot.
November, 2010 elections that affect K-12 taxes & spending include the governor and assembly races.

On Local School Budgets & Teacher Compensation

Peter Sobol:

I have to at least give credit the WSJ for continuing to keep education front and center of their Sunday opinion section. This last Sunday, under the headline “Protect kids from cuts” the WSJ takes on the issue of closing the remaining Madison SD budget gap and editorializes for a pay freeze for teaching staff. Although the current budget situation probably makes reducing compensation for staff in one way or another inevitable, I don’t think that devaluing the teaching profession can be construed as “Protecting kids”. After all, the number one factor in educational outcomes is the placement of a highly qualified teacher in front of each class.
Attracting quality teachers means we have to be sure it is rewarding profession, so balancing the budget through reductions in teacher compensation is in the long term unsustainable. If the current situation was a one or two year problem then a freeze might serve as a bridge to recovery, and although I don’t know the Madison situation I’m pretty sure their problems are similar to ours: shortfalls that extend year after year for the foreseeable future. The article notes that the Madison teachers receive the “standard” 1% raise this year. This year that seems inappropriate, but the fact that the same 1% is the “standard” every year since 1993 is also a problem.

I don’t think that 1% annual raises have been “standard since 1993”. I would certainly like to see a substantive change in teacher compensation, replacing the current one size fits all approach.
Current Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes, noted in May, 2005 that:

Here is an excerpt from the article in this morning’s State Journal that deserves comment: Matthews said it was worth looking at whether layoffs can be avoided, but he was less optimistic about finding ways to achieve that.
He said MTI’s policy is that members have to have decent wages, even if it means some jobs are lost.
The last teachers contract provided a 1 percent increase in wage scales for each of the past two years. This year’s salary and benefits increase, including raises for seniority or advanced degrees, was projected at 4.9 percent, or $8.48 million. Teachers’ salaries range from $29,324 to $74,380.
“The young teachers are really hurting,” Matthews said, adding that the district is having difficulty attracting teachers because of its starting pay.
Mr. Matthews states that young teachers are really hurting. I assume by “young” he means “recently-hired.” On a state-wide basis, the starting salary for Madison’s teachers ranks lower, relatively speaking, than its salaries for more experienced teachers. Compared to other teacher pay scales in the state, Madison’s scale seems weighted relatively more toward the more-experienced teachers and less toward starting teachers. This has to be a consequence of the union’s bargaining strategy – the union must have bargained over the years for more money at the top and less at the bottom, again relatively speaking. The union is entitled to follow whatever strategy it wants, but it is disingenuous for Mr. Matthews to justify an apparent reluctance to consider different bargaining approaches on the basis of their possible impact on “young teachers.”
According to the article, Mr. Matthews also stated that “the district is having trouble attracting teachers because of its starting pay.” Can this possibly be true? Here’s an excerpt from Jason Shepard’s top-notch article in Isthmus last week, “Even with a UW degree, landing a job in Madison isn’t easy. For every hire made by the Madison district, five applicants are rejected. June Glennon, the district’s employment manager, says more than 1,200 people have applied for teaching jobs next year.”

A Partial Madison School District Budget Update, Lacks Total Spending Numbers

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad 292K PDF:

In November of 2008 the district was given voter approval for a three year operating referendum: $5 million in 2009-2010, $4 million in 2010-2011, and $4 million in 2011-2012, The approved operating referendum has a shared cost plan between property tax payers and the district.
During the fall adoption of the 2009-2010 budget the Board of Education worked to reduce the impact for property tax payers by eliminating costs, implementing new revenues, and utilizing fund balance (see Appendix A). The Wisconsin State 2009-2011 budget impacted the district funding significantly in the fall of2009-2010 and will again have an impact on the 2010-2011 projections.
The district and PMA Financial Network, Inc, have worked to prepare a five year financial forecast beginning with the 2010-2011 budget year, which is attached in pgs 1-2.
2010-2011 Projection Assumptions:
The following items are included in the Budget Projection:
1. The budget holds resources in place and maintains programs and services.
2. October enrollment projections
3. Salary and Benefits – Teacher salary projections are based on their current settlement, and all other units are at a projected increase consistent with recent contract settlements.
4. Supplies & Materials – A 1% (~$275,000) projection was applied to supply and material budgets each year
5. Revenues – The district utilized revenue limit and equalization aid calculations based on the 2009-2011 State Budget. All other revenues remained constant.
6. Grants – Only Entitlement Grants are included in the forecasted budget. Example ARRA funds are not included as they are· not sustainable funds.
7. Debt – The forecast includes a projection for the WRS refinancing as of January 26th Attached on pgs 3-4 is a current Debt Schedule for the District which includes thecurrently restructured debt and the estimated WRS refinanced debt.
8. The 4-k program revenues, expenditures and enrollment have been added to the
projections beginning in 2011-2012.

Much more on the budget, including some total budget numbers via a Board Member’s (Ed Hughes) comment. The recent State of The District presentation lacked total budget numbers (it presented property taxes, which are certainly important, but not the whole story). There has not been a 2009-2010 citizen’s budget, nor have I seen a proposed 2010-2011 version. This should be part of all tax and spending discussions.

National Standards: Raising the Bar for Global Opportunity

Woodrow Wilson International Center:

Arundhati Jayarao, Middle and High School Chemistry and Physics, Virginia; Sarah Yue, High School Chemistry, California; Kirk Janowiak, High School Biology and Environmental Science, Indiana; Ben Van Dusen, High School Physics, Oregon; Mark Greenman, High School Physics, Massachusetts; and John Moore, High School Environmental Science, New Jersey.
Moderated By: Kent Hughes, Director, Program on America and the Global Economy.
The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows offer a unique perspective on U.S. schools and educational policymaking; they have been chosen by the Department of Energy to spend a fellowship year in congressional or executive offices based on their excellence in teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics(STEM) subjects in K-12 schools. The Fellows will discuss how to achieve national standards that are benchmarked to the world’s best and how higher standards will affect changes in curricula.

Madison Public Schools Face Tax & Spending Challenges: What is the budget?

Gayle Worland, via a kind reader’s email:

The Madison School District is facing a $30 million budget hole for 2010-11, a dilemma that could force school board members this spring to order massive cuts in programs, dramatically raise property taxes, or impose a combination of both.
District officials will unveil a list of possible cuts — which could include layoffs — next month, with public hearings to follow.
“This is a big number,” School Board President Arlene Silveira said. “So we have to look at how we do business, we have to look at efficiencies, we have to look at our overall budget, and we are going to have to make hard decisions. We are in a horrible situation right now, and we do have to look at all options.”
Even with the maximum hike in school property taxes — $28.6 million, or a jump of $312.50 for the owner of a $250,000 Madison home — the district would have to close a $1.2 million budget gap, thanks in part to a 15 percent drop in state aid it had to swallow in 2009-10 and expects again for 2010-11.
The district, with a current budget of about $360 million, expects to receive $43.7 million from the state for 2010-11, which would be the lowest sum in 13 years, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, and down from a high of $60.7 million in 2008-09. The district is receiving $51.5 million from the state for the current school year.

I’m not sure where the $360 million number came from. Board member Ed Hughes mentioned a $432,764,707 2010-2011 budget number. The 2009-2010 budget, according to a an October, 2009 District document was $418,415,780. The last “Citizen’s budget” number was $339,685,844 in 2007-2008 and $333,101,865 in 2006-2007.
The budget numbers remind me of current Madison School Board member Ed Hughes’ very useful 2005 quote:

This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

Related: Madison School District & Madison Teachers Union Reach Tentative Agreement: 3.93% Increase Year 1, 3.99% Year 2; Base Rate $33,242 Year 1, $33,575 Year 2: Requires 50% MTI 4K Members and will “Review the content and frequency of report cards” and “Budget comments in a vacuum?

Madison School District 2010-2011 Budget: Comments in a Vacuum?

TJ Mertz comments on Monday evening’s Madison School Board 2010-2011 budget discussion (video – the budget discussion begins about 170 minutes into the meeting). The discussion largely covered potential property tax increases. However and unfortunately, I’ve not seen a document that includes total revenue projections for 2010-2011.
The District’s Administration’s last public total 2009-2010 revenue disclosure ($418,415,780) was in October 2009.
Property tax revenue is one part of the MMSD’s budget picture. State and Federal redistributed tax dollars are another big part. The now dead “citizens budget” was a useful effort to provide more transparency to the public. I hope that the Board pushes for a complete picture before any further substantive budget discussions. Finally, the Administration promised program reviews as part of the “Strategic Planning Process” and the recent referendum (“breathing room”). The documents released to date do not include any substantive program review budget items.
Ed Hughes (about 190 minutes): “it is worth noting that evening if we taxed to the max and I don’t think we’ll do that, the total expenditures for the school District will be less than we were projecting during the referendum“. The documents published, as far as I can tell, on the school board’s website do not reflect 2010-2011 total spending.
Links to Madison School District spending since 2007 (the referendum Ed mentioned was in 2008)

It would be great to see a year over year spending comparison from the District, including future projections.
Further, the recent “State of the District” document [566K PDF] includes only the “instructional” portion of the District’s budget. There are no references to the $418,415,780 total budget number provided in the October 26, 2009 “Budget Amendment and Tax Levy Adoption document [1.1MB PDF]. Given the organization’s mission and the fact that it is a taxpayer supported and governed entity, the document should include a simple “citizen’s budget” financial summary. The budget numbers remind me of current Madison School Board member Ed Hughes’ very useful 2005 quote:

This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

In my view, while some things within our local public schools have become a bit more transparent (open enrollment, fine arts, math, TAG), others, unfortunately, like the budget, have become much less. This is not good.
Ed, Lucy and Arlene thankfully mentioned that the Board needs to have the full picture before proceeding.

