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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Remarks to the Board last night were overdue.

After a long few months of looking at district budget data interspersed with an even longer few months of discovering that the district vision of excellence is all talk and no walk for my kids and their friends, I made the following remarks to the school board last night. I hope they listened and took to heart to establish a budget process that accurately reflects expenses in the district.

Board Meeting Remarks November 13, 2013
Today I come before the board to address my concern about the loss of excellence at EHS and tie it in with conflicting budget data.  I was told by EHS teachers at the recent parent-teacher conferences that prerequisites at the high school have been relaxed and outright removed for certain classes at the high school “because we don’t have anywhere else to put students. We’ve cut staff and increased class size to the point that they either go where they aren’t prepared or into a study hall.” How are teachers supposed to teach a class while bringing a student lacking prerequisite content up to speed? I’m a strong proponent of differentiated instruction in the classroom, but only when students have had prior instruction or experience that will maximize their chance for success. The removal of prerequisites sets both students and teachers up for failure and certainly does not prepare kids for college and career. It simply creates frustration on both sides and further disenfranchises those students who already believe they cannot succeed in school. I do not believe that setting children and teachers up for failure aligns with the district vision of excellence.

Two simultaneous events are taking place to make this even more burdensome for teachers. Tonight you vote on the Senior graduation project requirement for students beginning with the class of 2015. The 37 High School teachers identified as such on the school web site will then have to advise those 139 students as Mr. Everson noted each student would have a teacher advisor. This adds advisory responsibilities for four student projects to most instructors, if equally distributed. Furthermore, at this juncture, when evaluation processes are being created that hold teachers accountable for a student’s success or failure, it promises to become a serious issue in terms of human resources.

I understand that the combination of dire economic indicators and the Walker administration has placed unprecedented pressure on public school funding since 2007. I would like to demonstrate to the board that the ECSD has perhaps not suffered quite as much financially as its miserly approach would lead one to believe. I reviewed the data comparing planned spending vs. actual spending for the district since 2007. These data are available in each annual meeting packet and the “budget 101” retreats with the board every January.  

Before I go any further, I want to emphasize that what I’m highlighting here is not meant to be criticism but a critical observation from an eagle’s eye view. After review of the data, I have to question the continued decimation of the district staff. I’ve provided copies for all the board members of recent planned deficit/surplus vs. actual deficit/surplus results for the years 2007-2013 with projections for 2014 included on the spreadsheet but not on the graph.  I would like to point out that the district tax levy approved by the board every year is based on the planned spending, not the actual spending. The data show that, on average, the district has under-spent the budget by nearly $200,000 each year for the last six years. This amount goes directly into the fund balance. The cumulative sum that has been added to that fund balance in the intervening years exceeds a million dollars.  That is over a million dollars of levied tax dollars that have not supported the education of our children, but rather gone directly into the district’s “rainy day fund.”  Examination of the accompanying graph suggests that the trend for this fund balance deposit is on the increase.  I recognize the existence of a policy goal for fund balance of 15% by 2020. If the average under-spending of the budget continues this year, the fund balance will be 15.6% on June 30, 2014, meeting its goal a full six years early.  In the same time frame the district has been growing its bank account, it has lost the equivalent of 12 teachers, many of whom retired and took with them amazing skills. It’s very hard for me to reconcile this state of affairs. The teachers at the high school pulling double duty are likely of the same mind and I’m pretty certain that the teachers who were laid off in that time frame have an even more difficult time embracing these facts.

My question for the board is: Why has the district posted a surplus for five of the last 6 years, especially since those six years encompass the worst economic downturn since the great depression? I am in complete agreement with Ms. Treuden when she says “when actual spending is within 2% of planned spending, that is a good result.” My concern is that the word “within” should designate an equivalent statistical variance around zero.  Three years should have posted deficits and three surpluses. Instead, the district has seen five of six years post, in some cases, significant surpluses. Despite my tenure on the board, it is unclear to me as to who is responsible for making sure each cost center spends their budget. My plea to them is: Spend your budgets. I’d rather my tax dollars go toward supporting the district vision of excellence than toward increasing the fund balance. It is unconscionable to me that classroom budgets were underspent by $20,000 last year while kids are being issued broken and mildewed textbooks, some even missing pages, because there is no money in the budget to replace the damaged merchandise.  I contend that money does exist, just in the wrong area.

I have an inkling that the many changes that have been introduced into the budget process since 2007 has rendered obsolete the base budget on which all subsequent budgets have been built. Instead of continuing to build the next budget on an erroneous baseline budget, it seems to be time to smash the old budget paradigm and build a new budget process from square one, one that more accurately represents actual spending in the district. Ms. Treuden is an outstanding business manager and would do a great job given accurate input for her model. Return staff to sustainable levels that give kids opportunities to follow their dreams, buy textbooks that support increasing curriculum rigor to the Common Core, implement state of the art safety measures, upgrade technology  to support Twenty-First century learning models, implement programs to meet the educational model of all students and create a strategic plan to prioritize these items. Support your Vision.  The time is now and the money could be there. Thank you for your time.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Mill Rate Set at $12.30 at the Spooky October 30 School Board Meeting

The confluence of three unexpected financial windfalls in the district reduced the projected mill rate from the September 25th annual meeting estimate of $12.40 to $12.30. This is still an increase of 21 cents from last year's $12.09, which was indeed disappointing. For a $250,000 home whose valuation remains steady from last year (changes are usually made every 5 years or so), this means paying an additional $52.50 in property tax to support the ECSD. A buck a week. Without the changes in the economic indicators described below, the increase in property tax bill for a home of that worth would have been $77.50 higher, or about a buck fifty a week.

The first economic indicator that contributed to the lower mill rate than previously projected was an increase in the school district equalized property values by about 0.9%. In reality, the values increased by more than double that, 1.97%, but the #$%^& TIF property value has to be backed out of the funding formula because its deferred tax status. Isn't Evansville reaping all kinds of rewards from awarding that TIF to the not-soybean crushing plant, Mayor Decker?

The second  surprise to hit the district was an unexpected increase in state aid despite under-spending the budget by nearly some 345 thousand dollars last year. This was courtesy of our governor who wanted to give property tax relief in the form of increased state aid while maintaining the revenue cap, which would result in lower local taxes.

Now the third element enters in. We are a declining enrollment district. Our total enrollment dropped to 1717 this year. This is the fifth straight year of enrollment decline since a high enrollment of 1831 was reached in 2008.  This is a 6.2% decrease in enrollment in five years. Those 114 kids represent over a million dollars in revenue lost. With the new law enabling enrollment out of a district at any time, the state provides an increase in the revenue cap equivalent to the number of kids in the district for the September count but in another district for the January count. I'm not sure about the reasoning here, but for Evansville, it represented nine more kids' revenue added to the cap. To review:

Mill rate=(Total Local Tax Levy/Total Equalized property value)x1000

The Total Levy went down by just a skosh from the September estimate and the equalized property value increased. These two arithmetic changes both contribute to a lower mill rate. Yeah!

