Schools That Can expands leadership training across sectors

Annysa Johnson: Andy Vitrano corrals a group of school leaders from across Milwaukee inside the main hallway at St. Anthony School on the city’s south side. They’ve spent much of the last hour discussing the importance of data in assessing a school’s performance, dissecting one school’s attendance figures and brainstorming ideas for improvement. Now he’s … Continue reading Schools That Can expands leadership training across sectors

Schools That Can Milwaukee September 2012 Update

Abby Andrietsch, via a kind email:

Happy start to the school year! Our team is more excited than ever about the transformational work being done across Milwaukee.
Today, our 24 STCM partner schools serve over 10,000 students. As I hear the “first day” stories from several of our partner schools, I am reminded of all of the work put in by our coaches and school leaders to prepare: I am reminded of the four days of leadership training STCM held with more than 80 leaders from across the city coming together to focus on excellence in their schools; I am reminded of the more than 135 new urban teachers that came together for a STCM training focused on high-impact instructional practices.
The power of this group is real and the momentum is visible – these are the leaders that will change Milwaukee’s education system and prepare our future leaders. The results we have seen in each of the three STCM pathways (described below) are an early indication of what is possible for our city.
While I am more aware of the challenges facing our students, families, teachers, leaders and schools in Milwaukee, I am more hopeful than ever about what I know is possible. However, we can’t do it alone. It takes engagement from city leaders, educators, non-profit partners, business leaders and foundations. Join us in the movement to support quality across Milwaukee.
Warmest regards,
Abby Andrietsch
Executive Director
Schools That Can Milwaukee

It’s official: Madison school district won’t have sports in fall; eyes spring opportunity

Jon Masson: Madison Metropolitan School District athletic directors made it official Wednesday night that the district won’t offer fall sports and won’t offer sport-specific virtual or in-person coaching during the traditional fall dates. In addition to not holding any fall athletics in person, the district is discouraging students from gathering outside of school grounds to … Continue reading It’s official: Madison school district won’t have sports in fall; eyes spring opportunity

This Milwaukee school went from the bottom to the top in the state’s report cards. Here’s how it happened.

Alan Borsuk: Willingness to benefit from outside help and advice, including a sizable group of tutors from United Methodist Church of Whitefish Bay, a relationship that goes back more than 25 years. Pratt was also part of the coaching and mentoring efforts of the former Schools That Can Milwaukee organization. Willingness to change and improve. … Continue reading This Milwaukee school went from the bottom to the top in the state’s report cards. Here’s how it happened.

St. Marcus Lutheran School celebrates groundbreaking for a second campus expansion

Milwaukee NNS: We are thrilled to be breaking ground to expand the North Campus, giving us the space we urgently need for both our students and to serve the surrounding community,” said Henry Tyson, St. Marcus’ Superintendent. “The outpouring of support from individual donors, foundations, community partners and corporations in the community has been a … Continue reading St. Marcus Lutheran School celebrates groundbreaking for a second campus expansion

Hard Lessons on Ed Reform: Why Walton Has Given Up on Milwaukee

LS Hall: More than a decade ago, Milwaukee was ground zero of the education reform movement. Starting with a controversial private school voucher program launched in 1990, Wisconsin’s largest city went on to embrace not only vouchers, but charter schools and a series of reform initiatives in the Milwaukee Public Schools, one of the lowest-performing … Continue reading Hard Lessons on Ed Reform: Why Walton Has Given Up on Milwaukee

Finally shred the New York City charter-school Cap

James Merriman: This month, New York State approved 17 new city charter schools to open over the next few years. Sadly, they could be among the last. Sometime in 2015, New York State will have to stop approving new charters. That’s not because these schools haven’t proven themselves (their achievement often far exceeds that of … Continue reading Finally shred the New York City charter-school Cap

12 thoughts on a fractious week for Wisconsin’s education scene

Alan Borsuk:

Whatever appeared to be coming together a week ago seemed to be reduced to splinters in the last few days when it came to pursuit of ideas for low performing schools in Milwaukee.
I think it’s contagious and my brain has splintered into thoughts about the fairly tumultuous recent developments. So instead of a single column, I offer fragments.
Fragment 1: Last week was a good one for fans of the status quo. Plans for Republicans in the Legislature to push through new and fairly dramatic steps came to a halt when the lead author said he couldn’t get enough votes.
Milwaukee School Board members went through much rhetoric on what to do in meetings two weeks in a row — and sent the whole issue back to committee. Maybe doing nothing is better than doing the things being suggested. In any case, “doing nothing” is ahead at the moment.
Fragment 2: It’s all about counting to 17. There’s a big roster of education ideas up for action in the Legislature — school accountability, including public and voucher schools; charter school expansion statewide; dealing with the future of the Common Core initiative.
But if 17 of the 18 Republican state senators don’t agree to get behind any of these, nothing will result, at least this year. So far, no one has counted to 17 on any of these fronts. What could change that? Maybe concerted involvement by Gov. Scott Walker. Maybe not. The Senate Republicans are not easy to unite.
Fragment 3: The hostility was strong in the large audiences at the two recent meetings of Milwaukee School Board members focused on low performing schools.
Much of it was aimed at anything to do with charter schools. At one point, mention by Superintendent Gregory Thornton of Teach for America, City Year and especially Schools That Can Milwaukee drew audible rumbling from the crowd.
These organizations are controversial to some folks, but I think they each are bringing positive, good energy and commitment to helping kids in Milwaukee. It’s one thing to disagree on approaches. It’s another to add so much anger to the environment.

