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Madison Middle School Academic Performance and Variation…

Madison School District Administration (PDF):

“Inconsistency in grading and academic expectations between the middle schools may contribute to difficulty in transitioning to high school. The differences between the feeder middle schools are significant.”

– MMSD Coursework Review, 2014

A recent tax increase referendum funded the expansion of Madison’s least diverse middle school: Hamilton.

We’ve long spent more than most, now about $18,000 per student annually, despite long term, disastrous reading results.

Worth a deep drive: Madison measures of academic progress (MAP) results….

The Push And Pull Of Chicago’s $5.687B School Budget

Gina Caneva:

Even if our state and city find a way to move forward and equitably fund education, inequities would still exist between states. This fractured way of funding public education will only lead to more inequity. Of course, the most comprehensive, equitable solution is also the most far-fetched and would take a constitutional amendment—the U.S. should make public education funding universal. Countries like Finland, South Korea, and Singapore all rank higher education-wise than the U.S., and all have equity in educational funding.

Since such change is not likely to occur anytime soon, change at Illinois must begin at the state level. As our state lawmakers continue into their special session, they must act against the status quo of inequitable funding. Regardless of what happens in Springfield, Chicago needs to invest in our public schools as urgently as we invest in tourism. Our students are performing at high levels despite being fiscally abandoned at every level of government. If these cuts in CPS do happen, it will show the failure of our American local, state, and national government to support high quality, public education to our most vulnerable group of children.

We must rethink our goals as a nation and choose education for our children as a priority instead of poorly investing in our nation’s future. It’s time that we give Chicago students and poor students across our nation equal opportunities through equitable funding.

Chicago spent $5.687B during the 2015-2016 school year for 396,683 students or $14,336 per student. Madison spends more than $17k per student.

Madison Schools 2016-2017 Budget Update (lacks total spending….)

Madison School District Administration (PDF)

Salary and Wage Notes:

Step Advancement (background) is funded in v3.0 of the budget. The employee handbook calls for ‘step advancement’ on existing wage/salary schedules. The cost of ‘steps’ is estimated at 1.75% of total wage/salary rates. ($4,528,492)

Lane Movement (background) for Professional Learning is funded in v3.0 of the budget. The handbook calls for ‘lane movement’ on the existing salary schedule. Lane movement is budgeted for as a lump sum estimate. ($400,000)

A Base Wage allowance is funded in v3.0 of the budget up to the limit allowed per statute, which is 0.12% base wage increase for July 1, 2016 agreements. ($240,000)

Attrition rates very significantly across job types, with food services workers (17.8%), security assistants (17.2%), and the clerical/technical unit (15.0%), having the highest rates over the past year

The attrition rate among teaching staff, the largest job type in MMSD, reached a five-year high at 9.4%, driven by an increase in retirements. This falls below national teacher attrition rates, estimated to be around 11%

Typical attrition rate for MMSD is significantly greater than the position reductions in the proposed budget

Madison spends more than $17K/student, though I’ve not seen a total budget number for some time…

Additional documents: Proposed administrative changes and a look at school staffing.

Iowa Per Student Spending Drops, Unlike Madison, Which Continues To Grow

Alexander Russo:

School spending per student drops for a third year in a row Hechinger Report: Per-pupil spending in the nation’s public schools fell for the third straight year in 2012-13*, according to the most recent federal financial data, which was released on January 27, 2016. In that school year, U.S. public schools spent only $10,763 per elementary, middle and high school student, on average, across the country.

Chicago Teachers Union Rejects ‘Serious Offer’ From District AP: The Chicago Teachers Union says it has rejected a contract proposal because it does not address school conditions, lack of services to some students and the long-term fiscal crisis of the nation’s third-largest school district… See also Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune.

Madison plans to spend more than $17,000 per student during the 2015-2016 school year, substantially more than most. Despite this, Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

2015-2016 Madison Traditional Public Schools’ Enrollment Data

Madison School District Administration (PDF):

1. Enrollment is down slightly (0.3%) since last year. Enrollment projection begin to climb again in 2017-18.

2. Six elementary schools are over capacity this year. Referendum-funded construction eliminates overcrowding among these schools in the five-year projection.

3. Most students continue to attend their home attendance area. This year 60% of transfer requests were approved.

4. The net number of enrollment leavers increased from last year.

Additional reports:

Internal Transfers (PDF).

4K Enrollment (PDF).

Open Enrollment (PDF).

Madison plans to spend $454,414,941.93 or $16,724.26 per student during the 2015-2016 school year.