Now I'd like to explore the lack of accuracy associated with our district's estimate of expenditures, or what is lovingly referred to as a budget. The planning side of school finance is probably one of the most unnecessarily convoluted processes on the planet, but the following data is really of great concern to me because property taxes that support the school district (and every public entity, I suppose) are based on the budget, not the expenditures. Since the fiscal year ending in 2008, the school has created two budgets that predicted a surplus, one that predicted a balanced budget and three that predicted a deficit (see data in this document: http://www.ecsdnet.org/subsites/Doreen-Treuden/documents/2013-2014%20Budget%20Information/State%20of%20the%20Budget%201-30-2013%20FINAL.pdf). The only time an actual deficit was realized was in 2011-12, when the predicted $672K deficit ended up as a $157K deficit. As a result, a lot of surplus has been added to the fund 10 balance since then. The total amount placed into the Fund 10 Balance since 2008 is $1,095,588.93, or an average of about $183K a year. All the changes in economic indicators since September has produced a surplus budget for 2013-14. An additional $165,483.13 is projected as a surplus this year. The district track record for projected spending vs. actual errs on extremely conservative side. The average annual overestimate of budgeted vs. actual spending for the ECSD since 2008 is $296,102.99. They think they're going to spend an average of nearly $300K more than they really do. Does that mean the district will actually realize a surplus of $461,586.12? I think a case could be made that it's time for the district to scale back on the estimates. The case they make when confronted with any kind of criticism regarding this issue is that "the estimate is within 2% of the actual." Ok, that's a fair statement. However "within 2%" suggests that there will be a natural statistical variance around zero difference such that half the time they will be 2% high and half the time they will be 2% low. ECSD budgets have consistently resulted in a considerable addition to the fund balance because the annual estimate is consistently 1.7% high (out of six budgets, only one year showed the actual budget exceeded the planned budget and that year there was still a surplus, just lower than predicted). I think this is an indication that it's time for a change in the process of estimating expenses. Especially in light of all the cuts made in our curriculum in the last two years and the resultant loss of very good teachers who left because they weren't valued or saw the handwriting on the wall.

The district has that policy that states that the district will strive to have a 15% Fund 10 balance by 2020. I strongly support having a healthy Fund 10 balance. But the 2013-14 budget results in a surplus of $165K and a projected 14.6% Fund 10 balance. If the pattern holds for actual spending vs. planned spending, it's very likely the fund balance will go over 15% by next June 30. Okay folks, you have six more years to meet this fund balance goal. You don't have to get there right now.  Hire some teachers. Buy some technology, implement safety measures, bring ECSD back to some semblance of an educational institution, not a public school on life support. Probably one of those STRATEGIC PLANS would be handy right about now...

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Sobering Graphic of How Many Highest Paid Public Servant in the US are Coaches: What Does this Say About our Priorities?


Click on the above link to read the article that accompanies this graphic, but very little clarification is necessary. American people enable this inane reality by buying into the misguided notion that sports are self-supporting. I challenge anyone to scrutinize their public school or university budget data to determine whether or not your local school has self-sufficient activities. I evaluated the 2011 Big Ten data in response to a similar argument with a sports fan friend. Five of the ten (at the time) universities in the Big Ten, including Wisconsin had sports budgets that were subsidized by University funding to the tune of 4-10%, with Wisconsin falling at 7.5%. This is equivalent to about 7.2 million dollars of the general ed fund being appropriated by the UW athletic department, which has the temerity to claim a $665K profit after taking all that general ed funding. This at the same time that our flagship university struggles to provide for National Merit scholars, who rarely select UW for lack of funding. REALLY?

ECSD's co- and extra-curricular committee dispelled the notion that Evansville Sports are self-supporting when a complete budget analysis was finally provided to the school board, which they had requested for years.  They showed an unvarnished cost to provide each sport per student. As activity costs are "aided" at about two thirds, this makes the educational budget folks believe these  activities only cost a third of what they really do cost because "the state pays the other two thirds." REALLY? Where do you think the state gets that money from that pays for two thirds of your sports and other activities? Your taxes are paying for this one way or another, be it property tax or another tax. But at least they know there is a cost to provide them now.  $276K in this year's budget for the activities of the children in our district.

I have one last observation as regards ECSD's budget as pertains to curricular vs. co- and extra-curricular activities. Over the last three years, as previously reported, the curricular budget has lost 5 percent ($527K) while the curricular budget has increased by 10% ($26K).  Not exactly equal pain here. And how does our district support the vision statement of excellence in every aspect of every program? By having a GPA "requirement" of 1.5 to participate in said activities. "Because one F and three Cs is 1.5."  Never even a thought to insist that the kid who flunks a class has to off-set it by getting more than a C in another class. Excellence indeed!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Tax Relief" at the Eleventh Hour

October 15 is the date for which school districts across Wisconsin wait in hopeful anticipation. This is the day that both official state aid numbers are released and equalized property values are finalized. This year, the legislature has stepped in to change the expected numbers by increasing school aid. The state has released final aid numbers, voting on a "tax relief" plan at the eleventh hour yesterday, October 15. Click on the link below for more information. To summarize, the legislature has established 100 million dollars in state aid for schools over the next two years specifically to reduce local property tax levels. It does not increase the revenue cap, so whatever extra comes in as state aid must be subtracted from the local tax contribution. Considering our ever increasing debt service bill, this is a welcome sight. ECSD will realize an increase of $69,652 as opposed to the expected decrease of about the same based on under-spending the budget last year by about $340,000. This $140,000 swing is certainly appreciated.

They were supposed to finalize the equalized property values as well. According to a September report (https://ww2.revenue.wi.gov/EqValue2/application), overall Rock county property value has decreased by 3 percent this year while Evansville's has inexplicably increased by 1%. There was some mystery $3 million dollar increase in commercial improvements that I don't recall, but then again, I spent a month in the hospital and might have missed it. While the municipality of Evansville comprises about 47% of the district, those in the 5-10% category such as Center, Union and Magnolia have seen modest increases in equalized property values as well. The estimated change in property value put into the budget for the annual meeting this year was about +0.15%. This seems low compared to the September estimates, but I cannot find the specific October 15 data. If the equalized property values do increase by more than that, the estimated mill rate will decrease, since that is based on the property value. Mill rate is defined as total levy needed to support the budget divided by total district equalized property value in thousands of dollars. If the denominator increases the mill rate will decrease compared to current estimate. This combined with the increase in state aid to the district may well bring our mill rate lower than last year's for the first time in five years. Holy moly! It's a miracle! But until the governor releases his stranglehold on the revenue cap, that extra aid won't buy you any books or anything remotely associated with learning. Let the Rube Goldberg school of education commence!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Minnesota Provides for all Students in Need

We picked up a Minneapolis Star Tribune on our trip home from my mother-in-law's funeral over the weekend. There was a feature article regarding Special Education services "draining" school budgets because Minnesota provides services for students that do not meet the federal requirements for reimbursement. The percent of kids getting services in Minnesota averages 18%. They noted that the average expenditure for special education in Minnesota is $22,000, compared to $8,000 for regular ed students. This leads to even more money being transferred to the special ed fund from the general ed fund. Even in Wisconsin, where they scrutinize every application for services and deny those that do not meet the federal guidelines, money has to be budgeted for this transfer. So I can imagine that this is quite a challenge for some Minnesota districts.