A Few Comments on Monday’s State of the Madison School District Presentation

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad will present the “State of the Madison School District 2010” tomorrow night @ 5:30p.m. CST.
The timing and content are interesting, from my perspective because:

  • The nearby Verona School District just approved a Mandarin immersion charter school on a 4-3 vote. (Watch the discussion here). Madison lags in such expanded “adult to student” learning opportunities. Madison seems to be expanding “adult to adult” spending on “coaches” and “professional development”. I’d rather see an emphasis on hiring great teachers and eliminating the administrative overhead associated with growing “adult to adult” expenditures.
  • I read with interest Alec Russell’s recent lunch with FW de Klerk. de Klerk opened the door to South Africa’s governance revolution by freeing Nelson Mandela in 1990:

    History is moving rather fast in South Africa. In June the country hosts football’s World Cup, as if in ultimate endorsement of its post-apartheid progress. Yet on February 2 1990, when the recently inaugurated state President de Klerk stood up to deliver the annual opening address to the white-dominated parliament, such a prospect was unthinkable. The townships were in ferment; many apartheid laws were still on the books; and expectations of the balding, supposedly cautious Afrikaner were low.
    How wrong conventional wisdom was. De Klerk’s address drew a line under 350 years of white rule in Africa, a narrative that began in the 17th century with the arrival of the first settlers in the Cape. Yet only a handful of senior party members knew of his intentions.

    I sense that the Madison School Board and the Community are ready for new, substantive adult to student initiatives, while eliminating those that simply consume cash in the District’s $418,415,780 2009-2010 budget ($17,222 per student).

  • The “State of the District” document [566K PDF] includes only the “instructional” portion of the District’s budget. There are no references to the $418,415,780 total budget number provided in the October 26, 2009 “Budget Amendment and Tax Levy Adoption document [1.1MB PDF]. Given the organization’s mission and the fact that it is a taxpayer supported and governed entity, the document should include a simple “citizen’s budget” financial summary. The budget numbers remind me of current Madison School Board member Ed Hughes’ very useful 2005 quote:

    This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

    In my view, while some things within our local public schools have become a bit more transparent (open enrollment, fine arts, math, TAG), others, unfortunately, like the budget, have become much less. This is not good.

  • A new financial reality. I don’t see significant new funds for K-12 given the exploding federal deficit, state spending and debt issues and Madison’s property tax climate. Ideally, the District will operate like many organizations, families and individuals and try to most effectively use the resources it has. The recent Reading Recovery report is informative.

I think Dan Nerad sits on a wonderful opportunity. The community is incredibly supportive of our schools, spending far more per student than most school Districts (quite a bit more than his former Green Bay home) and providing a large base of volunteers. Madison enjoys access to an academic powerhouse: the University of Wisconsin and proximity to MATC and Edgewood College. Yet, District has long been quite insular (see Janet Mertz’s never ending efforts to address this issue), taking a “we know best approach” to many topics via close ties to the UW-Madison School of Education and its own curriculum creation business, the Department of Teaching and Learning.
In summary, I’m hoping for a “de Klerk” moment Monday evening. What are the odds?

Cheating at a Springfield, MA Charter School to Improve Test Scores

James Vaznis:

One staff member at a Springfield charter school told state education investigators he felt so pressured by his principal last spring to improve MCAS scores that, in order to keep his job, he helped one student write an essay for the test.
Discuss
COMMENTS (8)
Another staff member said he was fired after he accused the principal of encouraging cheating, while another staff member observed a colleague pull some students away from watching a movie so they could fix answers on their tests.
The findings, released yesterday by state education officials, offer the first public glimpse into the specific cheating allegations that have been leveled against Robert M. Hughes Academy, which was ordered last winter to improve its scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests to avoid being closed.
Previously, Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, had said only that the cheating, described as pervasive and systemic, was orchestrated by the principal and carried out by several adults at the school, which teaches 180 students in kindergarten through grade 8.

4K Inches Forward in Madison, Seeks Funding

Listen to the Madison School Board Discussion via this 32MB mp3 audio file (and via a kind reader’s email).
Financing this initiative remains unsettled.
I recommend getting out of the curriculum creation business via the elimination of Teaching & Learning and using those proceeds to begin 4K – assuming the community and Board are convinced that it will be effective and can be managed successfully by the Administration.
I would also like to see the Administration’s much discussed “program/curricular review” implemented prior to adding 4K.
Finally, I think it is likely that redistributed state tax programs to K-12 will decrease, given the State’s spending growth and deficit problems. The financial crunch is an opportunity to rethink spending and determine where the dollars are best used for our children. I recommend a reduction in money spent for “adults to talk with other adults”.
Board member Beth Moss proposed that 4K begin in 2010. This motion was supported by Marj Passman and Ed Hughes (Ed’s spouse, Ann Brickson is on the Board of the Goodman Center, a possible 4K partner). Maya Cole, Lucy Mathiak and Arlene Silveira voted no on a 2010 start. The Board then voted 5-1 (with Ed Hughes voting no) for a 2011 launch pending further discussions on paying for it. Retiring Board member Johnny Winston, Jr. was absent.
I appreciate the thoughtful discussion on this topic, particularly the concern over how it will be financed. Our Federal Government, and perhaps, the State, would simply plow ahead and let our grandchildren continue to pay the growing bill.
Links:

  • Gayle Worland:

    “I’m going to say it’s the hardest decision I’ve made on the board,” said board member Marj Passman, who along with board members Beth Moss and Ed Hughes voted to implement four-year-old kindergarten in 2010. “To me this is extremely difficult. We have to have 4K. I want it. The question is when.”
    But board president Arlene Silveira argued the district’s finances were too unclear to implement four-year-old kindergarten — estimated to serve 1,573 students with a free, half-day educational program — this fall.
    “I’m very supportive of four-year-old kindergarten,” she said. “It’s the financing that gives me the most unrest.”
    Silveira voted against implementation in the fall, as did Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole. Board member Johnny Winston, Jr. was absent.
    On a second vote the board voted 5-1 to approve 4K for 2011-12. Hughes voted against starting the program in 2011-12, saying it should begin as soon as possible.

  • Channel3000:

    The plan will begin in September 2011. Initially, the board considered a measure to start in 2010, but a vote on that plan was deadlocked 3-3. A second motion to postpone the beginning until the 2011-2012 school year passed by a 5-1 vote.
    The board didn’t outline any of the financing as yet. District spokesman Ken Syke said that they’re working on 2010 budget first before planning for the 2011 one.
    The board’s decision could have a large impact on the district and taxpayers as the new program would bring in federal funds.

  • WKOW-TV:

    This is the first real commitment from MMSD to establish comprehensive early childhood education.
    What they don’t have yet is a plan to pay for it.
    It would’ve cost about $12.2 million to start 4k this fall, according to Eric Kass, assistant superintendent for business services.
    About $4.5 million would come from existing educational service funds, $4.2 million from a loan, and about $3.5 million would be generated thru a property tax increase.
    Some board members said they were uncomfortable approving a funding plan for 4k, because there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the district’s budget as a whole.

  • NBC15:

    Members first deadlocked in a three-to-three tie on whether to start 4-K this fall, then voted five-to-one to implement it the following year.
    The cost this year would have been more than $12 million. The decision to delay implementation is due to serious budget problems facing the Madison District.
    Nearly 1600 4-year-old students are expected to participate in the half-day kindergarten program.

  • Don Severson:

    The Board of Education is urged to vote NO on the proposal to implement 4-year old Kindergarten in the foreseeable future. In behalf of the public, we cite the following support for taking this action of reject the proposal:
    The Board and Administration Has failed to conduct complete due diligence with respect to recognizing the community delivery of programs and services. There are existing bona fide entities, and potential future entities, with capacities to conduct these programs
    Is not recognizing that the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Wisconsin authorizes the provision of public education for grades K-12, not including pre-K or 4-year old kindergarten
    Has not demonstrated the district capacity, or the responsibility, to manage effectively the funding support that it has been getting for existing K-12 programs and services. The district does not meet existing K-12 needs and it cannot get different results by continuing to do business as usual, with the ‘same service’ budget year-after-year-after-year

Madison grads say the district prepared them well

Susan Troller:

As college students finish up their first semester, it’s not just time to take a break, it’s also time to look at grades and study how well their college career is going. But it’s not just an individual assessment — it’s also an assessment of how well their K-12 schooling prepared them to compete in the world beyond high school.
According to Madison School Board member Ed Hughes, information from students is one of the most important ways to test how effective schools or school districts are serving their communities.
“Probably the best single source of information about how well we’re doing comes from students themselves, and how well-prepared they feel when they go out into the world,” says Hughes, a board member since 2008 as well as an attorney and a parent.
Earlier this year, Hughes — who has a daughter who is a senior at East High School and a son in college — did an informal survey of students who had graduated from the Madison Metropolitan School District and were now either in college, graduate school or the work force. The 143 respondents ranged from the graduating classes of 1999 through 2008; most had graduated from Madison schools within the last five years.

Charter schools are one strategy, not a cure-all

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:


The State Journal’s call for more charter schools in the editorial welcoming the president to Madison was a bit off the mark.
A charter school is not an end in itself – it’s a means to achieve an end. If there are impediments to learning that we’re unable to address, or opportunities for improvement that we’re unable to provide through our neighborhood schools, then a charter could be an effective way to address the issue
For example, I’d be interested in a charter proposal designed to attack our achievement gap by providing a more intense academic focus in a longer school day and longer school year for students who are behind. But if a charter idea lacks that sort of vital justification, then for me there’s insufficient reason to deviate from our traditional neighborhood school approach.
The same is true for the school district’s recently-adopted strategic plan. More charter schools is not a goal, it’s a strategy. If charters can be an effective means of achieving our goals of improving academic outcomes for all students and ensuring student engagement and effective student support, for example, we should and likely will consider them.
As I understood the president’s remarks at Wright, this approach is consistent with the laudable goals he described.
– Ed Hughes, member, Madison School Board

Madison School Board Members on President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan’s 11/4/2009 Wright Middle School Visit

The elected Madison School Board will be present at Wednesday’s visit and rightfully so. There will be plenty of other politicians, but these people truly deserve a bit of time in the spotlight.
Love them or loath them, we should all be thankful for the time and effort our board members devote to that most important public expenditure: public schools. It is truly an essential but thankless job. I believe boardmembers are paid $4,000 annually.
I emailed our board and asked for a quote prior to the President’s arrival. Four responded thus far:
President Arlene Silveira:

“How exciting for our students at Wright. To meet the president of the United States is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I hope his visit awakens the civic responsibility in all who attend”.