Washington Legislature OKs new budget with rare tuition cuts and pay raises for teachers; Seattle spends $14,716 per student, less than Madison

Joseph O’Sullivan & Katherine Long.

The budget gives a 3 percent cost-of-living raise to K-12 employees over the next two years, plus an additional temporary 1.8 percent increase that expires in 2017. It proposes a slight increase in health-care benefits for K-12 employees, but not enough, the Washington Education Association said, to keep up with rising costs.

Ordway said he expects lawmakers to suspend Initiative 1351. Still, he called the budget “one of the best education budgets in the history of the state.”

Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said the one-time 1.8 percent pay increase does little to make up for the six years that the state did not pay teachers regular cost-of-living adjustments. Besides a 3 percent cost-of-living increase over the next two years, he said, there is no increase in base pay for teachers.

“People are already joking, and saying, ‘It’s like a tip,’ ” he said.

Seattle’s 2015-2016 $753,100,000 budget [PDF] for 51,175 students and 6,072 staff.

Much more on Madison’s 2015-2016 budget, here.

Commentary and Charts on Madison’s $413,703,424 Planned 2015-2016 Budget

Notes and charts from the Districts’ most recent 2015-2016 budget document (5MB PDF):

Our 25,364 students are served by 4,076 Teachers & Staff (6.22 students per District employee).

Salaries and Wages
For 2015-16, MMSD has collective bargaining agreements in place with its represented employee groups, including teachers, aides, clerical, and custodial staff. The teachers’ collective bargaining agreement is based on a traditional salary schedule, including compensation components for additional years of service (step movement) and additional professional development (lane movement). In addition,

the Board approved an increase of 0.25% per cell for all teachers (cell increase). Together, the additional compensation for step movement and cell increases provides an average increase of 1.75% to employees, plus a reserve for lane changes of $400,000, for a combined budgetary impact of $4.5 million on district salaries. This budget proposal includes funding for these wage and salary commitments. MMSD’s other employee groups will experience similar increases in compensation.
Health Insurance

MMSD offers an attractive employee benefits plan to its employees. The district spends over $61 million per year on health insurance premiums, which is approximately 15% of the total district budget. Each year, the risk of rising health care costs creates significant budget uncertainty for the district: each one percent increase in health insurance rates costs MMSD about $610,000. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act brings additional fees and responsibilities for employers, including the requirement to offer affordable and valuable coverage to all employees who work 30 or more hours per week, starting July 1, 2015. Although the exact impact of this requirement is not yet known, MMSD could be required to provide coverage to approximately 120 employees not currently eligible for health insurance benefits.
The district contracts for health insurance with three Madison area HMOs. Group Health Cooperative (GHC) has covers approximately 60% of MMSD employees, while Dean and Unity each cover approximately 20%. Negotiations are continuing for July 1, 2015 rate renewals. The district, in collaboration with employee representatives, are working to minimize the budget impact for 2015-16. An update on the current status of health insurance rate renewals will be presented to the Board in May.

This year, MMSD launched its employee wellness program, which was developed with the input of the employee unions. A team representing a broad spectrum of employees has been selected to design the program activities and support district wellness. In addition, employees are asked to sign up for biometric screenings and health risk assessments, which will provide information that can be used to develop programs that meet the needs of MMSD employees and help curb long-term health care cost increases.

Mitch Henck Comments on Madison’s Spending and Tax Practices:

Commentary on Madison’s Proposed 2015-2016 Budget, Presentation Lacks Total Spending….

Page 8 is illustrated above, with Madison’s per student spending noted, not completely to scale.

36 Page PDF Slideware Presentation.

I’ve not seen a total spending number published in awhile (The last number I’ve seen was approximately $402,000,000) for 25,305 full time students and 1,962 4K participants. That’s roughly $15K per student, about double the national average.

Much more on the Madison School District’s 2015-2016 budget, here.

Related: Attrition Report. Equity based staff reduction summary.

Madison School District’s 2015-2016 Budget Goals & Priorities (Publish Total Spending?)

Madison School District (PDF):

A. Alignment to Strategic Framework- In our vision to make every school a thriving school that prepares every student to be ready for college, career and community, these budget resources support the district’s goals and priorities as defined in our Strategic Framework.

B. More equitable use of resources- As opposed to equal funding, which provides the same level of support to each school, equitable distribution of resources takes into account the needs of each school based on enrollment and student demographics.