Part of the article noted that using RtI (Response to Intervention, a preemptive strike to identify and provide support for kids showing developmental delay and/or in need of enrichment), as has become routine in Wisconsin, has reduced the need for special education in a district that has been piloting RtI. Their grant money ran out. Even with the proof that RtI significantly reduced the need for special ed in that district, they can't get funding for RtI. The statement that was particularly telling to me was, "The government requires all these programs but fails to fully fund them."  This is the mantra of unfunded mandates you hear all over the education spectrum. RtI can throw a lifeline to a kid who isn't making the connections or who is bored to tears. It's nice to know that Wisconsin is on the right track with this program. It would be nice to see the data for how/if RtI has changed ECSD special education roles as well.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chasin' Points Out Two Critical Differences Between Milton and Evansville School Districts

Click on the link below to see Chasin's take on the Milton School District eking out a surplus this year. That is the first big difference between MSD and ECSD. We were already at a deficit situation before the $25K press box insurance deductible was incurred in August. This is equivalent to half the average teacher salary in our district (we have a lot of experienced teachers). But the true question is how much does the district really intend to SPEND next year, not just budget. Two years in a row the people in charge of making sure the spending was on track with the budget dropped the ball and the ended up underspending three big areas by over $500,000 two years ago and $414,000 last year. The first year it happened, there was jubilation amongst the staff because they "saved" half a million dollars, as they conveniently forgot that the budget still ended up about $200K in the hole (started with a $670K deficit). Remember that the levy is based on the BUDGET, not the actual expense. So for those two years, our levy was based on an inflated budget, inflating your property tax owed. This is why the state dings districts for underspending their budgets. They're saying, "You don't get to solicit revenue on false pretenses. The surplus "unspent" funds go back into the Fund 10 balance but comes out of the revenue income the following year. Not really much of a savings.

The second important thing Chasin' noted about the Milton budget process was that they had 200-250 people involved in their annual meeting and budget process. That is huge! It is doubtful that ECSD has had that many people show up in aggregate to the annual meeting for the last twenty years (less staff, administration, press and school board). They whine about nobody showing up to be informed about the budget, they model pitiful communication skills and cherry pick the information that they do communicate that will place them in the most flattering light and/or support their cause as opposed to informing the public/school board. How about they go to Milton and find out how to engage the public in this process? Ask the Milton man on the street what encouraged them to get involved in that process. Don't try to reinvent the wheel, just do what they did. Bottom line is that nobody will support the district if they don't start communicating plans and vision to average Joe Evansville Citizen. Oh, that's right! They don't have a strategic plan yet. Kinda hard to communicate what you don't have.

Meanwhile, the district is floundering after a 42% increase in open enrollment tuition payments out of the district two years ago followed by a 33% increase this year. The amount spent two years ago was $384K, last year it was $548K and this year it is estimated they will spend $728K in tuition payments for people seeking to enroll their kids elsewhere. I'm still waiting to hear the summary of the reasons families opted for open enrollment out by Mike Czerwonka. I hope he gives the unvarnished truth and not what Jerry wants the board to hear. I just don't think they can ignore the fact that they have to spend three quarters of a million dollars to other school districts to educate our students anymore. That's over a hundred kids being enrolled out of the district, primarily at the Middle and High School levels. All signs point to the trend continuing, which predicts that the amount spent on the Open Enrollment Out line item in 2014-15 will top a million dollars. "But that's just people who want their kids to attend school close to their work," or "Those are people we don't want to attend our schools anyway." I think the ostrich needs to remove its head from the sand now and see the whole picture. See the annual meeting packet to view the budget figures yourself (p. 17 near the bottom of the page, "General Tuition payments"). http://www.ecsdnet.org/documents/Board%20Meetings/2013-2014/September/Annual%20Meeting%20Packet.pdf


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Annual Meeting: I'll Spare You the Usual Lecture BUT WHERE WERE YOU?

Tonight was the Annual Meeting to approve the 2013-14 budget for the ECSD.  This is the meeting wherein all electors of the ECSD may attend and vote. It is never well attended save for those for whom a rubber stamping of the budget pays their salary. All the usual suspects showed up: much of the administration, the school board, a few former board members and the occasional citizen without a dog in the show. I estimate a total of 25 folks in the room. I was the lone vote against approving the budget as presented.

The first budget item to come to my attention when I reviewed the board packet today was that the 2012-13 budget was under-spent by $380,000. A reduction in expected revenue reduced the net "savings" to $344,000. The problem is that this isn't a savings. Sure, it goes into the fund balance, but the result of under-spending a school district budget is that the state will reduce your aid the following year. We were scheduled to get a 0.55% increase in funding from the state this year, but this will be reduced this year because of items that fell into nearly all salary items: subs, teachers that quit mid-year and other unexpected reductions in expenses. I am appalled that the board approved teacher lay-offs of 8.8 teachers between 11-12 and 12-13 and then the administration couldn't better follow the budget to determine how under-spent it would be? What the heck? If I were one of the laid off teachers, I would be so blinking hacked off by this development. Word on the street is that the only department to have not had a layoff at the high school was math.

Here's a rundown on what Doreen Treuden, business manager, had to say about the three biggest budget areas that came in way under budget.

1) Curriculum, primarily from teacher salary for things like teachers leaving mid year and maternity leaves, but also included under-spending of classroom budgets by $20,000. Net underpayment $163,000.

2) Plant operations under-spent by $84,000. According to Ms. Treuden, it's hard to anticipate how often the boilers will need attention. I guess that amount will go toward the $25,000 insurance deductible on the press box.

