"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Measuring Student Achievement Using NAEP Standards: Yikes is Right, Chasin'!

Click on the link below to see the article that Chasinthenews blog has included in its entirety on her blog. It took me on a trip down memory lane and it wasn't a delightful experience. More than two years ago, I wrote an article about the origin of "proficient and advanced" on the WKCE which I learned at a seminar at the WASB convention in 2008. Basically, they gathered a bunch of "experts" in a room and gave them four bookmarks labelled "Minimum, Basic, Proficient and Advanced." They were instructed to place each bookmark at the minimum knowledge base position in a book with increasingly difficult content for each subject for each grade tested with the WKCE. Naturally, everybody's marker spot varied, so they all collaborated on the best placement for these markers. Then they found out that only 10% of Wisconsin students would be considered proficient or advanced with the bar where the experts thought it should be (translation: where the curriculum says it should be). As this would suddenly impinge on their federal funds, they "dumbed down" the categories so that an acceptable number of students were designated proficient or advanced.  The cynical amongst us would say that the re-derived criteria  is "if you have a pulse."

Now, it's been suggested that I am more than a little cynical myself (NO! It's true). And I may have been heard to say, "It's just a little weird that over 50 percent of our high school graduation class graduates with honors." My personal favorite is, "My kid's GPA is over 3.95 and she's 13/150. My GPA was 3.8 and I was 6/400. I smell grade inflation." There are concrete differences in how high school grades were handled then (prehistory, according to my kids) and now:

1-Everybody got exactly the same amount of time to complete a task. The test was done when time was called . Either you were done or your weren't. Nobody got to come in after school to finish a lab, or complete a test. It's my understanding that college is still run this way. When I discussed this with Principal Everson, he said, "What is better, making sure the student understands the material or having some rigid anachronistic program in place that doesn't teach?" I asked him if he seriously thought parents should shell out thousands of dollars to send their kid to college only to have him or her flunk out because you want to get all touchy-feely-educatory and not teach kids what the realities of college life will be.

2- There are few if any re-dos, either in college or in real life. If you screw up the deadline, your boss will NOT care about your excuse. Having told many an undergraduate my mantra when I taught at University, "I don't care what your excuse is, the homework is due when I say so and the quizzes will be final," I have routinely been taken aback by the myriad chances my kids have to improve their test scores. Math is the most egregious subject, where they get not one, not two but THREE tests per unit to show subject matter mastery. FOR GOD'S SAKE PEOPLE! Who are we testing here? The teacher or the student? ARRGH!

3- People weren't afraid to take challenging classes and "ruin" their grade point average, because you had to have certain classes to get into college. Period, end of discussion. "Underwater basket weaving 101" (what we called "cake" courses back then) wasn't an option.

If your teaching environment does not prepare your students for wherever they will end up, you aren't doing anybody any favors. In fact, this is the whole reason I started this blog. Charles Kettering's quote, "High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation" got me thinking about creating my own blog to address Excellence and/or our district's lack thereof. As I was traipsing through my archive to find my original post and writing on the abysmal state of WKCE testing, I came upon one of my first posts. I discussed that one of my last official acts as a board member was to vote against both the student handbooks, which allow a 1.5 GPA for co-curricular participation, and raising the GPA requirement for NHS membership from 3.5 to 3.6 in policy. Apparently I asked at the board meeting if anybody but me saw the irony in the fact that they wanted to make it HARDER to be a member of NHS while having essentially no standard for co-curricular participation? Why, I went on, did they want to selectively stick it to the smart kids AGAIN? The only person with the gonads to speak to the issue was Everson, who said "Until we standardize our grading scale, it's meaningless to link anything with GPA." Touche. However, it's been two years since that was stated and I still don't think there's been any huge standardization that has happened. If anybody knows otherwise, I'd love to hear about it. From where I sit, they're still floundering in mediocrity. We don't need the NAEP to tell us that.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Girls Swim Team Co-Op!

Check out my article in The Review about a Girls Swim Team Co-op with Edgerton starting next year!

Madison Could Raise Levy Again Next Year to Fund 4K

Click on the link to see how Madison is planning to close a 12.4 million dollar shortfall in their budget next year. This is about 4 percent of their expected revenue. This makes Evansville's 1.6 million dollar deficit look like a pittance. As a percentage of the whole budget, however, Evansville's 8.7 percent deficit is more than double Madison's.

To summarize strategies to close the gap:

1-Get rid of crappy, over priced insurance plan and secure staff contributions up to 15% of other programs available.-5 million dollars. Check.

