What’s Missing from the “Strategic Plan” for Madison Schools?

According to the National School Board Association, a school district’s Strategic Plan must include “student performance standards that clearly define what students are supposed to know and be able to do at each grade level”. Toward that goal, the Strategic Plan should clearly state the benchmarks for assessing yearly progress in student achievement.
On September 20, the Madison Board of Education revised its Strategic Plan. Conspiciously missing from our Strategic Priorities are benchmarks for most of our priorities.

As revised, our “Strategic Priorities” are defined as “the most critical challenges that face us today”.
1. Instructional Excellence
* Improving student achievement
* Offering challenging, diverse and contemporary curriculum and instruction
2. Student support
* Assuring a safe, respectful and welcoming learning environment
3. Staff Effectiveness
*Recruiting, developing and retaining a highly competent workforce that reflects the diversity of our students
4. Home and Community Partnerships
* Strengthening community and family partnerships and communication
5. Fiscal Responsibility
* Using resources efficiently and strategically

Only the “Instructional Excellence” Priority includes any benchmarks. Under “Board Priorities”, the district states:
As part of the evolution of the strategic plan, the Board of Education identified three key elements connected to the plan’s ‘Instructional Excellence’ component as targets for continuous improvement.
1. All students complete 3rd grade reading at grade level or beyond;
2. All students complete Algebra by the end of 9th grade and Geometry by the end of 10th grade;
3. The district-wide attendance rate is at least 94%.

I have strongly supported the achievement of these three benchmarks as one step toward eliminating the achievement gap between white and minority students in our district and will continue to do so. However, I question why our Strategic Plan does not include other specific measures of “Instructional Excellence” and does not provide any benchmarks for the other priorities.
I believe that we are making progress, particularly in the areas of early reading and attendance, because the Board has set measurable goals and the community has come to expect improvements of student performance according to these measures. Why do we not set the same kinds of benchmarks for “a challenging, diverse and contemporary curriculum and instruction” and for “a safe, respectful and welcoming learning environment”, for example?
So far, the Board is not interested in attaching benchmarks to its stated priorities. Instead the adminstration will recommend “critical indicators” for our adoption later this year. An early sample of these “indicators” strongly suggests that they will not be specific and measurable goals. One possibility is that “Fiscal Responsibility” will include “indicators” such as “keeping the district legal”.
The September 20 revisions should soon appear on the district’s web site. See http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/mission.htm and http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/priorities.htm.
Ruth Robarts
Member, Madison Board of Education, 1997 to present