Celebration of Teaching: Ten Exceptional Urban Teachers – See more at: http://schoolmattersmke.com/celebration-of-teaching-ten-exceptional-urban-teachers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=celebration-of-teaching-ten-exceptional-urban-teachers#st

School Matters Milwaukee:

These are those educators.
2013 Early Career Award Winner: Lauren Boyd
Lauren Boyd has been a second-grade teacher at Milwaukee College Preparatory School-38th Street Campus for two years (as of 3/13). She earned her certification for teaching through the Urban Education Fellows’ licensure program at Mount Mary University, where she also completed her master’s in education.
According to Principal Maggie Olson, Lauren was chosen by Ms. Olson to attend lead teacher meetings at Schools That Can Milwaukee. Ms. Boyd is very engaged with her learners, and her students show strong growth on MAP testing in math and reading. Lauren also demonstrates other positive instructional traits: “…superior classroom management skills…strong classroom culture…open to feedback and seeking support…builds wonderful relationships with (her students’) families.”

Commentary on Using Empty Milwaukee Public Schools’ Buildings

Eugene Kane:

As I regularly pass by the former Malcolm X Academy that has been vacant for years, the words of a legendary African-American educator comes to mind:
“No schoolhouse has been opened for us that has not been filled.”
Booker T. Washington said that in 1896 during an address to urge white Americans to respect the desire by most African-American parents to seek the best possible education for their children.
Fast-forward to 2013 in Milwaukee, and the issue of vacant school buildings gives a pecular spin to Washington’s words. Back then, he could never have imagined the combination of bureaucracy and politics that has some educators scrambling to find spaces to fill with African-American students.
The campaign by a local private school funded by taxpayers to buy the former Malcolm X Academy at 2760 N. 1st St. has caused some in town to question why Milwaukee Public Schools hasn’t done more to turn closed school buildings into functioning houses of learning.
In particular, some conservatives question why MPS hasn’t been willing to sell valuable resources to school choice entities that are essentially their main competition for low-income minority students.
Actually, that stance seems valid from a business standpoint; why help out the folks trying to put you out of business?

The City of Milwaukee: Put Children First!

St. Marcus is at capacity.
Hundreds of children are on waiting lists.
Over the past decade, St. Marcus Lutheran School in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood has proven that high-quality urban education is possible. The K3-8th grade school has demonstrated a successful model for education that helps children and families from urban neighborhoods break the cycle of poverty and move on to achieve academic success at the post-secondary level and beyond.
By expanding to a second campus at Malcolm X, St. Marcus can serve 900 more students.

WILL Responds to MPS on Unused Schools Issues

On Tuesday, Milwaukee Public Schools responded to WILL’s report, “MPS and the City Ignore State Law on Unused Property.” Here is WILL’s reply:
1. MPS’ response is significant for what it does not say. WILL’s report states that, right now, there are at least 20 unused school buildings that are not on the market – and practically all of these buildings have attracted interest from charter and choice schools. As far as its records reveal, MPS refuses to adopt basic business practices, such as keeping an updated portfolio of what is happening with its facilities. How is the public to know where things stand when it is not clear that MPS keeps tabs on them?
2. MPS thinks everything is okay because it has sold four buildings since 2011 and leases to MPS schools. MPS’ response is similar to a football team (we trust it would be the Bears) celebrating that they scored two touchdowns in a game – only to end up losing 55-14. Our report acknowledged that MPS had disposed of a few buildings, but when there are at least 20 empty buildings – and substantial demand for them – claiming credit for selling a few is a bit like a chronic absentee celebrating the fact that he usually comes in on Tuesdays. Children and taxpayers deserve better.

Conservative group says MPS, city not selling enough empty buildings

A conservative legal group says that Milwaukee Public Schools is stalling on selling its empty school buildings to competing school operators that seek school facility space, and that the City of Milwaukee isn’t acting on a new law that gives it more authority to sell the district’s buildings.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which supports many Republican causes, says its new report shows that MPS is preventing charter schools and private schools in the voucher program from purchasing empty and unused school buildings.
But MPS fired back yesterday, saying the legal group’s information omits facts and containts false claims.
For example, MPS Spokesman Tony Tagliavia said that this year, five previously unused MPS buildings are back in service as schools.
He said MPS has also sold buildings to high-performing charter schools. Charter operators it has sold to such as Milwaukee College Prep and the Hmong American Peace Academy are operating schools that are under the MPS umbrella, however, so the district gets to count those students as part of its enrollment.