C. Transparency in budget development- Transparency in the budget process creates greater awareness and accountability. For internal purposes, it enables central office departments and schools to take more ownership of their goals, priorities, and plans for improvement. For external audiences, transparency results in a more readable and informative budget document.

While working towards achieving these goals, the district is also committed to minimizing the tax levy and demonstrating strong stewardship of our public funds, as well as complying with legally required mandates.

Powerpoint slides (PDF). I’ve not seen total spending published for some time. The long lamented “Citizen’s Budget” has yet to be resurrected.



The charts reveal several larger stories:
First, the State of Wisconsin “committed” to 2/3 K-12 funding in the mid-1990’s. The increase in redistributed state tax dollars is apparent. [Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau: State Aid to School Districts (PDF)]
Second, Madison’s substantial real estate growth during the 2000’s supported growing K-12 spending while reducing the property tax rate (the overall pie grew so the “rate” could fall somewhat). The real estate music stopped in the late 2000’s (“Great Recession) and the tax rate began to grow again as the District consistently raised property taxes. *Note that there has been justifiable controversy over Madison’s large number of tax exempt properties. Fewer exemptions expands the tax base and (potentially) reduces individual homeowner’s taxes.
Third, Madison has long spent more per student than most public schools.
Fourth, the District’s June 10, 2013 budget document fails to address two core aspects of its mission: total spending and program effectiveness. The most recent 2012-2013 District budget number (via a Matthew DeFour email) is $392,789,303. This is up 4.4% from the July, 2012 District budget number: $376,200,000. The District’s budget has always – in my nine years of observation – increased throughout the school year. The late, lamented “citizen’s budget” was a short lived effort to create a standard method to track changes over time.
Fifth, the June 10, 2013 document does not include the District’s “Fund balance” or equity. The balance declined during the 2000’s, somewhat controversially, but it has since grown. A current number would be useful, particularly in light of Madison’s high property taxes.
Sixth, I took a quick look at property taxes in Middleton and Madison on a $230,000 home. A Middleton home paid $4,648.16 in 2012 while a Madison home paid 16% more, or $5,408.38. Local efforts to significantly increase property taxes may grow the gap with Middleton.
Finally, years of spending and tax growth have not addressed the District’s long term-disastrous reading results. Are we doing the same thing over and over?

Madison School District Superintendent “Reverts to the Mean”….

Via a kind reader’s email.

Despite spending double the national average per student and delivering disastrous reading results – for years – Madison’s Superintendent pushes back on school accountability:

The Wheeler Report (PDF):

Dear Legislators:

Thank you for your efforts to work on school accountability. We all agree that real accountability, focused on getting the best outcomes for all children, is important. From our first review of the bill introduced today, it is clear there is a lot of work to be done before a school accountability bill can be passed.

There are several parts of this bill that need more thoughtful consideration to be the type of real accountability that our students and families deserve:

– using multiple tests that would not fairly compare public and private schools

– requiring charter conversion rather than creating a true path to improvement

– assigning letter grades that do not accurately communicate how a school is performing

– removing control from locally elected school boards.

We need an accountability bill that supports our efforts to produce the best results for all children rather than a flawed one that is rushed to pass in order to make a political point.

I would urge you to work with districts to develop a true accountability system that holds all schools to the same standards and supports them in getting the best results for children. We have not yet been given the opportunity to work with you but we would welcome it. I would be happy to answer any questions, give input or discuss with you more.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Sincerely,

Jennifer Cheatham, Ed.D.
Superintendent, Madison Metropolitan School District

A further example, try to find total spending in this 2015-2016 Madison Schools’ Budget slideware document (PDF).

Auto-pilot spending and governance practices continue:

General Fund expenditures will increase by approximately 4.8%, based on existing wage and salary commitments and an estimated health insurance rate increase of 9%, unless budget actions are taken to intervene

A Budget Gap of 2.8% (2% Revenue vs. 4.8% Expenditures) or $9-$10 million will occur unless budget actions are taken to intervene

Note the use of “General Fund”. The document neglects to mention total spending, or recent increases in redistributed state tax dollars to the Madison Schools.

A party insider recently mentioned that the “days of Dane County Democrats harvesting tax dollars from around the state and spending them here, are over”.

I further recall lunch a few years ago with a long time Madison elected official: “Always blame the State”.

Wolfram: Reverting to the mean.

Madison School District Spending June 25, 2018 Update

Madison School District Administration (4.7MB PDF):

Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham:

In the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), we have a common vision. We want every school to be a thriving school that ensures every student graduates ready for college, career, and community.