3). They overestimated how much of the Fund 10 budget would have to be transferred to the Fund 27 (special education) by $170,000. It's somewhat distressing that the government mandates many programs without fully funding them. the total projected transfer from Fund 10 to Fund 27 last year was estimated to be about 2.1 Million Dollars, or 11.5% of the operating budget. The fact that they "only" needed 1.9 Million Dollars, or 10.4% of the Fund 10 operating budget to make ends meet does not inspire my enthusiasm, especially considering that the total expenditures in the group of four funds including Fund 27 only totaled about 3.4 Million Dollars. If I correctly interpret this information, this means that over 50% of the mandated services aren't funded and have to come from Fund 10. It was unclear why the amount transferred to Fund 27 was lower than budget. Whether that means there were higher revenues in that category or they just can't plan properly for distribution of services wasn't discussed.

My quick and dirty sum of these three items ($417,000) show that other parts of the budget must have come in a total of $37,000 over-budget, which isn't hard to imagine, what with all the substitute teachers they have to hire over there.

Then we were given a brief synopsis of the debt service schedule, to which we owe a great deal of our current property tax increases in the ECSD. The annual payment on our debt has increased 28.9% since 2008-09 and will increase by another 33% between now and when the debt is paid off in 2020. This year's debt service alone is a little over $3,000,000, which is added on top of the revenue cap when calculating the total levy and mill rate. By 2020, that number alone will be over $4,000,000.  In 2008-09, the debt service accounted for 32.4% of the total levy and this year is accounts for 36.4% of the total levy. Ms. Treuden noted that in a few years, the district will be eligible to restructure the debt again, perhaps to an interest advantage. It would be nice to have a debt service value that wasn't increasing every year, but I don't know enough about financing huge sums of money to know if that would be possible. I can say that even if the district freezes expenditures and budgets at 2013 levels for the foreseeable future (unlikely), the total tax levy will continue annual increases because of increasing debt service.

So how has each component of the budget changed in the last five years? The Fund 10 budget has decreased by 0.3%, the Debt Service Levy has increased by 28.9%, the Total Tax Levy has increased by 14.7%, the Equalized Property Value has decreased by 5.2%, the Mill Rate has increased by 21.1%, the State Aid has decreased by 4.03%, the number of teachers has decreased by 10.5% and the total employees by 6.9%. The enrollment has declined by 6.6%. Recap: We're paying a lot more for fewer teachers, lower academic achievement and people are fleeing the district.  Why have teachers decreased by 10.5% while enrollment has only declined by 6.6%? Either the teachers have taken an inordinate proportion of the hit or there were too many teachers for the enrollment in the first place. Neither of these scenarios gives me a great deal of confidence in the leadership of the school district. Click on the link below to view the Annual Meeting Packet to see this data for yourself.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Startling Development in Student Achievement Levels

I have done quite a bit of research into the various school districts offering 4K and our own district's results on the school and district report cards in the last week. One thing I have found that is a big red flag for me is the pervasive loss in achievement level of the Advanced learners. In nearly every case I studied, the number of kids losing achievement level from Advanced to Proficient or Basic usually accounts for over half of the kids formerly at the Advanced level. The DPI does not take most of this into account because these kids are still considered Proficient and have not descended into Basic or Minimal achievement levels. They also don't track those that fall from Basic to Minimal because that is how the metric works. Only changes from Basic and Minimal to Proficient and Advanced or vice versa are counted in the percent changing category. This practice enables the districts to completely ignore Advanced Learners because there is no ding on the report cards for this loss, save a half point per kid bonus they get for kids in the Advanced category. Similarly, a loss in level form Basic to Minimal isn't considered for the analysis. There is also a half-point loss per kid for that change as well. The districts must be banking on the kids improving from Basic to Proficient (half point gain) and Minimal to Basic (also half point gain) to offset the losses. A numbers game is being played out with our kids' educations and this needs to stop. It's pretty clear that those in charge of developing the metrics have a vast stake in making sure kids in Wisconsin remain in the hugely mediocre middle levels. Lip service is being paid to creating critical thinkers because many of those Advanced Learners are the ones who begin to develop critical thinking skills at an early age. If  your public school stomps it out of them by the time they are 7 years old, all you will have left is a bunch of automaton followers and no leaders with creative vision, not all that different from the administration of our complacent schools. Keep an eye on your kids' achievement level and hold his or her teachers to the district promise that each kid will gain a years worth of achievement level for a year of instruction. We will be watching like a hawk.

Vision, Not Universal 4-Year-Old Kindergarten, Creates Positive Enrollment and Achievement for All

I attended the panel discussion about 4 year old Kindergarten (4K) last Tuesday night (September 17) at Creekside Place. It was a well attended meeting, with the preponderance of attendance by those who believe the district needs this program. The panel representatives were from 6 districts that have implemented 4K, most within the last 7-8 years, including DeForest (2011), Edgerton (2006), Janesville (2008), Marshall (the '90s), Stoughton (2009) and Verona (2012). They discussed a number of concerns raised at the first meeting, including how it impacts local preschools, how they handled transportation, what models worked for each district (in district buildings with district teachers, in preschools with district teachers or in preschools with preschool provided teachers). It was very useful. I asked which of them partnered with Head Start. The woman from DPI acting as moderator insisted on repeating that our Head Start agency is centered in Beloit and has lost funding this year, effectively removing them from the equation. I would love to know why Head Start left our district. My point in asking about that was an interest in using them as a model as opposed partnering with them, but what the heck.

At one point, the proponents of 4K in the audience got a little aggravated. "Why does our community have a million dollar brick Main Street (grant) and a million dollar lake (referendum) but can't invest $350,000 to implement 4K in our district?" Jerry Roth answered that the people in the community just didn't support 4K in its previous lives for a variety of reasons, but that HE sure did support it! Way to take a neutral position on the 4K investigation. As previous 4K investigations have always begun, this one seems to be starting with the premise of "How do we implement 4K?" as opposed to "Does the community support implementing 4K?" It's a pretty important distinction! After Jerry was done ingratiating himself with the 4Kers, I said that I had pertinent information regarding why 4K didn't pass when previously brought before the board. "In every instance, the district was facing a deficit budget situation already and could not even pay for its baseline services much less add a $350,000 program. So my question for you panelists is, what was your initial investment and what is your ongoing expenditure?" Not one of them knew the answer to that question. Two of them shared that they knew vague figures and that they had to go into their fund balance but that after the third year, the revenues out paced the expenditures and often supported programs beyond 4K. How about when the enrollment continues to slide downwards after the initial enrollment bump, I wondered?

In preparation for the meeting, I researched enrollment data for the districts represented. I had recalled seeing that a few years after Janesville first offered 4K, they once again began to experience declining enrollment. I wondered how common this was. I wanted to test my theory that 4K was not a fix for a pervasive enrollment problem which likely lies in the lack of vision of the district administration. First I surveyed total enrollment on the DPI WINNS system and found the following changes in district enrollment since 2006-07.