Bill Boelter

My entire career of close to 50 years has been focused on growing a business in and close to the city of Milwaukee. This is where I have my roots. I have followed education closely over these years.
The Aug. 17 Journal Sentinel had an interesting article about conflicting opinions on what the most viable use is for the former Malcolm X School, which closed over six years ago.
The Milwaukee School Board has proposed to have the city convert the site into a community center for the arts, recreation, low-income housing and retail stores. The cost to city taxpaying residences and businesses has not been calculated. Rising tax burdens have been a major factor in the flight to the suburbs and decline of major cities across our country.
St. Marcus Lutheran School is prepared to purchase Malcolm X for an appraised fair market value. St. Marcus is part of Schools That Can Milwaukee, which also includes Milwaukee College Prep and Bruce-Guadalupe Community School. Other participating high performing schools are Atonement Lutheran School, Notre Dame Middle School and Carmen High School of Science and Technology. Support comes from private donations after state allowances for voucher/choice students.
Their students go on to graduate from high school at a rate of over 90%, compared to approximately 60% at Milwaukee Public Schools. The acquisition of Malcolm X would give an additional 800 students the opportunity to attend a high performing school and reduce waiting lists at St. Marcus.

Work to improve ALL schools in Milwaukee

Abby Andrietsch and Kole Knueppel, via several kind reader emails:

Charter. Choice. Public.
In recent weeks, these words became more politically charged than ever before. They are emblematic of the divisive debate surrounding school funding and policy changes included in the new state budget.
Now, the time for discussion and deliberation is over. The budget is law. It is time for Milwaukee’s education stakeholders to move forward and to do so together for the benefit of all our city’s children — no matter what type of school they attend. For the sake of our city’s prosperity and quality of life today and in the future, we must turn our collective efforts toward improving the quality of all schools.
Despite decades of effort, too many Milwaukee children still lack access to an effective, high-quality education. In fact, we have the largest racial achievement gap in the country. Without the opportunity to attend an excellent school, students will continue to fall behind, their challenges compounding into insurmountable roadblocks to success in academics and life.
In Milwaukee, there are great Milwaukee Public Schools, choice schools and charter schools. Still, each of these categories contains some of the worst schools in our community. Instead of bickering over how schools are organized, we need more collaboration and sharing of best practices across all three sectors. We need to work together to ensure that every type of school is capable of equipping students for the future.
Since 2010, Schools That Can Milwaukee has partnered with and supported high-quality and high-potential schools across all three sectors to close the Milwaukee achievement gap and ensure all students have the opportunity to learn and succeed. By focusing on kids and quality instead of the differences between school types, STCM is leading an unprecedented cross-sector collaboration of talented leaders from MPS, charter and choice schools serving predominantly low-income students.
Over the past three years, schools supported by STCM have outperformed their Milwaukee peers on the annual standardized Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, and many also have beaten state test score averages. During the 2013-’14 school year, STCM will work with 35 traditional MPS, charter and choice schools, supporting more than 150 school and teacher leaders reaching over 13,000 students. Not only are these leaders coming together with a vision of excellence for their own schools, but also a larger vision of quality for our community and our children.

New Front in Charter Schools In Massachusetts, a Pair of Democrats Push to Lift Restrictions in Some Districts

Jennifer Levitz:

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering eliminating a cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in the lowest-performing school districts, including here in the capital city.
While other states also have weighed lifting caps, charter advocates point to left-leaning Massachusetts as a somewhat unlikely model for the movement. “This demonstrates that charter schools are a viable reform,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit aimed at advancing the movement. “If it can happen in Massachusetts, it can happen anywhere.”
Charter schools receive public funding but, unlike public schools, employ mostly nonunion teachers and have autonomy in school districts, which allows them to set their own conditions, such as longer school days. They have long been embraced by Republicans for introducing choice in education, but have been assailed by some teacher unions and others as hurting traditional public schools.

Madison appears to be going in the opposite direction.
Related: Madison Mayor Paul Soglin: We are not interested in the development of new charter schools”

The 2012 “Borsuk Awards”

Alan Borsuk, via a kind reader’s email:

“Organization of the Year: Schools That Can Milwaukee. Unfortunately, anything that even smells of voucher and charter issues is controversial. Can’t we set that aside and stick to the quality of the work these folks are doing? If a school is working with Schools That Can, I can be confident it is a school that is determined to be outstanding. The organization, a nonprofit that coaches and trains school staffs, includes some of the most talented educators in town. They are working with more than 20 schools – MPS, charters and vouchers – and building a track record of success.”

Ingredients for successful schools

Alan Borsuk:  

Relationships. That’s the starting point in Kristi Cole’s answer. Healthy, helpful, warm, caring relationships, but ultimately ones aimed at quality, high standards and progress.
My question was: What have you learned about what works when it comes to educating kids?
I don’t know of anyone else who has seen the local education scene in the past couple decades from as many vantage points as Cole. Her father taught in Milwaukee Public Schools for 38 years. He retired in 1991, the year Cole started as a teacher. She has been a school librarian, assistant principal and principal. She held major positions in the MPS central office, overseeing programs dealing with student safety and health as well as charter and alternative schools connected to MPS.
A year ago, she took a job that splits her time, three days a week as an administrator for the high-quality Milwaukee College Prep charter schools and two days a week as a coach for leaders of other schools as part of a nonprofit organization, Schools That Can Milwaukee. At 45, Cole is also working on her PhD in education.
Since her time as principal of Humboldt Park School almost a decade ago, I’ve looked to Cole as an example of how to do urban education well. I thought I’d learn some things myself if I asked her what she had learned. Beyond the emphasis on relationships, here are some ingredients she suggested for a high performing school:

Believing in What’s Possible for Milwaukee Schools

Alan Borsuk:

Abby Ramirez wants other people to come to – and act on — the same beliefs she has: That a large majority of low-income children can become high-performing students and that the number of schools where such success is widespread can be increased sharply in Milwaukee.
In an “On the Issues” session with Mike Gousha at Eckstein Hall on Tuesday, Ramirez described the work of Schools That Can Milwaukee, a year-old organization that has the goal of increasing the number of students in high-performing schools to 20,000 (more than twice the current total) by 2020. Ramirez is executive director of the organization.
“If you haven’t seen a high-performing school, go visit one because it will change your belief in what’s possible,” she told about 150 people at the session hosted by Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy. She said you can tell in such a visit that the program is different – more energetic, more focused, more committed to meeting ambitious goals – than in schools where there is an underlying belief that the students aren’t going to do well because of factors such as poverty.

Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force 8.25.2011 Meeting Summary

Wisconsin Reading Coaltion, via a kind reader’s email:

Summary of the August 25, 2011 Read to Lead Task Force Meeting
Green Bay, WI
The fifth meeting of the Read to Lead task force was held on August 25, 2011, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Governor Walker was delayed, so State Superintendent Tony Evers opened the meeting. The main topic of discussion was accountability for reading outcomes, including the strategy of mandatory grade retention. Troy Couillard from DPI also presented an overview of reading reform in Milwaukee Public Schools.
Accountability
Superintendent Evers said that Wisconsin will seek a waiver from the No Child Left Behind proficiency requirements by instituting a new system of accountability. His Educator Effectiveness and Accountability Design teams are working on this, with the goal of a new accountability system being in place by late 2011.
Accountability at the educator level:
The concept of using student achievement or growth data in teacher and principal evaluations is not without controversy, but Wisconsin is including student data in its evaluation model, keeping in mind fairness and validity. The current thought is to base 50% of the educator evaluation on qualitative considerations, using the Danielson Framework http://www.danielsongroup.org (“promoting professional learning through self assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversations”), and 50% on student data, including multiple measures of performance. 10% of the student data portion of the evaluation (5% of the total evaluation) would be based on whole-school performance. This 5% would be based on a proficiency standard as opposed to a value-added measurement. The 5% is thought to be small enough that it will not affect an individual teacher adversely, but large enough to send a message that all teachers need to work together to raise achievement in a school. The task force was asked if it could endorse whole-school performance as part of teacher evaluation. The task force members seemed to have some support for that notion, especially at the principal level, but had some reservations at the level of the individual teacher.
Kathy Champeau was concerned that some schools do not have the resources to serve some children. She also felt it might not be fair to teachers, as they have no control over other teachers in the school or the principal.
Steve Dykstra said it is important to make sure any value-added system is designed to be fair.
Rachel Lander felt it would be better to use value-added data for whole-school performance rather than a proficiency standard, but supported the importance of schoolwide standards.
Rep. Steve Kestell supported the 5% requirement, and questioned what the qualitative half of the evaluation would be based on. He felt perhaps there could be some schoolwide standards to be met in that part of the evaluation, also.
Tony Evers responded that the Danielson Framework was research-based observations, and that the evaluators would need to be highly trained and consistent in their evaluations.
Tony Pedriana had questions about the type of research on which the Danielson Framework is based.
Evers said he would provide further information to the task force.
Mara Brown said she cannot control what the teacher down the hall does, and that the 5% should apply only to principals.
Linda Pils agreed with the 5%, but felt principals need to be watching and guiding new teachers. She agreed with Dykstra’s comments on measuring growth.
Sen. Luther Olsen was concerned that the 5% portion of a teacher’s evaluation may be the part that tips the balance on job retention for an individual, yet that individual has no control over whole-school performance. He understood the principle of getting everyone involved and committed to a goal, but was concerned with possible consequences.
Mandatory Retention:
The task force was asked to consider whether Wisconsin should implement a mandatory retention policy. If so, what would it look like, and if not, what can be done to make sure students are reading at grade level?
After a guest presentation and discussion, the consensus of the task force was that Wisconsin should not have mandatory retention. Reasons cited were negative effects on later achievement, graduation, self esteem, and psychological well-being. Third grade was felt to be far too late to start intervention, and there needs to be more emphasis on developing teacher expertise and focusing on the responsibility of teachers, principals, and higher education as opposed to threatening the students with retention. Retention without changing the curriculum for the student the following year is pointless.
Dr. Elaine Allensworth, a director at the Consortium on Chicago School Research, joined the task force by telephone to summarize the outcomes of a mandatory retention project in Chicago. Students more than 1 year below the cut-off level on certain tested skills were retained unless they passed the test after a summer bridge program. Students identified as at-risk were given after-school tutoring during the year. Retention was thought to have three primary mechanisms that would affect student performance: motivation for students, families, and teachers to work harder, supplemental instruction after school and during the summer, and an additional year in the grade for failing students. All students in the school could be affected by the motivation and the supplemental instruction, but only the retained students by the extra year of instruction. The study found that the threat of retention worked as a positive motivator for teachers, parents, and some older students. However, there were also negatives in terms of higher-achieving students receiving less attention, more time on test preparation, and an instructional shift to focus on tested skills. The supplemental instruction, especially the summer bridge program, was the biggest positive of the retention project. There was high participation, increased personal attention, and higher-quality instruction. Retention itself had more negative effects than positive. Academic gains were either non-existent or rapidly-disappearing. Multiple year retentions resulted in a problematic mix of ages in classrooms, students unable to finish high school by age 18, and a negative overall attitude toward school.
Dykstra said it appeared that the impetus to do things differently because of the threat of retention had some benefit, but the actual retention had either no effect or a negative effect. He wondered if there was some way to provide the motivation without retention.
Allensworth agreed that the challenge was to provide a motivation without having a threat.
Pils asked if third graders could even understand the threat of retention.
Allensworth replied that they understood if teachers helped them. She also said that some schools with low-quality instruction had no way to improve student learning even with the threat of retention.
Rep. Jason Fields asked how you could avoid teaching to the test.
Allensworth replied that teaching the skills on the test was productive, but not the excessive time that was spent on test-taking strategies. She also said the tendency to teach more narrowly could cause problems later in high school where students needed to be able to participate in broader learning.