Thanks to our community’s support, we are in a sound financial position to make our vision a reality. Despite uncertainly on state and national fronts, we are able to remain focused on our daily work to ensure every child is academically challenged in a safe and supportive environment.

Through the efforts outlined in our Strategic Framework, we have built positive momentum and made gap-narrowing
progress over the past five years. Our budget this year builds on this momentum and aligns with the vision, goals and core values of our next Strategic Framework which will launch in the fall of 2018.

In this budget, you’ll see several strategic investments that are specifically aimed at accelerating results for youth of color and youth whose families are low income. These strategies include the Early College STEM Academy at Madison College’s South Campus which focuses on getting more youth of color and women in STEM fields, better support and options for youth re-engagement with a specific focus on those high school students who are most at risk of not graduating, and an increased investment in Community Schools which aims to strengthen family partnership in high needs schools located in high needs neighborhoods.

We’re also making investments in our educators, through steady staffing levels, a stable employee benefits plan, increased overall compensation and additional targeted investments in compensation. You’ll see investments in favorable class sizes aligned with a newly adopted class size policy that help our teachers build strong relationships and meet students’ individual needs.

Finally, you’ll see investments in a new safety and security plan aimed at making sure our buildings are both welcoming and secure.

Ultimately, we know that our budget is a statement of our priorities. Together with our teachers, families, staff and community, we are working hard to eliminate gaps in opportunity and raise achievement for all. We thank the community for supporting us, making this work possible and believing in our staff and students.

Annual Madison School District Financial Audits:






Madison School District Budget details

Wisconsin Elementary Teacher Content Knowledge Exam Results (First Time Takers)

Foundations of Reading Test (Wisconsin) Result Summary (First Time Takers):

May 2013 – August 2014 (Test didn’t start until January 2014, and it was the lower cut score): 2150 pass out of 2766 first time takers = 78% passage rate .xls file

September 2014 – August 2015 (higher cut score took effect 9/14): 2173/3278 = 66% .xls file

September 2015 – August 2016: 1966/2999 = 66% .xls file

September 2016 – YTD 2017: 1680/2479 = 68% .xls file

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending more than most, now nearly $20,000 per student.

Wisconsin hopes to mirror Massachusetts’ test success for teaching reading, by Alan Borsuk.

Notes and links on MTEL

More from the Wisconsin Reading Coalition.

Let’s Compare: Boston, Long Beach & Madison

Enrollment Staff Budget
Boston 56,650 9,125 $1,153,000,000 ($20,353/student)
Long Beach 78,230 6,515 $1,133,478,905 ($14,489/student)
Madison 25,231 4,081 ? $421M + “Construction” and ? (at least $17k/student)


In 2013, Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said “What will be different, this time“? The Superintendent further cited Long Beach and Boston as beacons in her Rotary speech. However, based on recently released 2015-2016 budget slides (PDF) and Molly Beck’s summary, it appears that the same service, status quo governance model continues, unabated.

2013, SIS

“The thing about Madison that’s kind of exciting is there’s plenty of work to do and plenty of resources with which to do it,” Mitchell said. “It’s kind of a sweet spot for Jen. Whether she stays will depend on how committed the district is to continuing the work she does.”

The District seeks increased tax & spending authority soon, perhaps in November. Ideally, a complete budget picture – with related outcome changes over time – would be easy to find and understand. Unfortunately, that is not currently the case. Boston publishes a handy 2 page summary (pdf).

Chicago Schools Governance, Finance And Achievement Commentary

Valerie Strauss:

In September 2015, the Chicago Tribune ran an editorial that wondered whether the Chicago Public School District would collapse under the weight of its mind-numbing financial problems. It hasn’t yet, but money mismanagement, inadequate funding and failed education policy are combining with a host of other factors to raise the issue of whether the nation’s third-largest school district is in existential danger.

Chicago spent $14,336 per student during the 2015-2016 school year or

Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card; Note Madison’s $pending Rank

Madison, spending more than $17,000 per student, is truly the land of milk and honey, as this useful comparison reveals. Achievement, however…

Bruce Baker, Danielle Farrie, Theresa Luhm and David G. Sciarra:

The National Report Card (NRC) evaluates and compares the extent to which state finance systems ensure equality of educational opportunity for all children, regardless of background, family income, place of residence, or school location. It is designed to provide policymakers, educators, business leaders, parents, and the public at large with information to better understand the fairness of existing state school finance systems and how resources are allocated so problems can be identified and solutions developed.