  • De Forest Area: +6.81%
  • Edgerton: -2.53
  • Janesville: -2.16%
  • Marshall: +1.36%
  • Stoughton: -4.14%
  • Verona: +17.09%
  • Evansville for Reference Only: -3.56

Half of the represented districts have lost overall enrollment from 2-4% in the last seven years.

Then I surveyed elementary school enrollment only in the same districts:

  • De Forest Area: +19.22
  • Edgerton: -0.67
  • Marshall: -2.68
  • Janesville: +5.18
  • Stoughton:+24.81
  • Verona: +30.33
  • Evansville: -0.48

Four of them have gained, some very significantly depending on when the program was implemented, while two are on the downward slope.

Finally, I subtracted the Elementary Enrollment from the Total Enrollment to calculate the Middle School plus High School Enrollment:

  • De Forest Area: -1.0%
  • Edgerton: -4.18%
  • Janesville: -7.86%
  • Marshall: +6.72%
  • Stoughton: -19.56%
  • Verona: +5.05%
  • Evansville: -6.19%

All but two are losing enrollment, some significantly, at the middle and high school levels.

I did this analysis to visualize to what extent, if any, the elementary enrollment in each district was shoring up the district-wide numbers. The results generally confirmed my premise once I did enough research into each district.

VERONA: The only district to achieve positive enrollment changes for all three of the categories I evaluated was Verona. They have successfully navigated implementation of the many ways public schools express themselves these days. They first implemented a K-8 Core Knowledge Charter School way back in 1998 before anybody else in Wisconsin had Common Core on their radar. Then three years ago, they implemented an International School, which I presume is a language immersion program. Last year was year one of 4K for them, but they had been gaining elementary enrollment all along with their other initiatives. Their district report card score of 74.4 (low B) is the second highest of the group. They had a 25% poverty level last year, increased from 19.4% in 2006.

DE FOREST: Their 4K program is the only thing contributing to their overall increase in enrollment. They are still in the three year window of full funding for 4K (begun in 2011) and could see a reversal beginning in 2014 if they don't energize their secondary school enrollments in some way. Their district report card score was 73.8, a low B. De Forest has the lowest poverty level of the 6 at 21.9%, increased from 16.3% in 2006.

EDGERTON: They have had decreasing enrollments at every level since 2006, the year Edgerton implemented 4K. To be precise, they experienced a bump at the elementary level for the first two years after implementation and have decreased every year since, so they are now slightly below the first year of 4K in elementary enrollment. The secondary levels have decreased consistently since 2006. It has always bugged me that Evansville compared their statistical information with Edgerton simply because they have like enrollments. Edgerton earned the lowest report card score of 68.1, a solid mid-range C , which is really not something to which we should aspire. They scored lower than the state average in three out of the four metrics. They clearly fell into the category of "if we build it they will come" and have discovered this is not true. Edgerton's poverty level has increased from 17.6 % in 2006 to 34.9% last year.

JANESVILLE: Janesville has passed their three year window (implemented in 2008) and have continued to lose significant secondary enrollment despite programs that should increase enrollment in this age group, like charter schools and alternative programs. The 5% gain in elementary enrollment was achieved the first two years after implementation and the enrollment has stagnated since then. To be fair, the loss of the GM plant has likely contributed to this as people have relocated out of Janesville for work. The elementary gains do not off-set the secondary losses in this district. Janesville's district report card score was the highest of the six at the forum, at 74.8 (low B). Incidently, they also beat Evansville's score of 74.2. Janesville had the highest poverty level last year of the six surveyed at 52.2 %, double the rate of 26.2 % in 2006.

MARSHALL: They are the "odd district out" in this analysis in that they have offered universal preschool for nearly 20 years. They have experienced slight gains in overall enrollment since 2006, losses in elementary enrollment and gains in secondary enrollments, likely because there are virtual and charter options there too. They are the smallest district evaluated, with only 1263 students last year. Small doesn't necessarily mean lack of vision. Marshall has experienced a large increase in poverty level, from 20% to nearly 39%. They seem to have a better than average math program and worse than average reading program. They have fair to middling 3rd grade achievement data, so 20 years of preschool haven't transformed them into a bunch of Einsteins either. Marshall scored a 71.9 on their district report card, a high C. Marshall's poverty level has nearly doubled since 2006 from 20 to nearly 39 %.

STOUGHTON: Stoughton is the poster child for how not to implement 4K. They got their bump in enrollment the first year (2009) and have decreased enrollment every year since, not even getting the 2-3 year rolling average improvement. They have complicated the enrollment data by changing from a 5-6 grade model in 2007 to a middle school model in 2008, bumping the elementary enrollments and reducing the secondary enrollments. Overall enrollment has still decreased by over 4% in 7 years. Their district score of 71.9 puts them at a high C in my grading scale. Their 26.3 % poverty level is slightly less than Evansville (26.4 %) and is the median value of the seven districts. It has increased from 11.3 % in 2006.

EVANSVILLE: Edgerton and Evansville are the only two districts of the seven losing enrollment at all levels since 2006. Again, being placed in the same category as Edgerton isn't a positive for our district. The elementary enrollments could be more accurately described as flat, with less than a percent loss for both of these districts, but knowing this year's Evanville kindergarten class is the lowest in years (104) predicts that the enrollments will only continue to decline here. Evansville's report card score of 74.2 puts them slightly above De Forest's median value of 73.8. Evansville's poverty level has increased from 16.6 % to 26.4% since 2006.

The above shows that school districts that haphazardly approach their declining enrollment issues by jumping on the bandwagon to be able to say they offer a variety of programs have not fared well in the open enrollment war. Choice has enabled parents to seek an education that enables their children to reach for their dreams. Districts that fail to transform themselves into the educational institutions that serve the many needs of their constituents will continue to lose enrollment. They can't just provide the program, they must commit to it with outstanding curriculum and instruction that transforms. They must know their community and its needs.

A case in point is Janesville. They have absorbed a huge loss in enrollment with the loss of the GM plant. The percent of their students living in poverty has increased from 26% to 52%, by far the most of all the 4K schools at the forum. Yet their district report card score was the best of the six at the forum. If you had really listened to how they approached implementation of their 4K program, you could get a sense of why this must be happening for them. It was the first time I had heard a 4K representative speak eloquently and knowledgeably regarding child development and brain science. Janesville, like most of those at the forum, run their 4K program out of licensed child care providers who hire the DPI licensed staff for the program. As partners of the 4K providers, the Janesville School District offers professional development to ALL daycare staff, not just 4K staff, and the topics are not limited. So if somebody at the center wants to learn Spanish in a professional development program offered by the Janesville School District, any day care provider in that center can access that program. The same goes for the 4K curriculum items. They are made available to all classrooms in the center. The goal is to have wraparound enrichment in all of that center's classrooms, birth to age 5. That WILL be a transformative approach because brain science tells us the developing brain is most served ages birth to three. We must begin stimulation of those little brains as soon as they exit the womb and the Janesville model provides ways to access best practices for all childcare center staff. They might be having problems, but their plan is a good one.