Marcia Henry inquired about students who returned to their old rate of learning when they returned to the regular classroom after successfully completing the summer bridge.
Allensworth replied that the summer program used higher quality curriculum and teachers, there was more time provided with students, and the students were more highly motivated.
Dykstra asked if it was possible to determine how much of the summer gain was due to student motivation, and how much due to teachers or parents.
Allensworth said those factors could not be pulled apart.
Champeau questioned whether the summer bridge program taught to the test.
Allensworth replied that it taught in a good way to the skills that the test assessed.
Brown asked if intervention was provided for the first time in third grade.
Allensworth replied that some schools began providing intervention and retaining in first or second grade.
Dykstra asked if the project created a situation where a majority of the school’s resources were concentrated in third grade, leaving other grades short.
Allensworth said they didn’t look at that, though some schools appeared to put their better teachers at certain grades.
Dykstra thought it was the wrong approach to tie services and supports to a specific grade rather than a specific student.
Are some types of consequences necessary to achieve the urgency and intensity necessary for performance improvement? Should there be mandatory summer school or other motivators? The task force did not seem to arrive at a consensus on this.
Lander said schools need the resources to do early intervention, plus information on what should be done in early intervention, and this is not currently the case in Wisconsin.
Pils questioned where teachers would find the time to provide intervention. She liked the idea of after-school and summer programs as well as reading the classics to kids. Providing a model of best instruction is important for teachers who don’t have that background.
Mary Read commented on Bill Gates’ experience with spending a lot of money for minimal results, and the conclusion that money needs to go into teacher training and proven programs such as the Kipp schools or into a national core curriculum.
Dykstra noted that everyone agrees that teacher training is essential, but there is disagreement as to curriculum and training content. His experience is that teachers are generally unable to pinpoint what is going wrong with a student’s reading. We must understand how poor and widespread current teacher training is, apologize to teachers, and then fix the problem, but not at teachers’ expense.
The facilitators asked what the policy should be. Is there an alternative to using retention? Should teacher re-training be mandatory for those who need the support?
Evers said that a school-by-school response does not work. The reforms in Milwaukee may have some relevance.
Olsen suggested that there are some reading programs that have been proven successful. If a school is not successful, perhaps they should be required to choose from a list of approved instructional methods and assessment tools, show their results, and monitor program fidelity. He feels we have a great resource in successful teachers in Wisconsin and other states, and the biggest issue is agreeing on programs that work for intervention and doing it right the first time.
Kestell said some major problems are teachers with high numbers of failing students, poor teacher preparation, the quality of early childhood education, and over-funding of 4K programs without a mandate on how that money is used. There has been some poor decision-making, and the kids are not responsible for that. We must somehow hold schools, school board, and individual educators accountable.
Champeau said teachers have no control over how money is spent. This accountability must be at the school and district level. More resources need to be available to some schools depending on the needs of their student population.
Lander: We must provide the necessary resources to identified schools.
Dykstra: We must develop an excellent system of value-added data so we can determine which schools are actually doing well. Right now we have no way of knowing. High-performing schools may actually be under-performing given their student demographics; projected student growth will not be the same in high and low performing schools.
Pedriana: We have long known how to teach even the most at-risk readers with evidence-based instruction. The truth is that much of our teacher training and classroom instruction is not evidence-based. We need the collective will to identify the evidence base on which we will base our choices, and then apply it consistently across the state. The task force has not yet taken on this critical question.
Pils: In her experience, she feels Wisconsin teachers are among the best in the country. There are some gaps we need to close.
Pedriana: Saying how good we are does not help the kids who are struggling.
Pils: We need to have our best teachers in the inner city, and teachers should not need to purchase their own supplies. We have to be careful with a limited list of approved programs. This may lead to ethics violations.
Pedriana: Referring to Pils’ mention of Wisconsin’s high graduation rates in a previous meeting, what does our poor performance on the NAEP reading test say about our graduation standards?
Michael Brickman (Governor’s aide): There is evidence of problems when you do retention, and evidence of problems when you do nothing. We can’t reduce the failing readers to zero using task force recommendations, so what should we do with students who leave 3rd grade not reading anywhere near grade level? Should we have mandatory summer school?
Henry: Response to Intervention (RTI) is a perfect model for intervening early in an appropriate way. A summer bridge program is excellent if it has the right focus. We must think more realistically about the budget we will require to do this intervention.
Olsen: If we do early intervention, we should have a very small number of kids who are still behind in 3rd grade. Are we teaching the right, most efficient way? We spend a lot of money on K-12 education in Wisconsin, but we may need to set priorities in reading. There is enough money to do it. Reading should be our mission at each grade level.
Facilitator: What will be the “stick” to make people provide the best instruction?
Dykstra: Accountability needs to start at the top in the state’s education system. When the same people continue to make the same mistakes, yet there are no consequences, we need to let some people go. That is what they did in Massachusetts and Florida: start with two or three people in whom you have great confidence, and build from there.
Facilitator: Is there consensus on mandatory summer school for failing students?
Michele Erickson: Summer school is OK if the right resources are available for curriculum and teachers.
Kestell: All grades 4K – 3 are gateway grades. They are all important.
Champeau: Summer school is a good idea, but we would need to solve transportation issues.
Dykstra: We should open up the concept of summer school beyond public schools to any agency that offers quality instruction using highly qualified instructors from outside the educational establishment.
Lander: Supports Dykstra’s idea. You can’t lay summer instruction on schools that can hardly educate during the school year.