Detroit schools are in financial crisis and won’t be able to pay teachers after April 8

Emma Brown:

The Detroit public school system is running out of cash so quickly that it likely will not be able to make payroll after April 8 unless state lawmakers take action soon, the new state-appointed emergency manager said Wednesday.

Steven Rhodes, who assumed the helm of Detroit Public Schools at the beginning of March, urged members of the House Appropriations Committee to move quickly to pass legislation to deal with the school system’s mounting debt, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News reported.

“We can’t print money,” he said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Detroit plans to spend $768,893,425 during the current school year or $8,481/student for 90,660 students.

Madison, the land of milk and honey, spends more than $17,000/student.

K-12 Diversity May Arrive In Madison

Doug Erickson:

Gary Bennett, a former public school teacher, will begin April 1, according to the UW System.

He will establish and lead the new Office of Educational Opportunity, an entity proposed by Darling and other Republican legislators and approved last year as part of the state’s biennial budget process.

The office will have the ability to bypass local school boards and directly authorize new charter schools in districts with more than 25,000 students. Currently, that’s just Madison and Milwaukee.

A majority of the Madison school board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school several years ago.

Unfortnately, Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending more than $17k/student during the 2015-2016 school year.

Not, ahem, hoping for another 20 years of Madison’s achievement gap

Chris Rickert:

Charter schools that overhaul the usual public school model — such as the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy, which the school board rejected in 2011 — are another approach. Madison has not embraced the charter school movement with nearly as much vigor as some other districts with race- and income-based achievement gaps.

This is not to say other districts that have adopted these or other more radical changes have shown consistent success.

Some ideas for improving public education have a basis in research, while others have proven only anecdotally effective.

Carol Carstensen, a former Madison School Board member who also was instrumental in getting Schools of Hope started, said she’s not aware of evidence that charter schools, on the whole, make more progress than traditional public schools.

By contrast, the “summer slide” and need for remedial education in the fall, especially for low-income students, have long been documented and seem a pretty good rationale for year-round school.

Despite spending more than most ($17,000+ per student during the 2015-2016 school year), Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Badger Exam results; Madison Substantially Lags State Results….

Tap for a larger version.

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

LETRS Training
For the fourth year, the Milwaukee Summer Reading Project will offer free training in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) in Milwaukee. Ten Saturday classes run from March into June. There are approximately ten open spots, with registration being first come-first served. If you are interested, please reply to this email to receive detailed information.

The Badger Exam
For 2014-15, the Badger Exam was Wisconsin’s annual statewide test in English Language Arts, taking the place of the WKCE. Badger was the name used in Wisconsin for the assessment developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), one of two Common Core-aligned assessments utilized by multiple states.

As was the case in other states that used this SBAC assessment, a much higher percentage of fourth grade students reached the proficient level than on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). See In Wisconsin, 50.4% of fourth graders were proficient on the Badger, while only 37% were proficient on the NAEP. This discrepancy could be attributed to differing exam content as well as different standards for setting proficiency cut scores. (Wisconsin was not included in the above-linked article because DPI delayed release of Badger results from the spring, 2015 exam until January 13, 2016.)

As is true in the NAEP data, the Badger scores reflect deep and persistent gaps between different groups of students. Proficiency percentages were only 20.2 for African-American fourth graders, 24.3 for students with disabilities, and 37.1 for low income students. DPI’s press release contains details.

At this point, Wisconsin’s DPI has not posted district and school Badger results on its website, which limits public access to this important information. An article in the Wisconsin State Journal provides information on districts in Dane County. In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Alan Borsuk reports that Milwaukee proficiency percentages were so low that former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called it a “national disgrace.”

The Badger exam is now history in Wisconsin. Legislation required development of the new Forward exam for this year. Since we will not longer be able to compare scores with other states who are taking the SBAC exam, it is critical that Wisconsin be honest about setting its proficiency cut scores at a level that corresponds to the NAEP standards.

2015 data via a .xlsx, .numbers file or PDF. Milwaukee School District Slides (PDF).

Wisconsin’s long serving WKCE exam was oft criticized for very low standards.

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending more the $17,000 per student annually.

Tap for a larger version.

School District Financial Condition and Achievement Postcard….

The Beaver Dam, Wisconsin School District embraces direct mail with a glossy postcard:

Beaver Dam’s 2015-2016 budget information is available here (PDF). I could not quickly find the District’s current enrollment on their website, but NCES posted their 2013-2014 data: 3,642.