Ed Hughes:

We’re honored by the President’s visit. I’m pleased that the visit will shine a positive light on the great work the Principal Nancy Evans and her staff have been doing at Wright, and that we’re able to provide Wright students with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If the President is able to find the time to visit one of our Madison schools, I hope that any Madison parents who have questions about what’s best for their kids will similarly make the effort to visit their neighborhood schools and see for themselves what we have to offer.

Beth Moss:

The President’s visit to a Madison school is an honor for our entire community. Nancy Evans, her staff, students, and the Wright Middle School families deserve to be recognized for their success in creating and maintaining a school community worthy of the President’s attention. This is an experience that none of us will forget, and we should be extremely proud that we have been chosen to host a presidential speech on education.

Marj Passman:

President Obama and I may not always agree about what is best for education
but I am very grateful that he has returned the importance of education to
center stage. It is an honor to have been invited to meet him.

It will be interesting to observe the Board when and if President Obama discusses mayoral control of schools in Milwaukee, as Alexander Russo muses.

Madison School Board Revises Budget to Reduce the Upcoming Property Tax Increase

WKOW-TV, via a kind reader’s email:

Madison school board leaders are revising a budget plan that lowers their property tax increase but defers millions of dollars in maintenance.
Leaders are looking to lower the previously agreed upon property tax hike by about $50 dollars per homeowner: from $147 on a $250,000 home, to $92.83 on a $250,000 home.
To accomplish that, members took from a few funds, and decided they would not levy the remaining balance on a 2005 maintenance referendum: that equaling out to almost $3 million dollars.
School board members had to compensate for the loss of $12-million dollars in state funding.
The loss of funding for the maintenance referendum didn’t come without discussion. Board member Beth Moss hoped to levy just enough to pay for $1.4 million dollars of roof maintenance.
Moss says, “The maintenance doesn’t go away… You can put it off, but putting it off usually only makes it worse.”
On the list for repairs, a boiler at Marquette Elementary, and more efficient windows at Shorewood Elementary.

Most budget changes passed 7-0, with the exception of the deferred maintenance, which passed 5-2 with Beth Moss and Ed Hughes voting against it. Moss’s school board seat is up for election on April 6, 2010. I emailed Beth last weekend, along with Maya Cole and Johnny Winston, Jr. to see if they plan to run for re-election.
Listen to Monday evening’s Madison School Board discussion via this 1 hour, 50 minute mp3 audio file.
The budget changes were driven by reduced transfers of state tax dollars to school districts and the drop in assessed property values (via an April, 2009 memo). Interestingly, I don’t believe this significant Board (mostly 7 votes, but some big dollar 5-2 as noted above) effort to hold down the local school property tax increase would have occurred with earlier Directors.

Community Background as the Madison School District Considers Further Property Tax Increases Monday Evening

The Monday, October 26, 2009 Madison School Board meeting agenda will include a discussion (and presumably a vote) on the upcoming property tax rate increases. The board approved a tax hike earlier this year to make up for a reduction in state income tax and fees redistributed to local school districts due to the “Great Recession”. Reductions in property tax assessments (“Of the 73,024 parcels in the City, 53.6% are being changed (6,438 increases and 32,728 reductions”) may further drive taxes upward, certainly a challenge given current conditions.
Superintendent Dan Nerad proposed – and passed – a three year referendum that authorized spending and tax increases while providing time for the Administration to, as Board member Ed Hughes stated “put into place the process we currently contemplate for reviewing our strategic priorities, establishing strategies and benchmarks, and aligning our resources.” Ed’s “Referendum News” is worth reading.
I’ve summarized a number of links from the 2008 referendum discussion and vote below.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything happens with the recent math, fine arts, talented and gifted task forces and the full implementation of “infinite campus“, which should reduce costs and improve services.

Revised Madison School District Strategic Plan Posted

via a kind reader’s email:
September 21, 2009 Revision: 900K PDF.
Comments on the District’s website.
Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira’s email on the latest version and upcoming board discussions:

Good afternoon everyone,
The proposed action plans for the strategic plan are now on the district web site.
Please go to the home page (www.mmsd.org), click on bullet for Strategic Planning;
click on “Read and comment on the proposed Strategic Plan – Sept. 21, 2009
Click on “Strategic Plan (proposed) Sept. 21, 2009”
The action plans start on page 30. The Board had requested additional support information. The Administration has added performance measures for each of the strategies. In addition, the plans are cross-referenced to the top critical issues that you identified as a group in your strategic planning meetings. The Board had also asked for a review of the wording for clarity and to lessen the use of educational jargon; a review of priorites to lessen the number of priorities one in the first year; and identification of the connections between various action items as well as connections to oterh plans presented to and/or approved by the Board.
The Board has a meeting scheduled for September 29 at 6:00pm to review/discuss the action plans. If you have any comments prior to that meeting, you can reply on the web or send me an email. I will ensure the Board sees your comments.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Best regards,
Arlene

Letter from Madison School Board members Ed Hughes and Marj Passman on the revised Strategic Plan:

This Tuesday evening, September 29, the School Board will be having a last and, hopefully, final discussion on the Strategic Plan.
Even though the plan has evolved somewhat since our initial meetings, we think that you will find that it represents the spirit and essence of all your efforts.
You may share your views with the Board, Tuesday at 6:00 P.M., in the Doyle Auditorium.
If you would like to read the plan, please go to http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/
and click on the bullet for Strategic Planning.
It will be good to see you again.
Ed Hughes and Marj Passman
Committee Chairs
MMSD Planning and Development Committee

Much more on the Madison School District’s Strategic Planning process here.

A Southwest Area Madison Meeting on Crime, Including A Number of Madison School Officials

David Blaska:

While the mayor and his staff were conspicuously absent, other government institutions were well represented: Madison School Board president Arlene Silveira (middle aged white female) and members Beth Moss, Maya Cole, Marge Passman, Ed Hughes, and three school principals (all middle aged, white, of varying genders). Police Captain Jay Lengfeld (middle aged, white, male) and neighborhood officers Justine Harris (young white female) and John Amos (middle aged white male) attended. So did County Sheriff Dave Mahoney (middle aged white male), which impressed me greatly. As well as a number of alders and county board members, including Ald. Jed Sanborn and Supv. Diane Hesselbein (young white male and female, respectively), who told me she danced with my brother Mike (older white male) at a function in the Dells. (Ald. Pham-Remmele [older asian female] was called away to visit her seriously ill and aging mother [even older asian female] in California.) Did not see The Kathleen. Here’s who else wasn’t there: Bicycle Boy (young, white and stupid)!
The people speak
The very first “citizen” to speak was an Orchard Ridge older white male whom I did not recognize. The fellow bordered on racism when he said “the complexion” of the neighborhood had changed. Perhaps it was just an unfortunate choice of words. “Put the problem people somewhere else,” he demanded. But he was the only person who spoke that way Wednesday night at Falk.
On the other extreme was Lisa Kass (older white female) who (wouldn’t you know it?) is a school teacher. “Just because someone is different doesn’t mean people are bad,” she said, demonstrating a flair for tautologies. Other than the first speaker (arguably), no one alleged different.
Here is the most racist thing your host can say: Let’s have two sets of behavior, one for one race and a lesser standard for another race. That is separate but unequal!
Then Kass (she teaches our children?) committed the sin of moral equivalence. One of the Bill of Rights prohibits loud noise after 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 p.m. weekends.
“Where is the prohibition against leaf blowers at 7:30 in the morning?” she demanded.
Hey, for my money, add it to the list. Pisses me off, too. Still, it is hard to see 200 people taking an hour and a half out of a weekday evening to bitch about leaf blowers and lawn mowers — either in Green Tree or Allied Drive. Hey, at least the blowers and mowers are keeping their properties tidy! Or, is “neat” now prima facie evidence of racism?
Yes, leaf-blowing in the early morning is inconsiderate and annoying but yelling the M-F word is inconsiderate, annoying, obscene, morally offensive, and disturbing.
Then Ms. Kass hand-slapped her seatmate Florenzo Cribbs (young black male), president of Allied Drive-Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood. Prior to the event Cribbs encouraged his e-mail list to attend the meeting. “DON’T LET THE PROWER STRUCTOR THAT ALLOWED THE PROBLEWS CREAT THE RULES FOR TRY TO FIX THE PROBLEMS.”

Singapore Math Workbook Only Purchase Discussion (No textbooks or teacher guides) at the Madison School Board

26MB mp3 audio file. Marj Passman, Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole raised a number of questions regarding the purchase of $69K worth of Singapore Math Workbooks (using Federal tax dollars via “Title 1“) without textbooks or teacher’s guides at Monday evening’s Board Meeting. The purchase proceeded, via a 5-2 vote. Ed Hughes and Beth Moss supported the Administration’s request, along with three other board members.
Related Links:

The Madison Math Task Force Report [3.9MB PDF] found that local elementary school teachers used the following curricular materials (page 166):

What, if anything has the Math Task Force report addressed?

Proposed Madison Schools’ Strategic Plan: School Board Written Questions

Madison School Board 1.1MB PDF:

4) Curriculum Action Plan – Flexible Instruction (page 44)
Arlene Silveira Is “flexible Instruction” the latest term for differentiation or differentiated teaching/team teaching? If so, we have been doing this for a while in the district. Do we have any evaluation of how this is working?
Lucy Mathiak
Please define “flexible instruction (and in civilian terms vs. eduspeak, please).
Ed Hughes
To what extent, if at all, does the “flexible instruction” action plan contemplate less “pull out” instruction for special ed students?


Madison School District Administration’s response:

Flexible instruction is similar to other terms, such as differentiation and universal design. All of these terms mean that teachers begin with explicit standards and/or curricular goals for a unit or course. Teachers then design multiple ways to teach and multiple learning experiences for students for all core standards and/or curricular goals. Flexible instruction is best planned in teams composed of regular education, special education, and ESL teachers so that many aspects of diverse learners, including options for students abovelbelow grade level, are addressed in the original design of lessons. In classrooms with flexible instruction, various groups of students can work together, share and leam from each other even when the different groups of students might be working on slightly different types of experiences.
Although there is no explicit evaluation of how this is currently working, one of the highest priorities of teachers is the time to engage in this type of collaborative professional work.