Brown: Could support summer school in addition to, but not in place of, early intervention during the school year.
Erickson: Look at the school year first when allocating resources. Summer school is a hard sell to families.
Pedriana: Agrees with Olsen that we probably have sufficient funds for the school year, but we need to spend it more wisely. We cannot expect districts to make the commitment to extra instruction if there is no accountability at the top (including institutions of higher education). We need to resolve the issue of what knowledge and content standards will be taught before we address summer school or other issues.
Milwaukee Public Schools’ tiered RTI system was presented by DPI’s Troy Couillard as an example of an accountability system. MPS chose a new core reading program for 2010-11 after submitting its research base to DPI. Teachers were provided with some in-service training, and there are some site checks for fidelity of implementation. Tier 2 interventions will begin in 2011-12, and Tier 3 interventions in 2012-13. He felt that the pace of these changes, plus development of a data accountability system, student screening with MAP and other testing, progress monitoring, and professional development, has MPS moving much faster than most districts around the county on implementing RTI. DPI embedded RTI in the district’s Comprehensive Literacy Plan. DPI is pushing interventions that are listed on the National RTI site, but teachers are allowed to submit research for things they are using to see if those tools might be used.
Pils: Kids in MPS are already struggling. Reading First would suggest that they have 120 minuets of reading a day instead of the 90 minutes provided in the MPS plan.
Couillard: Tier 2 intervention for struggling students will add onto the 90 minutes of core instruction.
Olsen: Can this system work statewide without DPI monitoring all the districts?
Couillard: Districts are trained to monitor their own programs.
Pils: Veteran schools with proven strategies could be paired with struggling schools as mentors and models.
Pedriana: We have no way of knowing what proven strategies are unless we discuss what scientific evidence says works in reading. The task force must grapple with this question.
Brickman: Read to Lead task force needs to start with larger questions and then move to finer grain; this task force may not be able to do everything.
Pedriana: Is there anything more important for this task force to do than to decide what evidence-based reading instruction is?
Brickman: Task force members may submit suggestions for issues to discuss at the final meeting in September. Tony could submit some sample language on “evidence-based instruction” as a starting point for discussion.
Henry: The worst schools should be required to at least have specific guidelines, whether it is a legislative or DPI issue. Teacher retraining (not a 1-day workshop) is a necessity. Teachers are unprepared to teach.
Olsen: Wisconsin has always been a local control state, but one of the outcomes of the task force may be that we have a method for identifying schools that are not doing well, and then intervene with a plan. The state is ultimately responsible for K-12 education. Districts should take the state blueprint or come up with their own for approval by the state.
Erickson: Can we define what will work so districts can just do it?
Evers: MPS experience shows there is a process that works, and districts can do their own monitoring.
Dykstra: Sees value in making a list of things that districts are not allowed to do in reading instruction; also value in making a list of recommended programs based on alignment with the convergence of the science of reading research. That list would not be closed, but it should not include programs based on individual, publisher-funded studies that do not align with the convergence of the science. This could be of benefit to all districts. Even those doing relatively well could be doing better. Right now there is no list, and no learning targets. The MPS plan contains the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, which contain errors. DPI needs to correct that information and distribute it right now. That would be a good example of accountability at the state level.
Couillard: The new statewide data collection system will help districts monitor their own data.
Champeau: School needs change depending on demographics. The goal should be to build decision-making capacity at the local level, not dictation from outside. We should be talking more about people than programs. Have MPS teachers been doing a better job? What will they do if their program goes away? We need to work on the underlying expertise and knowledge base.
Facilitator: There appears to be agreement that the state can intervene in failing districts.
Lander: We might have some consensus as to what teachers need to know, and then go into schools to see if they know it. If not, we need to teach them.
Pedriana: What is so bad about providing a program, with training, of course? It would help people.
Facilitator: There is consensus around training of teachers.
Dykstra: Some of the distinction between training and programs is artificial. You need both.
Other things the state could require: weighting of reading in evaluation systems, grading of schools etc.
Dykstra: If giving schools grades, they should get separate grades for how they do in teaching separate content areas. In addition, everything should be reported in the best value-added system we can create, because it’s the only way to know if you’re doing a good job.
Pils: Doesn’t like grading of schools. She has a whole folder on cheating in districts that have grading of schools and high stakes tests.
Evers: Do we just want to measure what schools are doing, or do we want to use it to leverage change?
Erickson: Wisconsin has gone from 3rd to 30th on the NAEP, so of course we should be seeking change.
Walker: The idea is not to pick on failing schools, but to help them. We must be able to deploy the resources to the things that work in accordance with science and research to teach reading right.
Dykstra: We should seek small kernels of detailed information about which teachers consistently produce better results in a given type of school for a given type of student. There is a problem with reliability when using MAP data at an individual student level.
Supt. Evers talked about the new state accountability system as being a better alternative to no Child Left Behind. Governor Walker said the state is not just doing this as an alternative to NCLB, but in response to comments from business that our graduates are not well-prepared. Parents want to know what all schools are doing.
Olsen: We need a system to monitor reading in Wisconsin before we get into big trouble. Our changing population is leading us to discover challenges that other states have dealt with for years.
Kestell: The accountability design team is an excellent opportunity to discuss priorities in education; a time to set aside personal agendas and look for solutions that work.
Next Meeting/Status of Report
Michael Brickman will try to send out a draft of a report the week of August 29 with his best interpretation of task force consensus items. The final meeting will be Sept. 27, perhaps in Madison, Eau Claire, or Wausau. Some task force issues will need to be passed on to other task forces in the future.