2-Cut the jobs they put into place with stimulus funds, which they were told was an unwise use of funds in the first place or fund them with increased property tax (HAH!), renegotiate non-union contracts, implement energy efficient projects. -3.2 million dollars all told. Check.

3-Use the fund balance or increase property tax to fund 4K.  -4.4 million REALLY?!?!?

At first I was pretty stunned by this last bit, but then read the article in depth. Turns out Madison School District, citizens of which complain loudly and often about their property taxes, does NOT levy to the extent allowed by law. The preliminary forecast for next year projects the district to be under-levied by 14.5 million dollars. Despite the fact that the levy increased by 4 million dollars last year. These people have been seriously under-levied lately. Evansville is not so lucky.

Now some historical background with our convoluted school funding formula is necessary to really understand the following twisted logic.  Our magnanimous leaders in Madison have generously agreed to increase the state aide by 50 dollars a kid next year (after cutting it by 550 bucks a kid this year. Thanks Scott! May I have some more?). Another 50 bucks a kid will be available to those districts who levy to the full authority next year. Apparently that legislation is worded such that the total levy must be within 5 percent of the maximum allowed or something similar. Because if Madison increases their total levy so that it is 10.4 million dollars or less below the maximum allowable levy, they will qualify for the additional 50 dollars per kid aid, which is worth $1.4 million in state aid to such a huge district. You have to know that that $1.4 million of additional revenue has consequences down the road, so a decision to tax more to get aid now and in the future is in the best interests of the Madison School District.

I have often thought that the Madison School District has a bonehead in charge of the business office. A few years ago, right after the economy took a dive, Madison forged ahead and wrote their budget based on the status quo increase in state aid seen in previous boon years. They ended up having to cut 15 million dollars that year and being all indignant about it. Little tiny Evansville, with fearless Deb Olsen at the business office helm, wrote a very conservative budget that year TAKING INTO ACCOUNT the general economic malaise and recommended cut in state aid. We actually realized an increase in the budget once it was finalized in October.

Now I read here that Madison hired staff using their stimulus funds. I was on the Evansville board when the district got the stimulus funds. They specifically recommended these funds not be used for recurring expenses. Like Salaries?!?!?! So now Madison has to decide "whether to keep them and find another funding source or cut the positions."  Evansville bought a new wheelchair van. Among other things. They did use some funds to hire a temporary special ed teacher at TRIS. But it was clearly noted as a temporary position. Hmmm. In retrospect, there is probably a lack of good communication among the administrator, the board and the business manager in Madison.


Monday, January 23, 2012

"Candidate Forum" Post is from Last Year...

There have been a lot of hits on my "Candidates Forum" post from last year's school board election. Just a reminder that this is last year's candidates and I plan to post a similar summary when my series this year is complete at the end of March (March 21). Thanks for reading my blog though.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

School Board Meetings of the whole Agenda

Click on the link to see the agenda for the meetings of the whole tomorrow at 6:30 PM. Swim Team co-op on the agenda. Yeah!!! Of course, I'll be there as an unbiased observer... There are several other topics on the agenda that may interest you, so click and see and attend if you're so inclined.


Friday, January 20, 2012

So now they're going to test kindergartners...

Click on the link below to see what our fearless leader is proposing now. So, Walker wants to reinvent the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, this time figuring out how to test kindergarteners in reading? That's my take on this. OK... Some of the ideas are good, looking for achievable measurable parameters to monitor. However, when one really thinks about what is objective and what is subjective, much cannot be evaluated using purely objective criteria. Therein lies the rub. If a teacher is missing the "soft skills" how much energy should a school district invest in that person before deciding to give them the boot instead of letting them get tenure? Frankly, some people never develop the personality necessary to become an outstanding teacher: Humility, joy at seeing the student pass you in speed and content, persistence in covering the material until each child has grasped the basics and can build the next learning blocks on them and satisfaction in the knowledge that you had some small part to play in that child's education.

Then there's the whole business of holding teachers and principals accountable for poor test scores. Learning starts in the womb. It continues the moment you hold your precious bundle for the first time. Every interaction you have with that baby is a learning experience for both of you, more so for the babe. If a parent plops that babe in front of the boob tube for 5 years and then blames the public schools because they have produced an illiterate child who can't figure out how to read by grade 2, where's the parental accountability in all this?  How can the schools be held accountable for that kind of parent who presents the schools with a child whose potential to learn has been squelched at the hands of the morons who "raised" it?