A few years ago, Evansville School District took great pains to survey the community on their priorities in order to create a vision that could transform the district. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then and now the CAC is going to do the same thing.  I'm thinking the priorities haven't changed that much in 3 years and this is one great waste of time and 11 grand. Add to that the 4K committee whose premise is not "Does the district support 4K?" but "How do we implement 4K?" And they're supposed to be working at the same time as the CAC, before the CAC even has a chance to do their community survey to find out if the community supports this program.

Why am I so opposed to Universal 4K (Universal is the key word here)?

1-ACHIEVEMENT LEVEL: There has been no proof offered for increased achievement level as a result of 4K participation, which has always been a big selling point for the program. Exhibit A: Milwaukee, which has had 4K for nearly 20 years. Exhibit B: Look at the detailed district report cards for each district, available on the DPI WINSS system website. There has been no big improvement in grade 3 reading scores for districts that have had 4K long enough to have this data. At least the ones at the forum. There are plenty of districts in Wisconsin that have implemented 4K. If huge improvements in achievement levels coincident with the implementation of 4K existed, I presume they would be shouting it from the rooftops to illustrate this basic premise of the program. Similarly, last year was the first year the Milwaukee voucher schools were required to test the MPS kids for achievement and lo there was no improvement for participants in that program either. 4K is just another government program incapable of delivering on a promise primarily because they weren't held accountable for over a decade. Also see #2 below for a complete explanation of why 4K can't deliver on its promises.

2-ESTABLISHMENT OF 4K UNDER FALSE PRETENSES: 4K has been foisted on the United States under false pretenses based on the High Scopes Perry Preschool project, the model of which no public school is able to deliver (5-6:1 student to teacher ratio, interventions beginning at age 3). I give great nods to Head Start having been formed back in the sixties based on the results of this study, but it seems like the feds are under the impression that 4K is the answer to getting the expense of Head Start off their books. No government representatives have bothered to do the research about this because nobody wants to be depicted as the scrooge who doesn't support early learning models for all. If they have done the research and still support this flawed model, then they are bigger idiots than I thought.

3-STEREOTYPICAL PUBLIC EDUCATION MATH: Most of all, I'm opposed to 4K because it embodies public school budgetary math at its worst. I recently read that some school districts across the nation with greater than 40% of the students on federal assistance (food stamps) now give free breakfast and lunch to everyone.  There are plans to promote this policy across the country. Actual quotes in the paper included, "You see, with the economy of scale, we can get the food cheaper and don't have to do all that paperwork to document income status." Where on the planet is it cheaper to feed 100 people than 40 people? Of course, no data was provided to show that this is true and I am cynical that it is possible. I might buy that for districts with 85-90% of their students enrolled in food stamps programs, but no "economy of scale" enables you to buy 2.5X the food for less money.

The same thing applies to 4K. There are certainly children in our district whose parents cannot provide an adequate preschool opportunity for them for a variety of reasons. I estimate that this figure is probably close to the economically disadvantaged population in the district, which last year was 26.2%. The incoming kindergarten classes vary from 100 to 150 in Evansville, so let's say the average class is 125.  If the entire group of economically disadvantaged kids was offered 4K, that would be 33 kids, or two classes, meaning one teacher, one teaching assistant, one classroom and all the kids whose parents can't provide preschool opportunities would get needed services. "Universal 4K" offered to all students regardless of need means seven classes, four teachers, four assistants and four classrooms. I'm confident that the parents who can afford it will provide this for their kids. If they don't they are criminally negligent in the care of their children. I object to providing rich or middle class Susie with a preschool education. I am happy to provide preschool tax dollars for kids who need them. It's as simple as that. The hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to provide five more classes placating the entitled majority when they complain that "the poor kids get free preschool, why can't my kid get that?" would be better spent shoring up other district programs. The analysis above clearly shows that Vision, not 4K, will solve district enrollment woes. No "shoring up" is required in visionary districts. Unless the district is holistically applying best practices at all levels, the above data shows that that inexorable decline in enrollment will return with a vengeance and you'll have one more program you can't afford to provide with the budget you have.

4-THE COMMITTEE SHOULD BE FORMED ONCE THE QUESTION OF WHETHER OR NOT THE COMMUNITY SUPPORTS 4K HAS BEEN ANSWERED BY THE CAC SURVEY. The district is putting the cart before the horse on this one, beginning with "How do we implement 4K?" instead of "Does the community as a whole (not just parents of preschoolers) support implementing 4K?"

I am not an ogre opposed to preschool opportunities for all. I am tired of half-truths and downright lies being propagated in the name of education. I have done extensive research on this topic and would venture to say I am an expert on 4K and its predecessor Head Start. The reason Wisconsin kids needed 4K was because Wisconsin is one of the most miserly states when it came to the income level requirements to access Head Start (125% of the Federal Poverty Level, or FPL vs. 250-300% in neighboring Michigan, for example). This policy left a vast number of kids whose parents were too poor to afford pre-school but too "rich" to send their kids to Head Start. Instead of fixing a bad policy, they proposed a much more expensive solution to the problem: Universal 4K. I know how tight education budgets are and that they will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future. I cannot for the life of me understand why everybody in the legislature seems to think a more expensive model is better, especially since Head Start has a much higher quality rating than Wisconsin 4K does.

4K proponents cite shaming of students accessing services well known to serve students living in poverty as a primary reason for making the program universal. Most of the superficial people who judge a person's value by the content of their wallet are not worth a microsecond of concern. Teaching these kids that they should try to fly under those fools' radar is wrong. The message that this sends is that there is something inherently wrong with being poor, that their parent's hard work to make ends meet is somehow dishonorable because society doesn't consider their employment a worthwhile endeavor. If two parents hold down four jobs to feed and care for their family, they deserve a medal of valor for providing as much as they can for their kids. They honorably do what they can and society's materialistic obsession is the shameful factor in this equation.

If you can either pay for your kids preschool opportunity or provide it yourself in some way, then do it. It's a parent's privilege to give their children every opportunity. If you can afford it and you have to fork over $$ to educate your kid then do it and do it with a smile. Save limited resources for those who really need it.