Related: A Capitol Conversation on Wisconsin’s Reading Challenges and Excellence in Education explains Florida’s reading reforms and compares Florida’s NAEP progress with Wisconsin’s at the July 29th Read to Lead task force meeting and www.wisconsin2.org.

Schools and parental choice: Admission impossible

The Economist:

IS YOUR son an accomplished violinist? Buy a house near one of the many state-funded schools that can now prefer pupils with musical talents, and he will sail to the front of the queue for a place. Is little Johnny a whizz at maths? Alas, only a few scattered patches of England now have academically selective “grammar” schools that can legally admit him ahead of his innumerate friends. Piety might help: have him baptised and attend services regularly and he could win a place at one of the many high-performing church schools.
England’s state schools have an absurdly complex rule book for how they may and may not choose their pupils. (The rest of Britain goes its own way in education policy.) This infuriates conscientious parents and forces them to resort to all sorts of tricks to get their offspring a decent, publicly-funded education. Michael Gove, the education secretary, is bent on overhauling the rules. But it will not be easy.

Businesses + Schools = Successful Students

One day after MPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton said that Milwaukee businesses and schools need to partner together to improve the success of students, business leaders sat down to discuss how that can come to fruition.
Teach for America Milwaukee director Garrett Bucks and Schools That Can Milwaukee Co-chair Abby Ramirez brought the education side to the table while Mike Mervis, Vice-President of Zilber, Ltd. and Eileen Walter, Director of Global Community Relation at Rockwell Industrial Automation discussed the business perspective on education.
The discussion was hosted by TEMPO Milwaukee, a professional women’s networking group. The women are in leadership positions at businesses and non-profit organizations through Southeastern Wisconsin and feel education is one of the most important issues facing Milwaukee’s business community.
Although the mood was decidedly positive, all of the panelists agreed that the partnership between businesses and schools desperately needs to be rebuilt, and that this discussion is long overdue.

Philadelphia School Partnership Launches

Today marks the official launch of the Philadelphia School Partnership– a collaboration of business leaders, foundations, city leaders and educators from the School District of Philadelphia, public charter and parochial schools. The goal of the Philadelphia School Partnership is to make Philadelphia the highest performing city in the country in terms of educational achievement by 2015. The Philadelphia School Partnership will do this by increasing the pace of education reform in Philadelphia and by financially supporting great schools that can serve additional students within the charter, District and parochial school systems.
The Philadelphia School Partnership has established a five-year goal to raise $100 million and to strategically invest the funds in initiatives that will directly increase student performance across Philadelphia. To date, the Philadelphia School Partnership board and anonymous donors have seeded this fund with $16 million.
“The Philadelphia School Partnership speaks, acts and stands for quality education for the children of Philadelphia, wherever they attend school,” said Mike O’Neill, Chair of the Philadelphia School Partnership Board of Directors. “This organization is a public recognition that we share more educational goals than differences and that now, more than ever, Philadelphia has to pull together to support this common agenda.”

Fixing No Child Left Behind

Wall Street Journal:

The Obama Administration wants to revise the No Child Left Behind education law, which is understandable because the law has flaws. But it’s too bad many of the proposed fixes would weaken the statute and undermine the Administration’s twin goal of raising state education standards.
Some of the White House proposals make sense, such as the push for more charter schools that can focus on the specific needs of their student populations by operating outside of collective bargaining agreements. We also like using student test scores to measure an instructor’s effectiveness and influence teacher pay. Both reforms are strongly opposed by the teachers unions, and Team Obama deserves credit for putting children ahead of the National Education Association.
Other parts of its proposal leave us scratching our heads. The Administration wants to junk NCLB’s requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014 and replace it with an equally unrealistic goal of making all kids “college ready” by 2020. By this thinking, it’s impossible to teach every kid to read at grade level within the next three years, but getting all of them ready for higher education six years later is doable.