The last paragraph states “Although there is no explicit evaluation of how this is currently working” gets to the heart of curricular issues raised by a number of board members, parents and those discussed in the recent outbound parent survey.
This document is a must read for all public school stakeholders. It provides a detailed window into School Board governance and the current state of our public school Administration.
Related Links:

UPDATE: Lucy Mathiak posted her full set of questions here.

Action Needed, Please Sign on…. Math Teacher Hiring in the Madison School District

via a kind reader’s email: Janet Mertz and Gabi Meyer have written a letter about new math hires that they would like you to sign on to. Please send your name, your school(s), and any relevant identifying information or affiliation to:

mertz@oncology.wisc.edu

Dear Superintendent Nerad and members of the Board of Education:

To address as quickly as possible the MMSD’s need for more middle school teachers with outstanding content knowledge of mathematics, we, the undersigned, urge you to consider filling any vacancies that occur in the District’s middle schools for the coming academic year with applicants who majored in the mathematical sciences or related fields (e.g., statistics, computer science, physics) in college, but may be currently deficient in teaching pedagogy. You might advertise nationally in appropriate places that applications from such candidates would be welcome. In recent years, many outstanding graduates with such backgrounds went into the computing, consulting, and financial industries. However, in the current economic climate, such jobs are much less available, especially to new college graduates. Thus, jobs in the teaching profession may be viewed much more favorably now by folks trained in the mathematical sciences despite the significantly lower salary. One indication of this is the fact that applications to Teach for America were up 42% this year. Teach for America had to reject over 30,000 applicants this spring, including hundreds of graduates from UW-Madison, due to the limited numbers they can train and place. Undoubtedly, some of these applicants were math majors who would be happy to live in Madison. Math for America, a similar program that only accepts people who majored in the mathematical sciences, likely also had to turn away large numbers of outstanding applicants. Possibly, the MMSD could contact Teach for America and Math for America inquiring whether there might be a mechanism by which your advertisement for middle school math teachers could be forwarded to some of the best of their rejects. As these programs do, the MMSD could provide these new hires with a crash course in teaching pedagogy over the summer before they commence work in the fall. They could be hired conditionally subject to completing all of the requirements for state teacher certification within 2 years and a commitment to teach in the MMSD for at least 3-5 years.

While the District’s proposal to provide additional content knowledge to dozens of its current middle school teachers of mathematics might gradually improve the delivery of mathematics to the District’s students, it would take numerous years to implement, involve considerable additional expense, and may still not totally solve the long-term need for math-qualified teachers, especially in view of the continuing wave of retirements. The coincidence of baby boomer retirements with the current severe economic recession provides a rare opportunity to fill our middle schools now with outstanding mathematics teachers for decades to come, doing so at much lower cost to the District since one would be hiring new, B.A.-level teachers rather than retraining experienced, M.A.-level ones. Thus, we urge you to act on this proposal within the next few weeks, in possible.

Sincerely,

Ed Hughes comments over at Madison United for Academic Excellence:

It is interesting to note that state law provides that “A school board that employs a person who holds a professional teaching permit shall ensure that no regularly licensed teacher is removed from his or her position as a result of the employment of persons holding permits.”

The Madison School District’s 2009 Strategic Planning Team

Members include:
Abplanalp, Sue, Assistant Superintendent, Elementary Schools
Alexander, Jennifer, President, Chamber of Commerce
Atkinson, Deedra, Senior Vice-President, Community Impact, United Way of Dane County
Banuelos, Maria,Associate Vice President for Learner Success, Diversity, and Community Relations, Madison Area Technical College
Bidar-Sielaff, Shiva, Manager of Cross-Cultural Care, UW Hospital
Brooke, Jessica, Student
Burke, Darcy, Elvehjem PTO President
Burkholder, John, Principal, Leopold Elementary
Calvert, Matt, UW Extension, 4-H Youth Development
Campbell, Caleb, Student
Carranza, Sal, Academic and Student Services, University of Wisconsin
Chandler, Rick, Chandler Consulting
Chin, Cynthia, Teacher, East
Ciesliewicz, Dave, Mayor, City of Madison
Clear, Mark, Alderperson
Cooper, Wendy, First Unitarian Society
Crim, Dawn, Special Assistant, Academic Staff, Chancellor’s Office, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dahmen, Bruce, Principal, Memorial High School
Davis, Andreal, Cultural Relevance Instructional Resource Teacher, Teaching & Learning
Deloya, Jeannette, Social Work Program Support Teacher
Frost, Laurie, Parent
Gamoran, Adam Interim Dean; University of Wisconsin School of Education
Gevelber, Susan, Teacher, LaFollette
Goldberg, Steve, Cuna Mutual
Harper, John, Coordinator for Technical Assistance/Professional Development, Educational Services
Her, Peng,
Hobart, Susie, Teacher, Lake View Elementary
Howard, James, Parent
Hughes, Ed, Member, Board of Education
Jokela, Jill, Parent
Jones, Richard, Pastor, Mt. Zion Baptist Church
Juchems, Brian, Program Director, Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools
Katz, Ann, Arts Wisconsin
Katz, Barb, Madison Partners
Kester, Virginia, Teacher, West High School
Koencke, Julie, Information Coordinator MMSD
Laguna, Graciela, Parent
Miller, Annette, Community Representative, Madison Gas & Electric
Morrison, Steve, Madison Jewish Community Council
Nadler, Bob, Executive Director, Human Resources
Nash, Pam, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools
Natera, Emilio, Student
Nerad, Dan, Superintendent of Schools
Passman, Marj, Member, Board of Education
Schultz, Sally, Principal, Shabazz City High School
Seno, Karen,Principal, Cherokee Middle School
Sentmanat, Jose, Executive Assistant to the County Executive
Severson, Don, Active Citizens for Education (ACE)
Steinhoff, Becky, Executive Director, Goodman Community Center
Strong, Wayne, Madison Police Department
Swedeen, Beth, Outreach Specialist, Waisman Center
Tennant, Brian, Parent
Terra Nova, Paul, Lussier Community Education Center
Theo, Mike, Parent
Tompkins, Justin, Student
Trevino, Andres, Parent
Trone, Carole, President, WCATY
Vang, Doua, Clinical Team Manager, Southeast Asian Program / Kajsiab House, Mental Health Center of Dane County
Vieth, Karen, Teacher, Sennett
Vukelich-Austin, Martha, Executive Director, Foundation for Madison Public Schools
Wachtel, Lisa, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning
Zellmer, Jim, Parent
Much more here.
The Strategic Planning Process Schedule [PDF]

“Fewer Teachers, More Automation”

John Robb:

We constantly think that we need more teachers. That may not be the case. In fact we may need fewer, better teachers in combination with better automation (particularly in college). Some points:

  • The delta of experience between attending a lecture and watching a video of a lecture? Nada. If anything, the video is better since you can rewind it, view it at the best vantage point (vs. at the back of a big lecture hall), and view it in a quiet relaxed space.
  • Video lectures (as most colleges are doing now) make it possible to get the best. A dozen of the best lecture series could serve to replace 99% of lectures now being given by less gifted teachers.
  • Interactive education, like what MIT is providing now, is highly computerized. Almost all of it could be done online.
  • The interactive process of learning/application via collaboration is something that is perfectly suited for virtual worlds. JIT information in combination with simulated real world application within a collaborative environment is something that is going on with WoW right now (on a massive scale).

Sara Rimer:

The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.
M.I.T. is not alone. Other universities are changing their ways, among them Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Harvard. In these institutions, physicists have been pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.
The traditional 50-minute lecture was geared more toward physics majors, said Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard who is a pioneer of the new approach, and whose work has influenced the change at M.I.T.
“The people who wanted to understand,” Professor Mazur said, “had the discipline, the urge, to sit down afterwards and say, ‘Let me figure this out.’ ” But for the majority, he said, a different approach is needed.

Certainly worth exploring as part of Madison’s strategic plan. School Board member Ed Hughes has mentioned virtual learning and collaboration a number of times.

Madison Math Program Public Input Session

The Madison School District Administration held a public input session on the recent Math Task Force report [3.9MB PDF] last evening at Memorial High School. Superintendent Dan Nerad opened and closed the meeting, which featured about 56 attendees, at least half of whom appeared to be district teachers and staff. Math Coordinator Brian Sniff ran the meeting.
Task force member and UW-Madison Professor Mitchell Nathan [Clusty Search] was in attendance along with Terry Millar, a UW-Madison Professor who has been very involved in the Madison School District’s math programs for many years. (Former Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater recently joined the UW-Madison Center for Education Research, among other appointments). UW-Madison Math professor Steffen Lempp attended as did school board President Arlene Silveira and board members Ed Hughes and Beth Moss. Jill Jokela, the parent representative on the Math Task Force, was also present.
Listen via this 30MB mp3 audio file. 5.5MB PDF Handout.
Related:

MMSD Board of Education Progress Report – November, 2008

The major focus of our meetings in November was on aligning the work of the Board to the district’s mission and research regarding effective school boards. The emerging literature regarding the role of school board governance in improving student achievement suggests that the manner in which the Board does its work can lead to positive student achievement results. Superintendent Nerad has provided us with great amount of research and experience to guide us in our discussions. An overview of some of our major changes is below. There are a lot of details behind each of the items listed below. If you have any questions, please let us know via email: comments@madison.k12.wi.us
Arlene Silveira (516-8981)
Committees: We voted to replace the existing committees with the committees listed below in order to create a greater focus on student achievement and the need for improved student achievement and related development outcomes for the district. The committees are structured along key governing lines. Each committee is composed of the board as a whole with co-chairs.
Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring: Focuses on the district’s mission and will consist of matters related to factors leading to the improvement of student learning. Governance function: district’s mission – work and related accountability for student learning. Co-chairs: Johnny Winston Jr., Maya Cole
Planning and Development: Focuses on ensuring effective planning related to the district’s strategic plan, demographic planning, facility planning and budget planning. Governance function: planning for improved results. Co-chairs: Ed Hughes, Marj Passman
Operational Support: Focuses on financial management, building maintenance and operations, land purchase and district administrative operations, retention and hiring of staff and staff equity issues. Governance function: internal functions and ensuring quality business, finance and human resource systems. Co-chairs: Lucy Mathiak, Beth Moss
Engaging/Linking Stakeholders: We are expanding engagement practices with the goals of determining stakeholder perceptions about the district and educating members of the public to build public will and support.
6 Regular board meeting/year will be held in different schools. As part of the agenda, principals and staff will present learning data and their School Improvement Plan.
Each Board member will serve as a liaison to 7 schools to assist the Board in understanding the learning-related work in our schools.
The Board will schedule 4-6 meetings/year within the community to collect input from community stakeholders regarding “big” questions related to the district’s strategic plan and/or educational programs/services.
Ensuring a Focus on Results and Accountability:
Data retreats: As part of the work of the Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring committee, 4 meetings/year will include a data presentation related to specific student achievement and student performance measures.
Program evaluation: As part of the Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring committee, a schedule of program evaluations will be identified and implemented.
Improvement benchmarks: When the district’s strategic plan is completed. District level improvement benchmarks will be identified for each student based strategy within the plan.