These are the reasons I oppose Universal 4K. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Annual Measurable Objectives for Each School Within ECSD

New Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) for Reading and Math were set last year after they re-calibrated the WKCE results at all Wisconsin public schools to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scale. These new standards set realistic stretch goals for all students and each subgroup according to previously collected and converted data. Some high risk groups start out lower than other groups but are expected to make greater gains each year to ultimately match with their majority peers by 2017. This was one contentious element contained in the No Child Left Behind Act, because the presumption in that flawed legislation was that 100% of all students would be proficient or advanced by 2015. Click on the link below to see a summary of these new AMOs. The problem with the old assessment scale was that the WKCE was not written to assess learning based on the theoretically more stringent Common Core. The Feds want proof that states are moving toward these higher standards if they agreed to them in the first place. Essentially, if you take money from the Feds, you agree to implement the Common Core. This was a compromise approach until they develop an assessment for curriculum taught under the Common Core, which won't come until 2017, I believe.

I did a survey of achievement data in our district since about 2005. There was a distinct change in the distribution of achievement level statewide last year.  Basic and Advanced have largely switched places for Math and Reading across the board. I attended a seminar way back in 2008 on how the WKCE authors set the achievement levels for the test. There was a panel of experts that helped set the bars for each achievement level, Advanced, Proficient, Basic and Minimal. They gave the test with those recommended scoring levels to a pilot group and found out the a majority of students would fail to meet the Proficient or Advanced level. In response, our wise DPI dumbed down the test in the name of Federal Revenue Dollars and have failed Wisconsin school children for over a decade with this false "achievement" test. Having long doubted that well over 80% of Wisconsin kids were proficient or advanced in every topic, I had been skeptical of the rigor of the test before this seminar and was immediately plunged into cynicism afterward.  I imagine the original recommendations of the experts on what constituted Advanced, etc. in fact align with the NAEP standards now imposed on our schools.

Even though the state does not use the  AMOs in a school or district report card, I really think it's important to keep an eye on these metrics. So, here they are for each school in our district. I know many folks may have glazed eyes within the next two paragraphs, so I understand if you want to skip this summary.

Levi Leonard Elementary: AMOs do not apply to K-2.

TRIS: There are four groups at TRIS for which there is a sufficient population (20) to enable the school to report achievement data in a confidential manner. All students, White not Hispanic, Students with Disabilities and Economically Disadvantaged.

You've likely read my rant on how the DPI uses the 95th percent confidence intervals, enabling a truck to drive through the range of data considered statistically the same as the target value. They're still doing it, so I am reporting three types of outcomes, those that outright meet the target AMO, those that outright fail to meet the target AMO and those that meet the target AMO even though the value is lower than the target because it is considered statistically the same as the AMO.

Reading: In 2011-12, only the Economically Disadvantaged Group met the Reading AMO outright. The groups All Students and Students with Disabilities squeaked in under the statistical Confidence Interval.  One of the largest groups, White not Hispanic failed the AMO outright. Last year, the Economically Disadvantaged group was once again the only group that met the Reading AMO outright. All Students and White not Hispanics both came in somewhat below target but within the confidence interval (CI) established for that sample size, so they get a qualified "Yes-CI." This is a little disconcerting because these two groups are the largest and will have a greater impact on future scores. Students with Disabilities failed to meet the AMO outright with only 7.7% scoring proficient or advanced on the WKCE where the target AMO for this group of kids is 25.8% this year.

Math: Three of the groups met the Math AMOs outright both years: All Students, White not Hispanic and Economically Disadvantaged. There is a disturbing downward trend in the data for most of the groups that signals potential problems next year when the targets go up. The only group to increase achievement level in Math was Economically Disadvantaged. The fourth group, Students with Disabilities, began 11-12 by meeting the AMO. A combination of a huge drop in this group's achievement level and a big increase in the AMO made them fail to meet the 35.6% target by more than 20%. Had they been able to even maintain the achievement level of the prior year, they may have passed under the CI.

Overall: TRIS outright met 62.5% of the AMOs set for it in 2011-12, outright failed 12.5% of them and the remaining 25% of the AMOs fell into confidence interval limbo, neither outright passing muster nor failing, but for government purposes is considered to have met the standard. Modest gains in reading levels were off-set by some pretty substantial increases in the AMOs this year, resulting in a stalemate in reading results. In 2012-13, TRIS outright met 50% of their AMOs, outright failed 25% of them and passed another 25% using statistical CI. The negative data trends in math were undoubtedly caused by a lower priority given to a subject they initially had 100% compliance with, setting themselves up for this lack of achievement. Maybe the problem at the elementary school isn't as much the math curriculum but more a matter of prioritizing Reading over Math. If you don't spend the time necessary on the subject at hand, no progress will be made.

JCMcKenna Middle School: The Middle School adds a fifth group for which they are required to report achievement data, Hispanic.

Reading: In 11-12, none of the five groups met the AMO outright, but two were within the CI, All Students and Hispanic. This year, the All Students category met the goal outright even though the target increased and three met the goal through the help of the statistical CI calculation. Only Students with Disabilities did not meet the goal but the percent of students scoring proficient or advanced more than doubled from 5.7% to 11.9%, still far short of the higher 25.8% target.

Math: In 11-12, the All Students group met the goal outright and three others were saved by the statistical CI. The percent of Students with Disabilities that scored proficient or advanced was about 9% lower than the target value of 28.2%. This year, every group showed improvement, with only Students with Disabilities falling short of the increased goal of 35.6% scoring proficient or advanced, despite increasing this value by over 3%.

Overall: JCMcKenna outright met 30% of the goals this year, outright failed 20% of the AMOs and met half of the AMOs using the statistical CI. This is a significant improvement over their AMO results from last year where they met 10% of the goals, failed 40% of the goals and met the remaining 50% through statistical CI. Reading started out with the most disadvantage and has started a big turnaround. They should have some kind of recognition for being the only school to make these kind of gains!

Evansville High School:  Only grade 10 is assessed at the high school at this point. Only two groups had sufficient population to report data in 2011-12 (a very small class of 101): All students and White not Hispanic. By the following year, the larger class had enough Economically Disadvantaged students to add a third category to report.

Reading: Both groups comfortably met their AMOs for Reading in 2011-12. The increase in target value and decrease in performance by both groups put one of the groups into CI limbo in 2012-13 (White not Hispanic). The "All Students" group nudged into compliance because the value can be either the previous year's value or an average of the two previous years. The actual reading result in 2012-13 was lower than the AMO. If they keep up this trend, compliance will become elusive. The group new this year met their AMO outright.

Math: In 2011-12, one of the two groups outright met the AMO and one met it through the CI. In 2012-13, both of the original groups from the previous year had descended into CI limbo while the new group met the AMO outright.

Overall: EHS outright met 75% of their AMOs in 11-12 and met 25% of them through statistical CI. The following year, that had changed to meeting 50% of their AMOs outright and 50% of them through statistical CI. Modest gains in the percentage of kids scoring proficient or advanced were, in  most cases, more than offset by an increase in the AMO, thereby forcing more of the measurements into the CI limbo.