It appears that Beaver Dam plans to spend roughly $36,866,065.77 during the 2015-2016 school year. That’s about $10,122 per student.

Madison plans to spend more than $17,000 per student during the same period or 68% more…..

Madison’s long term, far above average spending has not addressed it’s long term, disastrous reading results.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Subprime Chartering

Bruce Baker

A short while back, I explained how, in our fervor to rapidly expand charter schooling and decrease the role of large urban school districts in serving their resident school-aged populations, we’ve created some particularly ludicrous scenarios whereby, for example – charter school operators use public tax dollars to buy land and facilities that were originally purchased with other public dollars… and at the end of it all, the assets are in private hands! Even more ludicrous is that the second purchase incurred numerous fees and administrative expenses, and the debt associated with that second purchase likely came with a relatively high interest rate because – well – revenue bonds paid for by charter school lease payments are risky. Or so the rating agencies say.

So how much of this debt is accumulating? And when does it come due? Who is issuing this debt? Are we looking at a charter school subprime bubble? Here are some snapshots:

Madison’s government schools spend > $17K per student annually.

‘It is claimed some US states predict their need for future prison beds simply by looking at school literacy rates’

Gillian Tett:

Earlier this month, I visited a hilly corner of North Carolina to spend time with family friends. As we sat around the kitchen table, a former musician whom I shall call Dave revealed that he had recently started an entrepreneurial sideline to supplement his meagre family income. During part of the week, he works in a local pawnshop but he does not lend out cash. Instead, Dave fills out application forms for people who want to buy firearms — but cannot read or write. He only charges a few dollars for this but the service is so popular that it provides a steady income. “Lots of people round here can’t read and write,” Dave told me with a rueful laugh. “But they all want guns. So they pay me to do that — I use their driving licences to get all the details.”

Welcome to an oft-ignored feature of America in 2015 — and I am not just talking about firearms. These days, there is hand-wringing aplenty, particularly on the political left, about income inequality. As a Financial Times series indicated last week, the gap between rich and poor is yawning ever wider as the middle class shrinks.

But what is often forgotten is that this income inequality reflects and reinforces other pernicious cultural chasms. Today, millions of Americans are enjoying the bonanza of an information boom, with once unimaginable power at their fingertips or, more specifically, on the buttons of their tablets and smartphones. They are “haves”, in the sense of having access to the 21st-century economy. But there is also an underbelly of “have-nots”, who lack access to this economic and information engine, sometimes for the most basic reason of not being able to read or write.

Much of the time this underbelly is concealed; at least from people like me, fortunate to live among information-blessed urban elites who take reading skills for granted. But the issue is surprisingly widespread. And it is not just a problem of rural communities or non-white groups — indeed, many of Dave’s North Carolina clients are white.

Madison, despite spending more than $17,000 per student annually, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Florida and Texas Excel in Math and Reading Scores

David Leonhardt:

When the Education Department releases its biennial scorecard of reading and math scores for all 50 states this week, Florida and Texas are likely to look pretty mediocre. In 2013, the last time that scores were released, Florida ranked 30th on the tests, which are given to fourth and eighth graders, and Texas ranked 32nd.

But these raw scores, which receive widespread attention, almost certainly present a misleading picture — and one that gives short shrift to both Florida and Texas. In truth, schools in both states appear to be well above average at teaching their students math and reading. Florida and Texas look worse than they deserve to because they’re educating a more disadvantaged group of students than most states are.

Madison, despite spending more than $17,000 per student annually, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Wisconsin’s black-white achievement gap worst in nation despite decades of efforts

Abigail Becker:

Test results released in October from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a set of tests known as the Nation’s Report Card, reaffirmed Wisconsin’s poor record of educating black children: The state had the worst achievement gap between black and white students in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math. This is the second time in a row Wisconsin has been ranked the worst among the states assessed.

Wisconsin also has the biggest disparity in graduation rates between black and white students, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Education. The rate for black students in Wisconsin held steady in 2013-14 at 66 percent, while the graduation rate for white students rose a half-point from just over 92 percent to just under 93 percent.

The causes of this gap are complex and extend beyond the four walls of a classroom, often preceding students’ first steps through the schoolhouse doors, researchers say. Factors include poverty and unemployment, historic discrimination, segregated schools and neighborhoods, racial bias and low expectations that damage students’ motivation.