Racine Promise: City officials explore college funding for Racine graduates

Dustin Block:

A group of city officials are exploring a program that would pay for Racine high school graduates to attend college.
The idea is based on the Kalamazoo Promise, a program started three years ago in Kalamazoo, Mich. to attract families to the city. The program is simple: If a child graduates from a Kalamazoo High School, their tuition is paid to any Michigan university or tech school. That could amount to $36,000 for a student attending the University of Michigan. The only requirement is that a student maintains a 2.0 GPA and makes continual progress toward their high school diploma.
Aldermen Aron Wisneski and Greg Helding, and City Administrator Ben Hughes, are seeking two $8,000 grants to study creating a similar program here. The City Council is expected to grant permission to pursue the grant on Wednesday.

Local elected leaders: Vote ‘yes’ Nov. 4 for Madison schools

The Capital Times — 10/27/2008 4:31 am Dear Editor: As elected officials, we work hard to make Madison and Fitchburg the best places in the country. The foundation of our vibrant community is our public schools. Our kids and schools need our support this fall. We urge you to vote for the Madison schools referendum … Continue reading Local elected leaders: Vote ‘yes’ Nov. 4 for Madison schools

November 2008 Madison Schools’ Referendum Roundup

Dave Blaska:

The prevailing wisdom is that the referendum will pass. The prevailing wisdom is probably correct. There has been no organized effort to fight it, unlike three years ago. And the surge of Obama voters, the scent of victory in their flaring nostrils, will carry along the schools in that high tide that lifts all boats. The Wisconsin State Journal has yet to do any serious journalism on the issue. It’s been lost in the shuffle.
On the other hand, the stock market is in the toilet and with it, people’s retirement plans. Home values are falling. Layoffs are accelerating. Energy prices are moderating but still expensive. And in the near future: a recession of unknown duration. So, maybe it doesn’t pass.
The referendum was recommended 7-0 August 26 by the overly harmonious school board, including Lucy Mathiak, who once teamed with Ruth Robarts and Laurie Kobza. Those two, however, are no longer serving.
I give Ed Hughes credit for reaching out to this irascible blogger. The schools have not done enough of that in the past. I am thinking now of former TV-3 news anchor Beth Zurbuchen, who infamously dissed of opponents of the referendum three years ago for being “selfish.”
Two of the three spending referenda were defeated that year, in no small part to such arrogance. I made that point with Ed Hughes. For arrogance this year, we have Marge Passman of Progressive Dane. You can hear Mitch Henck sputtering with amazement on his WIBA radio program Outside the Box as Passman makes the most ridiculous comments.

Channel3000:

One Madison voter with a ballot discrepancy said that she’s now questioning whether these mistakes are really mistakes, WISC-TV reported.
When Carole McGuire received her absentee ballot, she said something didn’t look right. “The ballot came, and I thought, ‘That’s odd,'” said McGuire.
She said that noticed that among all the races, the Madison Metropolitan School District referendum was nowhere to be found.
“Here is where the school district referendum would be, and it’s not there,” said McGuire, who then called the city clerk.
“I said, ‘This isn’t the correct ballot,'” said McGuire. “She said, ‘Oh well, tear it up and we’ll give you a new one.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t want to tear it up at the moment, I’ll come back.’

Paul Caron on declines in state income, sales tax and fee revenues:

States are beginning to report revenue collections for the July-September 2008 quarter, and the new figures raise the likelihood that large, additional budget shortfalls are developing. Of 15 mostly large and mid-sized states that have published complete data for this period, the majority collected less total tax revenue in July-September 2008 than was collected in the same period in 2007. … After adjustment for inflation, total revenue collections are below 2007 levels in 14 of the 15 states.

Greg Mankiw on proposed federal income tax changes:

Shelly Banjo compares McCain & Obama’s tax plans.
Much more on the November 4, 2008 Madison referendum here.

Madison School Board OKs Nov. referendum

Tamira Madsen:

Members of the Madison School Board will ask city taxpayers to help finance the Madison Metropolitan School District budget, voting Monday night to move forward with a school referendum.
The referendum will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 4.
Superintendent Dan Nerad outlined a recommendation last week for the board to approve a recurring referendum asking to exceed revenue limits by $5 million during the 2009-10 school year, $4 million for 2010-11 and $4 million for 2011-12. With a recurring referendum, the authority afforded by the community continues permanently, as opposed to other referendums that conclude after a period of time.
Accounting initiatives that would soften the impact on taxpayers were also approved Monday.
One part of the initiative would return $2 million to taxpayers from the Community Services Fund, which is used for afterschool programs. The second part of the initiative would spread the costs of facility maintenance projects over a longer period.

Andy Hall:


Madison School District voters on Nov. 4 will be asked to approve permanent tax increases in the district to head off projected multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls.
In a pair of 7-0 votes, the Madison School Board on Monday night approved a proposal from Superintendent Daniel Nerad to hold a referendum and to adopt a series of accounting measures to reduce their effect on taxpayers.
Nerad said the district would work “day and night” to meet with residents and make information available about the need for the additional money to avert what school officials say would be devastating cuts in programs and services beginning in 2009-10, when the projected budget shortfall is $8.1 million.

WKOW-TV:

“I understand this goes to the community to see if this is something they support. We’re going to do our best to provide good information,” said Nerad.
Some citizens who spoke at Monday’s meeting echoed the sentiments of board members and school officials.
“Our schools are already underfunded,” said one man.
However, others spoke against the plan. “This is virtually a blank check from taxpayers.

Channel3000:

Superintendent Dan Nerad had to act quickly to put the plan together, facing the $8 million shortfall in his first few days on the job.
“I will never hesitate to look for where we can become more efficient and where we can make reductions,” said Nerad. “But I think we can say $8 million in program cuts, if it were only done that way, would have a significant impact on our kids.”
The plan was highly praised by most board members, but not by everyone who attended the meeting.
“This virtually gives the board a blank check from all of Madison’s taxpayers’ checkbooks,” said Madison resident David Glomp. “It may very well allow the school board members to never have to do the heavy lifting of developing a real long-term cost saving.”

NBC 15:

“We need to respect the views of those who disagree with us and that doesn’t mean they’re anti-school or anti-kids,” says board member Ed Hughes.
Board members stressed, the additional money would not be used to create new programs, like 4-year-old kindergarten.
“What’s a miracle is that our schools are continuing to function and I think that’s the conversation happening around Wisconsin, now, says board vice president Lucy Mathiak. “How much longer can we do this?”
The referendum question will appear on the November 4th general election ballot.
The board will discuss its educational campaign at its September 8th meeting.

Much more on the planned November, 2008 referendum here.
TJ Mertz on the “blank check“.