Then there's the nature of bulk learning in this day in age. If the poor kid hasn't had it's love of learning extinguished by it's parents, elementary school will often finish the job. Especially of that child is a boy. Have you ever noticed the difference in the learning process of a boy compared to a girl? Granted, I'm not going to try to extract how much of this is innate and how much has been imposed by our sexist societal norms. But if those norms produce boys who, by and large, learn best my exercising their large muscle groups and with hands on activity and girls learn best through collaborative and cooperative models and our schools teach by rote and lecture, emphasizing collaboration and team effort, which gender do you think is going to excel in public school?  Why do you think girls outnumber boys on college campuses these days? It's not because boys have suddenly become stupid. Their learning style does not mesh well with what is expected of them in public school. Their learning style DOES mesh well with behavior that usually lands them in trouble, setting them up for a lot of time in the principal's office. How can they learn when they are spending all their energy suppressing their natural impulse to jump around so they don't get sent to the principal's office?

Well, that's my rant. I certainly never want to see the days again when girls were told that they were not worthy of a college education because they were only going to become wives and mothers and it was a waste of a spot in college, like my mother and mother-in-law had to endure. But there really has to be some kind of happy medium it would seem. The answer lies in differentiated instruction, wherein each child is taught to his or her own strength. If a kid needs motion to learn, give him or her motion. If a kid needs as many math problems as you can throw at her, bring it on. Just stop providing the mediocre pablum and challenge each kid so they reach their potential whether they had parents who parked them in front of the boob tube from day 1 or read to them in the womb.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Good Grief This is Crazy

Click on the link to read about a disturbing new trend in superintendents job-hopping to increase salaries which has forced some districts to write in bonuses in the contracts in order to retain their superintendents and maintain continuity. Evansville is undergoing a superintendent search. The cost is high, but worth it from the perspective of using a firm that has contacts in the industry and able to find the right person that their homework tells them district stakeholders are looking for. We country bumpkins aren't used to Superintendents who consider themselves like CEOs. Hell, I'm still not sure where the CEOs get off considering themselves so far above the rest of humanity.

I know the article makes that analogy, and truly effective superintendents may in fact be like CEOs. I disagree with the premise that anybody should have to pay bribery money to keep good employees employed. I have never been of the opinion that anybody deserves such "golden handcuffs" as they're dubbing it in the article. They are paid handsomely for their work. A friend of ours manages a plant with a similar sized budget and gets paid 20% less than our superintendent, has a much less lucrative retirement plan and pays a HECK of a lot more for his dental and health packages. And isn't paid with taxpayer funds.

So, I hope and pray this ridiculous practice doesn't make its way to little Evansville. Paying extortion so people won't job hop is obtuse. Among other words I could use but won't...

Oh, the irony!

Well, my middle schooler came home very dejected about the ski trip being cancelled due to the bitter cold forecast tomorrow. They offer very good deals at Cascade for middle school ski trips and our kids have always taken full advantage whenever possible. My son was so excited to finally be old enough to do this fun trip and very ticked off that he has to wait some more: "It was the only thing I was looking forward to this weekend." The fact that I now have to deal with a kid who will have serious cabin fever who can't go outside because it's too cold is not comforting at all...The irony is not lost on me that it's finally cold enough to snow but too cold to ski.

His sister and I were discussing the danger of taking a bunch of 11-13 year olds to ski in bitter weather and the relative chances of two busloads of them getting back without frostbite.

The reasons are endless: "I don't need a hat. I'll get hat-head." "I lost my other glove on the ski-hill." "It's not cool to wear snow pants."

I hope they reschedule on a day he can go. But this was a good call by school officials even while disappointing a lot of kids.

Swim Team Co-op?

The Evansville School Board will be met with a pretty big attendance at the January 23 meeting in which they will discuss "looking into" the possibility of a co-op with Edgerton starting next year. This is great news for all those (over 70) Blue Shark families. We have an Olympic quality athlete on our team who laps people without one indication of effort on her part. It is a thing of beauty to watch her swim.

In the interest of the whole story, I so wish this could happen. My kids have been on swim team for ten years. The program has grown so in the last few years and one of the strongest proponents could sell ice to an Eskimo, as my mom would have said. They are only looking at girls team as we are a bit shy in girls WIAA sports. Having competed with Edgerton, it's possible we would have more on our team than they have on theirs! We completely overshadow the summer swim team for sure.

Of course, every dollar has been spoken for about 5 times already. The chances of the school board passing this is somewhere between slim and none, I'm afraid, as it would involve out - go to Edgerton for use of their pool facilities/prorating of the expenses...