Madison, despite spending more than $17,000 per student annually, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Median income takes sharp downturn in most of Wisconsin; Madison Legacy K-12 Spending And Taxes Continue To Grow

Kevin Crowe:

Median household income fell by a significant margin in two-thirds of Wisconsin counties from 2009 to 2014, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Milwaukee County, the median income fell by 10.3% to $43,385. Waukesha County, which had the highest median income in the state at $76,319, saw a 7.1% drop. Washington (-5.2%), Ozaukee (-7.7%) and Racine (-7.9%) counties all experienced declining incomes, as well.

Learn more about Madison’s $454M 2015-2016 budget, which spends around $17k per student, far above the national average.

Commentary on Madison’s Growing Outbound Open Enrollment Count, despite substantial spending growth

Doug Ericsson:

The financial ramifications are significant. A school district gaining a student receives a share of the student’s home district’s state aid to help pay for educating that student. The Madison School District will lose about $6.5 million in state aid this school year because of open enrollment, the report said.

“Obviously, I am not pleased,” said Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. “I want Madison to be the first choice for families. That’s what we’re working on.”

She said that while the report is disappointing, it will motivate her and others to work harder.

Overall, the district’s enrollment this school year is 25,231 in grades K-12, down 0.3 percent, or 74 students. There are an additional 1,778 students enrolled in 4-year-old kindergarten.

Much more on Madison’s $454,414,941.93 2015-2016 budget and open enrollment, (about $17K per student!).

Despite spending far more than most K-12 government schools, Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

More, here.

Commentary On Wisconsin’s K-12 Tax and Spending Climate; Madison’s Above Average Spending

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Is it misguided, inefficient and wasteful to compel school districts to resort to referenda for authority to meet the rising costs of school operations? Not everyone thinks so. For example, Republican Jeremy Thiesfeldt, chair of the Assembly Committee on Education, does not see a problem with government by referendum. “A school district, if they decide that they need additional money to provide a quality education, what is wrong with them having to sell this to the providers of the tax dollars, the voters?” Thiesfeldt says.

We shouldn’t require our school boards to win voter approval for their annual budgets any more than we should hold a statewide referendum every other year so voters can weigh in on the biennial budget. Representative Thiesfeldt voted in favor of requiring a civics test for high school graduation so he should know that our government does not operate by plebiscite. We have a representative democracy and elect office holders to make decisions so that the voters don’t have to.

Voters become understandably irritated if they are called to the polls every year for a referendum on school district spending. There are dedicated volunteers in every school district, but other community members have other priorities and would not welcome the obligation to educate themselves every year on school district finances in order to cast an informed vote on a referendum. That’s the kind of thing they elect school board members to take care of.

Madison spends $16,700 per student, substantially more than the national average. This, despite long standing, disastrous reading results.

Much more on Ed Hughes, here.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: US Median Household Income Lower Than 1996..


Taken as a whole, Ms Clinton’s plan is an eclectic grab-bag. It is as if her advisors brainstormed every possible policy to boost wages, and then kept them all. Some—such as greater investment in skills and infrastructure—are welcome. Wages, ultimately, reflect workers’ productivity. Ms Clinton is also right that the impact of technology on the labour market presents a huge and perplexing challenge for policymakers. But greater union power and more protectionism are comfort-blanket polices for which the economy—and most Americans—would pay a price in the long-run. Ms Clinton’s speech contained plenty of ideas. Perhaps when Mr Sanders exits the stage, some of the duds will be dropped.

Madison, which spends double the national average per student, plans to increase property taxes by 5% this fall.

Madison Schools’ Tax & Spending Priorities

Chris Rickert:

District officials were able to close about a third of the budget deficit by negotiating rate freezes with the three insurers it contracts with for employee health coverage — which is great, but isn’t going to put any more of those 79 positions back in the classroom.

The district, like local taxing bodies throughout Dane County, is wont to blame all its money woes on four years of tight-fisted and damaging Republican control of state spending.

It’s a fair point, although my experience over 15 years of covering local government is that cities, counties and school districts are quite capable of experiencing budget woes no matter who happens to be in charge at the Capital.

And who’s responsible for budget woes probably matters less than who suffers their effects.

Much more on Madison’s 2015-2016 budget and its long term disastrous reading results, here. Note that Madison has long spent more than double the national average per student.

Healthcare Costs & The Madison School District

Pat Schneider:

“I will consider contributions to health care, depending on what we see in terms of costs and the budget,” Burke said. “But we need to look at compensation in its entirety to make sure we remain competitive while we are accountable to the taxpayers.”

The school district is in the process of preparing to hire a consultant to conduct a study of employee compensation, she said.