(Madison) School Referendum News

I have appreciated having the opportunity to talk about our schools with you and value your insights, so I wanted to let you know where matters stand on the possibility of a school spending referendum on the November ballot
As you probably know, Superintendent Dan Nerad submitted his recommendations to the Board at a School Board meeting Monday night (1MB PDF, 3 year financial forecast PDF). In summary, the structural deficit the school funding law imposes on districts as well as increased fixed costs result in a projected budget deficit of $8.1 million for the 2009-2010 school year, $4.4 million for the 2010-2011 school year, and $4.3 million for the 2011-2012 school year, calculated on a same-service basis.
To meet these gaps, the superintendent recommends that the Board approve a referendum asking the voters to authorize the district to exceed our spending limits by $5 million next year, and $4 million in each of the following two years. This would be a recurring referendum, meaning that the authorization for the increased spending in the specified amounts would continue indefinitely.
The amount of extra spending authority we would seek is less than the projected budget gaps. The idea is that this a shared-sacrifice sort of proposal – we would be asking the community to permit us to erase some of the gap through additional taxes while we pledge to address the remainder through seeking out savings and efficiencies that will not have a detrimental impact on classroom learning. As is probably apparent, the referendum is not designed to allow us to restore in a significant way any of the painful cuts we have made in previous years.
Budget information for the district has historically been confusing. We’re working on greater clarity and transparency in our budget information. I have some questions about our numbers that I’m in the process of trying to get clarified. Part of the confusion derives from the fact that the budget is arranged in a number of separate funds that are defined by DPI. The principal category of spending for our purposes is Fund 10. For the upcoming school year, we are projecting Fund 10 expenditures of about $306 million. For the following year, the one that shows the $8.1 million shortfall, we foresee expenditures of about $318 million, or a 3.78% increase.
With the Qualified Economic Offer, salaries and benefits for teachers are, as a practical matter, required to go up at least 3.8% per year. Our total projected increase for next year for salary and benefits is 3.88%. The rest of the Fund 10 budget, a little under $100 million, increases 3.55% from this year. (By comparison, the consumer price index has increased 5.6% since July of 2007.) This budget does not include any significant new initiatives.
Turning to the revenues side of the ledger, the category of interest here is the tax levy. This is what our community has to cough up to pay for our schools, and it represents the difference between our expenditures and our other sources of revenue, including state and federal aid and grant money. The portion of the tax levy that is attributable to Fund 10 expense is governed by the spending cap that state law imposes.
The total tax levy for the current year is about $226 million. Under the superintendent’s plan, if the referendum passes, the total levy for next year would be $237 million, an increase of 5.07%.
If total expenditures are increasing less than 4%, why is the tax levy projected to increase 5.07%? There are a couple of reasons. First, we are unable to project that increases in other sources of funding will keep pace with our increasing level of expenditures. Indeed, we do not project any increase in state or federal aid. Second, the tax levy increase was moderated this year by the one-time injection of about $4.1 million in TIF funds. Had these funds not been received, then the tax levy would have had to increase this year (presumably through a referendum) in order to support this year’s level of spending. The 5.07% increase in the tax levy for next year is thus partially the result of starting from an artificially low base.
A final consideration is the mill rate. This is the amount applied against the assessed value of a taxpayer’s property to arrive at the amount in taxes that is levied. As the total value of property in our community increases, the mill rate goes down, all things equal. Under the superintendent’s plan, the mill rate increases from this year’s $9.92 to next year’s $10.03 (an increase of about 1%) and then is projected to decrease the next two years, to $9.59 and $9.29. So if one owns a house with an assessed value of $300,000, and the assessment remains the same next year, the amount that taxpayer would pay for schools would rise from $2,976 this year to $3,009 next year, and would decrease in the following two years if one is willing to entertain the unlikely assumption that the assessed value of the house would remain the same over the relevant years.
This analysis assumes that the referendum passes. If the referendum fails, then we will be obligated once more to hack away at the budget and attempt to find cuts that do the least amount of damage to classroom learning.
There are many reasons to want to avoid this. As past experience has shown, it is a divisive and painful exercise for the community. It requires that the Board devote much time and attention to the budget-cutting process – time that could be better used by the Board to work on strategies for improving student learning. Some of the decisions that have resulted from this typically-rushed process have later appeared to be short-sighted or misguided. And, most importantly, the cuts diminish the quality of the education we are able to provide to our students. There are no easy cuts left. If we are compelled to continue to slash away year after year, we will soon be at a point where we will be unable to provide the quality of education that our community wants and expects.
If the referendum passes, we will have breathing room. We should have three years when the specter of budget cuts is not hanging over our heads. This will enable the Board and the new administration to put into place the process we currently contemplate for reviewing our strategic priorities, establishing strategies and benchmarks, and aligning our resources.
Superintendent Nerad has described a proposal that contemplates a broad-based strategic planning process that will kick off during the second semester of the upcoming school year. This process will be designed to identify the community’s priorities for our schools, priorities that I expect will reflect a concentrated focus on enhancing student achievement. Once we have identified our priorities and promising strategies for achieving them, we’ll likely turn to examining how well our organization is aligned toward pursuing our goals. This will likely be the point at which we take a long, hard look at our administrative structure and see if we can arrange our resources more efficiently.
It will take a while – certainly more than a year – for us to undertake this sweeping kind of review of our programs and spending in a careful, collaborative and deliberative way. If we do go to referendum, and the voters authorize the increased spending authority we seek, then the obligation will pass to the Board and administration to demonstrate that the community’s vote of confidence was well placed. There will be much for us to do and it will be fair to judge our performance on how well we take advantage of the opportunity the community will have given us.
These are my initial thoughts. As you can probably tell, I am sympathetic to the approach the superintendent proposes and I am inclined to support his recommendation. However, we did just receive the recommendations Monday night, and I may well be confused about a few of these points. But since we will vote on a referendum next Monday, I wanted to get this summary to you as soon as possible. If you have thoughts or questions, I’d appreciate it if you could share them with me.
Ed
Ed Hughes
2226 Lakeland Avenue
Madison WI 53704
(608) 241-4854

The High School Years: “Raw and Still Unfair”

Karen Durbin:

HIGH school can be hard to shake. Some people never make it out of the cafeteria; they’re still trying to find the cool kids’ table. With “American Teen,” opening nationwide on Friday, Nanette Burstein can claim a certain expertise on the subject. This movie earned her the documentary directing award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and set off a bidding war. It’s also something of an exorcism. Ms. Burstein was co-director, with Brett Morgen, of two highly regarded documentaries: the Oscar-nominated “On the Ropes,” about three young boxers hoping to fight their way out of poverty, and “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” a portrait of the flamboyant Hollywood producer Robert Evans. But the impetus for “American Teen” was more personal: her own intense high school experience two decades ago in Buffalo.
To make the 90-minute film Ms. Burstein moved to Warsaw, Ind., and, deploying multiple cameras, gathered 1,000 hours of footage as she and her crew followed four 17-year-olds through their senior year at the town’s large, modern high school. The students could almost be the template for a John Hughes teen pic: the pampered queen bee Megan, whose imperious will to power masks a terrible secret; the basketball player Colin, who must win a sports scholarship or forgo college for the Army; the gifted bohemian Hannah, ready to break away but terrified that she may have inherited her mother’s bipolar disorder; and the lonely band nerd Jake, funny and appealing but afflicted with vivid acne flare-ups that complicate his wry, determined search for a girlfriend.
To watch these real teenagers is to see egos and identities in raw, volatile formation; on the verge of entering a larger world, they are reaching for a sense of self.

Wall-e (for it’s brief look at assembly line education and cultural homogonization) and the controversial Idiocracy (for its look at ongoing curriculum reduction initiatives) are also worth watching.

Advocating a Standard Graduation Rate & Madison’s “2004 Elimination of the Racial Achievement Gap in 3rd Grade Reading Scores”

Leslie Ann Howard:

Back in 1995, when the Wisconsin State Journal and WISC-TV began a civic journalism project to study the racial achievement gaps in our schools, the statistical measures of student achievement and reading in third grade put the issue in sharp focus.
United Way and our community partners’ efforts, through a variety of strategies including the Schools of Hope tutoring program, relied on those strong, focused statistics to measure the success of our 1-on-1 and 1-on-2 tutoring.
By 2004, Superintendent Art Rainwater was able to announce the elimination of the racial achievement gap in third grade reading scores, because our community had focused on stable statistical measure for over 10 years.
A standard graduation rate formula would create the same public focus for our nation’s efforts to increase high school graduation rates.

Related:

Madison schools need to get real on equity, New value-added approach is needed for improving schools

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes, writing in this week’s Isthmus:

A couple of weeks ago in these pages, Marc Eisen had some harsh words for the work of the Madison school district’s Equity Task Force (“When Policy Trumps Results,” 5/2/09). As a new school board member, I too have some doubts about the utility of the task force’s report. Perhaps it’s to be expected that while Eisen’s concerns touch on theory and rhetoric, mine are focused more on the nitty-gritty of decision making.
The smart and dedicated members of the Equity Task Force were assigned an impossible task: detailing an equity policy for me and other board members to follow. Equity is such a critical and nuanced consideration in school board decisions that, to be blunt, I’m not going to let any individual or group tell me what to do.
I am unwilling to delegate my responsibility to exercise my judgment on equity issues to a task force, no matter how impressive the group. Just as one school board cannot bind a future school board’s policymaking, I don’t think that the deliberations of a task force can restrict my exercise of independent judgment.
Admittedly, the task force faced a difficult challenge. It was obligated by the nature of its assignment to discuss equity issues in the abstract and offer up broad statements of principle.
Not surprisingly, most of the recommendations fall into the “of course” category. These include “Distribute resources based on student needs” and “Foster high academic expectations for all students.” I agree.

Related:

Odyssey Project Celebrates its Latest Graduates

Maria Bibbs:

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Odyssey Project held its fifth annual graduation ceremony for its 2007-2008 graduates on May 7. Family, friends, and loved ones gathered at the UW Memorial Union to celebrate the students’ accomplishments and the exciting journey that lies ahead of them.
“This is the beginning of a journey: for some, a journey to college, while others are returning to college,” said Odyssey Project Director Professor Emily Auerbach.
The Odyssey Project offers members of the Madison community an opportunity to begin a college education through an intensive, two-semester course. The program’s goal is to provide wider access to college for nontraditional and low-income students by offering a challenging classroom experience, individual support in writing, and assistance in applying for admission to college and for financial aid.
Auerbach said that the Langston Hughes poem “Still Here” embodies this remarkable class’s collective sentiment, after they had spent a year engaged in rigorous study while handling financial and family responsibilities that had previously made a college education seem little more than a dream deferred. “Sometimes you can make a way out of no way. If you open the door to education, you can change lives,” Auerbach said.

Media Education Coverage: An Oxymoron?

Lucy Mathiak’s recent comments regarding the lack of substantive local media education coverage inspired a Mitch Henck discussion (actually rant) [15MB mp3 audio file]. Henck notes that the fault lies with us, the (mostly non) voting public. Apathy certainly reigns. A useful example is Monday’s School Board’s 56 minute $367,806,712 2008/2009 budget discussion. The brief chat included these topics:

  • Retiring Superintendent Art Rainwater’s view on the District’s structural deficit and the decline in it’s equity (Assets – Liabilities = Equity; Britannica on the The Balance Sheet) from $48,000,000 in the year 2000 to $24,000,000 in 2006 (it is now about 8% of the budget or $20M). (See Lawrie Kobza’s discussion of this issue in November, 2006. Lawrie spent a great deal of time digging into and disclosing the structural deficits.) Art also mentioned the resulting downgrade in the District’s bond rating (results in somewhat higher interest rates).
  • Marj asked an interesting question about the K-1 combination and staff scheduling vis a vis the present Teacher Union Contract.
  • Lucy asked about specials scheduling (about 17 minutes).
  • Maya asked about the combined K-1 Art classes (“Class and a half” art and music) and whether we are losing instructional minutes. She advocated for being “open and honest with the public” about this change. Art responded (23 minutes) vociferously about the reduction in services, the necessity for the community to vote yes on operating referendums, ACT scores and National Merit Scholars.
  • Beth mentioned (about 30 minutes) that “the district has done amazing things with less resources”. She also discussed teacher tools, curriculum and information sharing.
  • Ed Hughes (about 37 minutes) asked about the Madison Family Literacy initiative at Leopold and Northport. Lucy inquired about Fund 80 support for this project.
  • Maya later inquired (45 minutes) about a possible increase in Wisconsin DPI’s common school fund for libraries and left over Title 1 funds supporting future staff costs rather than professional development.
  • Beth (about 48 minutes) advocated accelerated computer deployments to the schools. Lucy followed up and asked about the District’s installation schedule. Johnny followed up on this matter with a question regarding the most recent maintenance referendum which included $500,000 annually for technology.
  • Lucy discussed (52 minutes) contingency funds for energy costs as well as providing some discretion for incoming superintendent Dan Nerad.