The team and parents will likely show up in large numbers, as I recall what they did when the city discussed doubling swim team participation rates after doubling it the previous year. Sort of filled the council chambers. At least then the board will know the numbers of kids they are dealing with. And there's a steady stream coming from age 5 and up, so continuation of the sport will be likely. It's nice to see the board willing to look at it, anyway.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This School Got a Big Return on a No-Cost Change

Click on the post to view an article in the Janesville Gazette highlighting how a simple change at Wilson Elementary School in Janesville has reaped big improvements in disciplinary referrals. Simply putting recess before lunch last year decreased discipline referrals on the playground and lunchroom by nearly 25 percent. This year's numbers, if incidents continue at the same rate, predict another 63 percent reduction this year. If one compares the projected rate of referrals this year to the rate prior to the change, a 72 percent reduction in referrals is expected. This is incredible. All because they let the kids blow off steam before lunch, working up an appetite. This minimizes kids skipping lunch or wolfing it down to go play on the playground only to get sick later.

This change takes into account the nature of children instead of trying to make kids conform to some unrealistic schedule that so happens to suit the adults involved. Kudos to teachers and administrators on several fronts here. First, they put kids' needs first. Second, it didn't cost anything. Third, they set out to do something which had measurable progress associated with it. Fourth, their hypothesis has been supported by the data and any whiners that don't like the schedule change can be shut up with data. An all-around win for everybody. Especially the children.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Any specific questions anybody wants to see?

Well, I have a set of questions that I think are guaranteed to give the school board candidates a headache. Again, like I did last year, I'm going to troll for my readers' ideas of what should be asked of candidates. I'm a fan of open ended questions that make them think and write answers that indicate their ability to problem solve and critically think. However, specific issues are hard to get at with that kind of question. I don't promise to use them, but maybe incorporate them into existing questions.

Thanks for your help and interest in the elective process.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

School Finance 101 Meeting Was Really Informative

Doreen Treuden, District Business Manager, held a "School Finance 101" primer on this cold sunny January Saturday morning. She held forth for four hours, nearly non-stop, regarding the ins and outs of school finance. The first two and a half hours was spent on describing terminology, giving examples of each term and how changes in one part of the finance picture effected other parts of the picture. The balance of the time was spent describing the Baird Budget Forecast model used to project next years budget, which pegs the deficit at 1.6 million dollars. Again, using Evansville specific values to go through a baseline, assumptions set one and assumptions set two models was probably the single most valuable board training tool I've seem in the 6 years I've been paying attention.

Most exciting, Doreen will make the finance tools available on the school district website so the general public can look at them too. Now, I'll be the first to admit that numbers simply activate some visceral part of me that goes immediately into analytical mode. My eyes didn't glaze over once and more importantly, even the coffeecake provided by the frugal finance 'ficianado from her own kitchen didn't cause the usual sweet induced coma. Huzzah, Doreen. Thank you so much for this data. Click on the post to see where the new Business Department info page is to peruse at your leisure!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Election Coverage in the Review;Recap Here Like Last Year

Ah, the smell of elections is in the air. I will once again be running a series of articles in The Evansville Review introducing the School Board Candidates to our readers. I will discuss with Kelly if I can place the entire series on my blog the week prior to the election, as I did last year. In this way, I am not competing with my source of revenue. Also, folks who miss an edition can recap and review their information prior to the election in April.

School board is very busy working through the process to search for a new district administrator. There was a meeting last night to summarize the results of board, administration, staff and select community input to what is sought in an administrator. I wasn't able to attend the meeting and hope to have additional information soon. I believe Nancy Hurley will be sending an article to the Review about progress thus far.

The Education foundation is just about ready to hit the ground running as well.

This Saturday, there is a meeting scheduled to discuss the budget. The board will be walked through the budget using current budget methodology helping them to transition from methods used previously. There will also be a summary of the Baird Budget forecast model used to predict next year's 1.6 million dollar deficit.

As we enter another election season, I urge all my readers to become informed. Read everything you can get your hands on and verify verify verify. Look at sources you disagree with as well as your favorite news sources. Even when, as with me, those sources you disagree with make you cringe to watch or read.

Being an informed voter is much more difficult than what most politicians expect you to do, accept the pablum unquestioningly. What with this being a presidential election year, the spring election is just a primer for the fun to come this fall. It is exhausting to inform oneself. Keep the faith and know that it's so much more fulfilling to be able to not only recognize the names on the ballot but know which ones support the agenda you would like to see result from your vote.