Representatives of Madison Teachers Inc. say the fully paid health care premiums are a benefit bought with concessions on salary increases over the years.

That’s exactly why it’s so important to look at the district’s compensation as a whole, Burke said.

“We want to make sure the school district is a place that can attract quality people. That’s why the survey will not only compare us to other school districts, but also to other professions,” she said.

The Madison Metropolitan School District’s three major health insurance providers — Group Health Cooperative, Dean Health Plan and Unity Health Insurance — each agreed to hold the line on premiums next year. That helped the school district hold the line on a major expense — more than $61 million annually — in a budget round that saw operating expenses up nearly 11 percent as state aid dropped.

Madison’s 2015-2016 budget and its long term disastrous reading results, here. Note that Madison has long spent more than double the national average per student.

deja vu: Madison, 2015

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

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

In 1998, the Madison School Board adopted an important academic goal: “that all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level”. We adopted this goal in response to recommendations from a citizen study group that believed that minority students who are not competent as readers by the end of the third grade fall behind in all academic areas after third grade.

“All students” meant all students. We promised to stop thinking in terms of average student achievement in reading. Instead, we would separately analyze the reading ability of students by subgroups. The subgroups included white, African American, Hispanic, Southeast Asian, and other Asian students.

2004: Madison schools distort reading data.

Madison’s reading curriculum undoubtedly works well in many settings. For whatever reasons, many chil dren at the five targeted schools had fallen seriously behind. It is not an indictment of the district to acknowledge that these children might have benefited from additional resources and intervention strategies.

In her column, Belmore also emphasized the 80 percent of the children who are doing well, but she provided additional statistics indicating that test scores are improving at the five target schools. Thus she argued that the best thing is to stick with the current program rather than use the Reading First money.

Belmore has provided a lesson in the selective use of statistics. It’s true that third grade reading scores improved at the schools between 1998 and 2004. However, at Hawthorne, scores have been flat (not improving) since 2000; at Glendale, flat since 2001; at Midvale/ Lincoln, flat since 2002; and at Orchard Ridge they have improved since 2002 – bringing them back to slightly higher than where they were in 2001.

In short, these schools are not making steady upward progress, at least as measured by this test.

2013: Madison’s long term disastrous reading results

In investigating the options for data to report for these programs for 2011-12 and for prior years, Research & Program Evaluation staff have not been able to find a consistent way that students were identified as participants in these literacy interventions in prior years.

As such, there are serious data concerns that make the exact measures too difficult to secure at this time. Staff are working now with Curriculum & Assessment leads to find solutions. However, it is possible that this plan will need to be modified based on uncertain data availability prior to 2011-12.

Proposals to again increase property taxes and school board members’ compensation are in the news (additional school board campaign rhetoric – a bit of history).

Madison spends roughly double the national average per student.

Unfortunately, Madison resists substantive change at every opportunity.

Compare Madison staffing.

Commentary On School Voucher Effectiveness & Economics

Chris Rickert:

But there’s still little doubt vouchers mean taxpayers are going to be on the hook for educating some indeterminate number of additional kids than they would be in the absence of vouchers.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to Jim Bender, president of the pro-voucher School Choice Wisconsin. He notes that government doesn’t force citizens to prove they’ve been unable to pay for other basics in order to be eligible for taxpayer help. People applying for food stamps, for example, don’t have to prove starvation or that they haven’t visited a grocery store in the prior year.

Are vouchers a good deal financially?

The answer to that is about as muddled as the answer to whether voucher schools provide an educational product that is any better, on the whole, than the one provided by public schools.

Ultimately, it probably comes down to whether you think parents should be able to choose their kids’ schools when taxpayers are flipping the educational bill.

Madison spends more than $15,000 per student.

Voucher schools operate on substantially smaller budgets.

Mr Rickert neglects to mention and compare total Wisconsin K-12 spending.

Madison’s Staffing Compared to Long Beach & Boston

In 2013, Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said “What will be different, this time“? The Superintendent further cited Long Beach and Boston as beacons in her Rotary speech.

However, based on recently released 2015-2016 budget slides (PDF) and Molly Beck’s summary, it appears that the same service, status quo governance model continues, unabated.

A focus on Adult Employment:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situatio

Are Administrators Golden?

The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education; ” Stop Running the system for the sake of the system.

Dirty little secret of US ed spending: Since 1950, “US schools increased their non-teaching positions by 702%.”; Ranks #2 in world on non teacher staff spending.

Reverting to the mean“.