Rick Berg notes that some homes are selling below assessed value, which will affect the local tax base (property taxes for schools) and potential referendums:

But the marketplace will ultimately expose any gaps between assessment and true market value. And that could force local governments to choose between reducing spending (not likely) and hiking the mill rate (more likely) to make up for the decreasing value of real estate.
Pity the poor homeowners who see the value of their home fall 10%, 20% or even 30% with no corresponding savings in their property tax bill, or, worse yet, their tax bill goes up! Therein lie the seeds of a genuine taxpayer revolt. Brace yourselves. It’s gonna be a rough ride.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue noted recently that Wisconsin state tax collections are up 2.3% year to date [136K PDF]. Redistributed state tax dollars represented 17.2% of the District’s revenues in 2005 (via the Citizen’s Budget).
Daniel de Vise dives into Montgomery County, Maryland’s school budget:

The budget for Montgomery County’s public schools has doubled in 10 years, a massive investment in smaller classes, better-paid teachers and specialized programs to serve growing ranks of low-income and immigrant children.
That era might be coming to an end. The County Council will adopt an education budget this month that provides the smallest year-to-year increase in a decade for public schools. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has recommended trimming $51 million from the $2.11 billion spending plan submitted by the Board of Education.
County leaders say the budget can no longer keep up with the spending pace of Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, who has overseen a billion-dollar expansion since his arrival in 1999. Weast has reduced elementary class sizes, expanded preschool and kindergarten programs and invested heavily in the high-poverty area of the county known around his office as the Red Zone.
“Laudable goals, objectives, nobody’s going to argue with that,” Leggett said in a recent interview at his Rockville office. “But is it affordable?”
It’s a question being asked of every department in a county whose overall budget has swelled from $2.1 billion in fiscal 1998 to $4.3 billion this year, a growth rate Leggett terms “unacceptable.”

Montgomery County enrolls 137,745 students and spent $2,100,000,000 this year ($15,245/student). Madison’s spending has grown about 50% from 1998 ($245,131,022) to 2008 ($367,806,712) while enrollment has declined slightly from 25,132 to 24,268 ($13,997/student).
I’ve not seen any local media coverage of the District’s budget this week.
Thanks to a reader for sending this in.
Oxymoron

Madison’s Two New School Board Members

Andy Hall:

Marj Passman is so excited she ‘s having trouble sleeping.
Ed Hughes is sleeping just fine — so far, he adds with a chuckle.
Monday evening, Passman and Hughes will be sworn in as members of the Madison School Board. It will mark the first time either has held public office.
Their path to the board was easier than expected — both ran unopposed — and their arrival comes at an unusually quiet moment in Madison ‘s public school system. Thanks to a one-time windfall from special city of Madison taxing districts, the schools are averting budget cuts for the first time in 14 years.
But Passman, 66, a retired teacher, and Hughes, 55, a lawyer, know that by summer ‘s end the board will be deep into discussions about asking voters to approve millions of dollars in extra taxes to avoid budget cuts for coming years.
They ‘ve been doing their homework to join the board — an act that will become official with a ceremony at the board ‘s 5 p.m. meeting at the district ‘s headquarters, 545 W. Dayton St.
Passman and Hughes fill the seats held by retiring board members Carol Carstensen, the board ‘s senior member who gained detailed knowledge of issues while serving since 1990, and Lawrie Kobza, who developed a reputation for carefully scrutinizing the district ‘s operations during her single three-year term.

Related Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Few jobs are as difficult and thankless as serving on a local school board.
Just ask Lawrie Kobza and Carol Carstensen.
The two Madison School Board members chose not to seek re-election this spring after years of honorable and energetic service.
Their replacements — Ed Hughes and Marj Passman — were sworn in Monday evening.
The fact that no one in Madison, a city steeped in political activism, chose to challenge Hughes or Passman for the two open board seats suggests increasing wariness toward the rigors of the task.
The job comes with token pay, a slew of long meetings, frequent controversy and angry calls at home. On top of that, the state has put public schools into a vise of mandates and caps that virtually require unpopular board decisions.

Uncontested election gives new board members opportunities

Susan Troller:

Without opponents in their races for Madison School Board seats, candidates Ed Hughes and Marjorie Passman have spent more time identifying issues that unite rather than divide them.
Although both candidates said they were concerned by the lack of interest in this spring’s school board race, they admitted that it had offered some unique opportunities.
“In a contested election, there’s a tendency to pigeonhole the candidates,” Hughes, a Madison attorney who is running for his first elected office, said in a recent interview.
Hughes said that in a more normal election, Passman’s extensive classroom experience and passionate enthusiasm for teaching and teachers would have labeled her as the teachers’ union candidate.
“She would have been pushed towards MTI. It’s likely I would have been pushed in the other direction. It’s far more subtle than that and it’s not fair to either one of us,” he observed.

Coverage of the Madison School Board Elections: 2008

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

Just because they’re uncontested, you shouldn’t overlook the two races for the Madison school board on the April 1 ballot.
There isn’t a tougher job or a more important one in local politics than maintaining the high quality of the Madison schools and dealing with the serious problems that confront them.
Over the past five weeks, we’ve queried retired teacher Marj Passman, the lone candidate for Seat 6, and attorney Ed Hughes, the lone candidate for Seat 7, on the important issues.
Here’s the week-by-week breakdown of our questions:

The Changing of the Madison School Board

Jason Shephard:

A lawyer and former teacher will replace a lawyer and former teacher in the uncontested Madison school board elections on April 1. The result will be the most inexperienced board in years at a particularly important time for the city’s public schools.
The school board is perhaps the hardest-working body of local elected officials and, judging by the throngs that flock to public meetings on issues big and small, also the most democratic. While the board’s past effectiveness has been marred by infighting and grandstanding, the last two years have been much more congenial, under the presidencies of Johnny Winston Jr. and Arlene Silveira.
After the elections, the seven-member board will lose the inquisitive eye of Lawrie Kobza and the institutional memory of Carol Carstensen. Replacing them are Ed Hughes, a reserved but intriguing lawyer, and Marj Passman, a provocative and passionate retired teacher.
They will join rookies Beth Moss and Maya Cole, who are still struggling to master the issues. Silveira is likely to remain president, and Winston will be the most senior member. Rounding out the board is Lucy Mathiak, whose temper, colleagues say, has muted her effectiveness.

Madison School Board Candidate Take Home test: Taxes & Military Recruitment

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

The Madison Metropolitan School District’s policy on military recruitment in schools, along with advertisements for the armed forces, is one issue that has generated significant comment to the school board recently.
Marj Passman and Ed Hughes, who are running unopposed for Seats 6 and 7 on the board, respectively, differ on this policy. Both also discuss the perennially contentious topic of school financing.
Here’s what we asked the two candidates this week.

Madison school board candidates discus the Anthony Hirsch case and school boundaries

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

Hmm. This is interesting. To varying degrees, both Madison school board candidates express unease with the school district’s failure to report a suspected sex offender to state authorities.
Ed Hughes, who is running unopposed for Seat 7, raises the most questions, but Marj Passman, the lone candidate for Seat 6, also is critical.
On the other hand, both support the Madison school board’s recent decision on school boundaries, and both Passman and Hughes praise a committee’s recent report on school names.
Here’s what we asked the two candidates this week.

HE DAILY PAGE: DO YOU AGREE WITH HOW THE MADISON SCHOOL DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION AND THE TEACHERS UNION HANDLED THE ANTHONY HIRSCH CASE?
HIRSH RESIGNED AS A SPECIAL EDUCATION AIDE AT LA FOLLETTE HIGH SCHOOL IN 2006 (HE WAS HIRED IN 1998) AFTER A FEMALE STUDENT COMPLAINED THAT HE TOUCHED HER LEG IN A SEXUALLY SUGGESTIVE WAY. HIRSCH DENIED IT HAPPENED.
THE SEPARATION AGREEMENT SIGNED BY THE DISTRICT AND THE UNION SAID THAT IN RETURN FOR HIRSCH RESIGNING THE DISTRICT WOULD OFFER A “NEUTRAL REFERENCE” TO POTENTIAL EMPLOYERS, AND THAT THE DISTRICT WOULD NOT NOTIFY THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF INSTRUCTION THAT IT SUSPECTED HIRSCH HAD ENGAGED IN IMMORAL CONDUCT.
HIRSCH WAS SUBSEQUENTLY HIRED BY THE WAUNAKEE SCHOOL DISTRICT AND IS NOW FACING FELONY CHARGES OF POSSESSING CHILD PORNOGRAPHY AND OF HAVING A SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH A 14-YEAR-OLD LA FOLLETTE STUDENT. HE HAS YET TO ENTER A PLEA.

MUAE “Conversation With the Candidates”

Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) will be hosting a “Conversation With the Madison School Board Candidates” on Tuesday, March 11, at 7:00 p.m. in the Wright Middle School LMC, 1313 Fish Hatchery Road. Marjorie Passman and Ed Hughes are running for Seats 6 and 7, respectively. Both are running unopposed. Please join us for a relaxed and productive dialogue, sans political sparring. Bring your questions, comments, concerns and ideas. The candidates are as eager to listen as they are to speak.
As an introduction to the candidates —
Isthmus Take-Home Test, Week One: http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=21758

Isthmus Take-Home Test, Week Two: http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/article.php?article=21825
Marjorie Passman’s website: http://marjpassmanforschoolboard.com/

Ed Hughes’s website: http://www.edhughesforschoolboard.com/
All are welcome!