Expand charter schools? Here’s how

Nelson Smith:

ducation reform advocates have been cheered by the election of Chris Christie as New Jersey’s next governor. A key plank of his education plan is creating more high-quality public charter schools — a goal shared with the administration of President Obama.
Since the first charter school law was passed in 1991, the movement has enjoyed bipartisan support at the federal and state levels. Now, in part because of the emphasis on charters in the administration’s “Race to the Top” competition, we’re seeing a firestorm of renewed interest in many states.
As Carlos Lejnieks, chairman of the a, rightly says, we need to move charters “from mediocre to good; from good to great; and from great to growth.” The good news is that New Jersey has assets to build from and is already doing some things right.
From Ryan Hill and Steve Adubato in Newark to Gloria Bonilla-Santiago in Camden, some of the nation’s leading charter leaders are in New Jersey. In terms of policy, there is no statewide “cap” on the number of charter schools that can be created; the New Jersey Department of Education has created a reasonably rigorous process for approving new charters while adding greater numbers of new schools in recent years; and the statewide public school-finance reforms enacted in 2008 helped establish a more level playing field for charters that had suffered huge disadvantages under the previous funding program.

Washington, DC School Vouchers Have a Brighter Outlook in Congress

Robert Tomsho:

The District of Columbia’s embattled school-voucher program, which lawmakers appeared to have killed earlier this year, looks like it could still survive.
Congress voted in March not to fund the program, which provides certificates to pay for recipients’ private-school tuition, after the current school year. But after months of pro-voucher rallies, a television-advertising campaign and statements of support by local political leaders, backers say they are more confident about its prospects. Even some Democrats, many of whom have opposed voucher efforts, have been supportive.
At a congressional hearing last month, Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and vocal critic of the program who heads the subcommittee that controls its funding, said he was open to supporting its continuation if certain changes were made. They include requiring voucher recipients to take the same achievement tests as public-school students.
The senator’s comments were a “really positive sign,” said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a group that supports vouchers and charter schools — public schools that can bypass many regulations that govern their traditional counterparts. “It’s clear the momentum is coming our way,” added Kevin Chavous, a former Washington city councilman who has appeared in television ads supporting the voucher plan, known as the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Schwarzenegger’s plan would reshape education in California

Jason Song & Jason Felch:

The state’s powerful teachers unions criticize the governor’s sweeping proposals, including merit pay for teachers. The plan would help qualify the state for Obama administration funds.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called on legislators Thursday to adopt sweeping education reforms that would dramatically reshape California’s public education system and qualify the state for competitive federal school funding.
The governor’s proposed legislation, to be considered during a special session that ends by Oct. 5, was met almost immediately by criticism from the powerful state teacher unions, which called Schwarzenegger’s plans rushed and unnecessary.
While Schwarzenegger’s goal is to boost California’s chances to qualify for $4.35 billion in federal grants, known as “Race to the Top,” many of his proposals go far beyond those needed for eligibility, and embrace the Obama administration’s key education reform proposals.
Schwarzenegger’s reforms include:

  • Adopting a merit pay system that would reward effective teachers and give them incentives to work at low-performing campuses;

  • Abolishing the current cap on the number of charter schools that can open every year;
  • Forcing school districts to shut down or reconstitute the lowest-performing schools or turn them over to charter schools’ independent management;
  • Allowing students at low-performing campuses to transfer to a school of their choosing;
  • Requiring school districts to consider student test data when evaluating teachers, something the federal government believes is prohibited under state law.

A Charter Setback in Florida

Wall Street Journal:

As Chicago schools chief, Arne Duncan has found innovative ways to skirt the restrictive cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in Illinois, thus expanding opportunities for low-income kids. So it’s instructive to contrast Mr. Duncan’s can-do attitude with that of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, whose inaction last week handed a victory to opponents of school choice.
On December 2 a Florida District Court struck down a law that created the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission, an alternative authorizer of charter schools formed in 2006 under Governor Crist’s predecessor, Jeb Bush. The state had 30 days to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court but let the deadline pass last week.
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The upshot is that only local school boards will be able to authorize charter schools, creating a fox-in-the-hen-house situation in which the same institutions that most oppose school choice will be in a position to block its expansion. Charter schools compete with district schools for students and teachers. And the teachers unions that control the traditional public school system fear that more charters mean smaller school districts and fewer dues-paying union jobs.

Locally, the Studio School charter initiative was killed by a slight Madison School Board majority.

NCLB and the Stress Between “Bringing up the Bottom and Supporting High End Kids”

A reader involved in these issues emailed this article by Andrew Rotherham: Second, the story highlights my colleague Tom Toch’s criticism that a lot of tests states are using under NCLB are pretty basic. That’s exactly right. I’m all for better tests, but isn’t that, you know, an indictment of schools that can’t even get … Continue reading NCLB and the Stress Between “Bringing up the Bottom and Supporting High End Kids”

If Chartering is the Answer, What was the Question?

Ted Kolderie and Joe Graba, charter school leaders at Education/Evolving urge legislators to expand Wisconsin’s charter school law: “The Importance of Innovation in Chartering” Remarks to the Legislative Study Committee on Charter Schools By Ted Kolderie and Joe Graba, Education/Evolving October 17, 2006 TED KOLDERIE Let me try to set the context for the Legislature’s … Continue reading If Chartering is the Answer, What was the Question?