Take Home Test: Madison school board (unopposed) candidates take on charter schools

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

More and more Wisconsin school districts are experimenting with charter schools. Some 231 are in operation. Most have a specialty focus and are exempted from certain state regulations to facilitate new approaches to learning.
Appleton, for example, has 14 charter schools for its 15,000 students. These schools focus on Montessori learning, environmentalism, gifted education, the construction industry, arts immersion and alternative programs, among others.
Madison with its almost 25,000 students has held back, authorizing just two charters, the bilingual Nuestro Mundo on the east side, and the south side’s Wright Middle School, which despite its charter designation offers a program similar to Madison’s other middle schools.
The two Madison school board candidates — Marj Passman is the lone candidate for Seat 6, while Ed Hughes is running unopposed for Seat 7 — were relatively vague when we asked them about charter schools this week. Perhaps an inquiring voter will pin them down at an upcoming forum.

Madison School Board Candidates Discuss Why They Are Running

Take Home Test, Week 1 by Marc Eisen:

Why is The Daily Page wasting precious pixels by questioning two Madison school board candidates who are running unopposed on the April 1 ballot?
Because the success of the public schools is absolutely essential to Madison’s future. And by questioning Marjorie Passman, the lone candidate for Seat 6, and Ed Hughes, the lone candidate for Seat 7, we hope to further the discussion of education in Madison.
So for the next five weeks we will revive Take Home Test, asking the candidates large and small questions each week. Their responses to our questions follow.
THE DAILY PAGE: WHAT IN YOUR BACKGROUND PREPARES YOU TO SET POLICY FOR A SCHOOL DISTRICT OF ALMOST 25,000 STUDENTS WITH A $340 MILLION BUDGET AND 3,700 EMPLOYEES? PLEASE DISCUSS YOUR PERTINENT TRAITS AND EXPERIENCES.

Via a couple of emails, including Ed Hughes, who urges us to look forward!
Ed’s website includes an interesting set of Questions and Answers, including those from Madison Teachers, Inc..

Madison School Board Candidates are “Shoo-ins”

Susan Troller:

Ed Hughes, a Madison attorney, and Marj Passman, a retired local teacher, will fill two Madison School Board seats in the spring election on April 1. They are running unopposed for seats now held by Lawrie Kobza, a single-term board member, and Carol Carstensen, who has served since 1990 and is by far the most senior member of the board.
In fact, when Hughes and Passman join the board, only Johnny Winston Jr. will have served more than one three-year term.
James Ely, an East High School custodian who had filed papers Dec. 27 with the City Clerk’s Office to register as a candidate for Carstensen’s Seat 7, decided to withdraw from the race because he was unable to complete the necessary filing information to change his candidacy to a run for Kobza’s Seat 6.
Hughes is running for Seat 7, and Passman is the candidate for Seat 6. Neither Hughes nor Passman has previously served on the board, although Passman lost a race last year against Maya Cole.

Candidate Enters Race for Madison School Board

Susan Troller:

James Ely of Madison has made a late December entrance to the 2008 Madison School Board race.
On Friday, an official in the City Clerk’s Office said Ely is a registered candidate for Seat 7, which will be open next spring when veteran School Board member Carol Carstensen retires from the board.
Ely has until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 2, to turn in his nomination papers, which had not been filed as of Friday.
Ely will take on Ed Hughes, a Madison attorney whose children have attended east side schools and who declared his candidacy for the Carstensen seat over six months ago.

Young, Gifted and Skipping High School

Maria Glod:

As Jackie Robson rushed off to Japanese 101, a pink sign on the main door of her college dorm reminded her to sign out. There were more rules: an 11 p.m. curfew, mandatory study hours, round-the-clock adult supervision and no boys allowed in the rooms.
Jackie is 14. She never spent a day in high school.
Like the other super-bright girls in her dorm, the Fairfax County teen bypassed a traditional education and countless teenage rites, such as the senior prom and graduation, to attend the all-female Mary Baldwin College in the Shenandoah Valley.
The school offers students as young as 12 a jump-start on college in one of the leading programs of its kind. It also gives brainy girls a chance to be with others like them. By all accounts, they are ready for the leap socially and emotionally, and they crave it academically.
Last spring, Jackie finished eighth grade at Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston. This fall, she’s taking Psychology 101, Japanese 101, English 101, Folk Dance and U.S. History 1815-1877: Democracy and Crisis.

Pennsylvania to revamp gifted education

Melania Hughes:

They’re not mentioned under No Child Left Behind. They’re not assisted by federal funding or programs.
Gifted students in Pennsylvania must rely on the state Department of Education to make sure public schools challenge them intellectually.
So with changes proposed to the state’s gifted education regulations, known as Chapter 16, a network of parents and advocates are weighing in.
As they see it, the changes being reviewed in Harrisburg don’t go far enough.
”The state board missed an opportunity so far in making any meaningful difference to help parents and schools avoid conflicts,” said Jay Clark of Lancaster, a parent of two gifted children who has testified before legislative committees about the proposals.

The Power of Birth Order


Jeffrey Kluger:

In 1883, the year Elliott began battling melancholy, Teddy had already published his first book and been elected to the New York State assembly. By 1891—about the time Elliott, still unable to establish a career, had to be institutionalized to deal with his addictions—Teddy was U.S. Civil Service Commissioner and the author of eight books. Three years later, Elliott, 34, died of alcoholism. Seven years after that, Teddy, 42, became President.
Elliott Roosevelt was not the only younger sibling of an eventual President to cause his family heartaches—or at least headaches. There was Donald Nixon and the loans he wangled from billionaire Howard Hughes. There was Billy Carter and his advocacy on behalf of the pariah state Libya. There was Roger Clinton and his year in jail on a cocaine conviction. And there is Neil Bush, younger sib of both a President and a Governor, implicated in the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s and recently gossiped about after the release of a 2002 letter in which he lamented to his estranged wife, “I’ve lost patience for being compared to my brothers.”

A new International Baccalaureate program is raising the game in middle school

Jay Matthews:

The letter published in the Reston Connection four years ago said the program at Langston Hughes Middle School promoted “socialism, disarmament, radical environmentalism, and moral relativism, while attempting to undermine Christian religious values and national sovereignty.”
The Middle Years Program, part of the International Baccalaureate system, was just getting started at Langston Hughes, and it wasn’t the first time an IB program had been slapped around in Fairfax County. W.T. Woodson High School had thrown out its IB courses in 1999, in part because some parents and teachers thought they were too global and played down American history. Syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell reported in 2004 that Fairfax parents were in revolt against IB. It was an exaggeration, but there was enough of a fight to raise concern about the program’s future in the Washington area’s biggest school district.
Some parents and teachers at Langston Hughes, and next door at South Lakes High School, where the MYP continued for ninth- and 10th-graders, distrusted a program invented in Switzerland and alien to what they remembered of their own more traditional middle school days. Other parents and teachers thought the MYP was wonderfully rigorous, with its commitment to global awareness, foreign languages and writing. The differences of opinion appeared to reflect tension between Americans who thought the country was too soft and those who thought the country was too dumb.
Who won? A visit to Langston Hughes this fall reveals that the people favoring smarter students have beaten those fearing foreign influence to an apparently invisible pulp. It is hard to find anyone who even remembers when the school’s unusual curriculum was considered a threat to American values. Instead, past and present Langston Hughes parents are greeting an unexpected jump in SAT scores at South Lakes — the biggest this year in Fairfax County — as proof that they were right to go with the MYP, perhaps the most challenging middle school program in America for non-magnet schools.

Kobza decides to not run for school board next year

Andy Hall: Madison School Board Vice President Lawrie Kobza announced Monday that she won’t seek re-election, and retired teacher Marj Passman immediately jumped into the race to succeed her. Kobza’s move guarantees that the board will gain two new members in the April 1 election. “I’ve very much appreciated the opportunity to serve on the … Continue reading Kobza decides to not run for school board next year

School Basics: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Real Estate

CJ Hughes: Not surprisingly, then, towns with blue-ribbon public school systems — like Greenwich, Fairfield and West Hartford — have consistently commanded some of the higher home prices in the state. But prices within a town can fluctuate, even by neighborhood, based on the strength of the local elementary school, according to a new study … Continue reading School Basics: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Real Estate

“Mathiak, Cole would bring Fresh Perspective”

Ed Hughes, writing in the Capital Times: The most important qualifications for a School Board member today are a willingness and ability to grapple with the budget challenges our schools confront under the state’s ill-advised school funding laws. School Board members will have to think boldly and creatively about how best to preserve the quality … Continue reading “Mathiak, Cole would bring Fresh Perspective”

Leveling the Playing Field: Creating Funding Equity Through Student-Based Budgeting

When the Cincinnati Public Schools devised a reform strategy for improving student performance, it became clear that the district’s traditional budgeting system was inadequate. The authors trace the district’s process of moving to a system of student-based budgeting: funding children rather than staff members and weighting the funding according to schools’ and students’ needs. By … Continue reading Leveling the Playing Field: Creating Funding Equity Through Student-Based Budgeting

Singapore Education Minister Compares Singapore and America Schools

Newsweek International Edition columnist Fareed Zakaria interviewed Singapore Minister of Education Tharman Shanmugaratnam to understand why he believes Singapore students score tops in math and science on international tests, but lacks leaders in business, academia, math and science in the professional world. Shanmugaratnam’s sees driving ambition, creativity, and adventuresomeness as lacking in Singapore students — … Continue reading Singapore Education Minister Compares Singapore and America Schools

High Quality Teaching make the difference

Young, Gifted and Black, by Perry, Steele and Hilliard is a little gem of a book. (Hereafter, YGB). The subtitle is “Promoting High Achievement Among African-American Students”. Though specifically addressing African-American kids, the descriptions and proscriptions proposed can be applied to all – important, given the continual poor showing of U.S. students generally on international … Continue reading High Quality Teaching make the difference