I know this is a lot to digest at once, which is why I separated it from the report card posts. My general impression from evaluating the school report cards and the AMO results is that ECSD is treading water. There seems to be a shining glimmer of hope at JC McKenna. Even though they have the lowest percentage of meeting AMOs outright, they have made significant progress in the first two years. Everyone else is resting in their mediocrity. Kudos to you Middle School Staff. Keep up the good work.


ECSD School Report Card Results

As promised, I will drill into the school report cards for the four buildings in the ECSD. I'm including the "grading scale" for reference:
  • 83-100: Significantly Exceeds Expectations
  • 73-82.9: Exceeds Expectations
  • 63-72.9: Meets Expectations
  • 53-62.9: Meets Few Expectations
  • 0-52.9: Fails to meet Expectations
The metrics measured for most schools are:
  • Student Achievement
  • Student Growth
  • Closing Gaps 
  • On Track and Post-secondary Readiness.
Levi Leonard: Because we have only K-2 at our elementary school, only two out of the four metrics for rating schools are applicable for Levi Leonard: Student Achievement and On Track and Post-secondary Readiness. Even the Achievement Score is based on 3rd grade testing. It's fair that they are held accountable for this score because the October Grade 3 reading and math achievement is largely met from curriculum in grades K-2. The only thing Levi Leonard's score is effectively based on is attendance, which they couldn't increase. I'm not sure how the final score is calculated because it is not the average value of the  two metrics for which the school has gathered data.
  • 2011-12 Result: 72.3 = Meets Expectations, High C
  • 2012-13 Result: 71.7 = Meets Expectations, Lower High C
Less than one point below the cutoff between scoring levels, Levi Leonard had an opportunity to move up from a high "C" to a low "B" but instead dropped in their rating this year.

Theodore Robinson: TRIS tests all grade levels and therefor has data for all four metrics measured for school report card scores.

  • 2011-12 Result: 75.4 = Exceeds Expectations, Low B
  • 2012-13 Result: 74.3 = Exceeds Expectations, Lower B

TRIS gained moderately in two of four metrics between last year and this year, Student Achievement and "On-Track," each with less than a point overall gain. Student Growth lost by less than a point and Closing Gaps by nearly six points, resulting in an overall loss of more than a point in its final score. In each case, the primary bugaboo at this level is math achievement level. Therefore, the change in the math curriculum at the elementary level this year is confirmed as necessary, despite all the uproar it has caused amongst staff because they didn't get it until a week before school started. Better late than never in this case.

JCMcKenna Middle School: The Middle School also tests all grade levels and has useful metric data for all four categories.

  • 2011-12: Result: 70.6 = Meets Expectations High C
  • 2012-13: Result: 71.2 = Meets Expectations Higher C

JC McKenna is the only school in the district to increase their score. Having to overcome six years of ineffective student growth to make this modest gain makes them a rock star in my book. The devil is in the details, however. They gained two full points in overall achievement level and nearly three points in "Closing Gaps." These two are hard to do simultaneously, as the playing field is so often leveled by bringing the high performers lower, so kudos to the staff! I'll drill deeper into this topic later when I discuss how each school performed on their Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs). They're not off the hook entirely on this point. They lost more than two points on "Student Growth," my personal beef with the district, and stood even with last year's score in the "On-Track" category.

Evansville High School: The High School only tests tenth graders, so there is no current method to measure student growth within the school, but the other three categories are measured. Again, the overall score is not an average of the three scores. I'll have to do some more research on this, I guess. Their score was the same as last year.

2011-12 Result: 78.1 = Exceeds Expectations, a Mid-range B.
2012-13 Result: 78.1 = Exceeds Expectations, a Mid-range B.

A modest gain (less than a point) in Student Achievement was cancelled out by a nearly two point loss in Closing Gaps in both math and reading (something they did well last year) and a 1.6 point gain in "On-Track."

To summarize, each school maintained the "grade" earned using the state report card last year. The raw scores dropped or stagnated for 75% of the schools and went up for 25% of them without changing the assigned category.

I'll make a separate post regarding the AMOs for each school.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Check out ECSD's Rating on the Annual School Report Cards

Click on the link below to see how Evansville performed on the second year of the Annual School Report Cards. I'll attempt to summarize here for your convenience, but if you're anything like me, you have to look at the data yourself.

Wisconsin school report cards assign a score for each public school and district in the state based on certain accountability parameters that are pertinent to that school. It is a composite of a number of measurements that have been found to have positive correlation with success in school, such as attendance and closing achievement gaps between the majority and the at-risk groups such as students living in poverty and students with disabilities.  Four broad measurements are given equal weight in the score a school earns. They are (1)Student Achievement (in Math and Reading), (2)Student Growth (in Math and Reading), (3)Closing Gaps (in Reading, Math and Graduation Rates) and On Track for Postsecondary Readiness. The "grading scale" is as follows:

  • 83-100: Significantly Exceeds Expectations
  • 73-82.9: Exceeds Expectations
  • 63-72.9: Meets Expectations
  • 53-62.9: Meets Few Expectations
  • 0-52.9: Fails to Meet Expectations

First, let's discuss the wording on this grading scale. I don't argue with the first three, as they are how I view the usual "A, B and C" grades. The last category doesn't mince any words either. You have failed, no bones about it. That "D" category is the one that amuses me. "Meets Few Expectations" ought to say "Fails Most Expectations."

So, you probably want to know how Evansville fared this year, as did I. I was most curious as to how they stacked up against last year as well. First, let's take the long view by District. Last year they only prepared School report cards and so this is the first year the district as a whole has gotten a "grade." They scored 74.2 to come in at a low "B." Something I didn't realize last year when they issued the first report cards was that the Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) for math and reading do not factor into the school or district rating. At all. This begs the question, why have AMOs at all?

The schedule of expected improvement in AMOs was published last year and acknowledges that the at-risk groups begin at a lower level of achievement and schools/districts must illustrate greater improvements each year with these groups in order to meet the final level of achievement that will put them on track with their majority peers. However, if there is no consequence for failing to meet an AMO, why should districts bother to worry about it? Sure, it's cumulative and without meeting AMOs every year, the chances of scores down the road being anything but abysmal is small. But for goodness sakes, take a point off for every "no does not meet the AMO" and a half-point off for "no does not meet the AMO but is statistically indistinguishable from a number that does and is within the confidence interval." You can drive a truck through those 95% confidence intervals with such small sample sizes like our district offers, especially with the subgroup populations. So, I'm going to tell you how the district fared with AMOs and then how each school stacked up as well. I think parents deserve to know this stuff.

Reading: Overall, there are seven reading measurements for the district. I'll let you go see how close the groups were to meeting AMOs. Two groups met the overall district AMO outright: All Students and Economically Disadvantaged Students. Only one group, Students with Disabilities, did not meet the AMO outright. The four remaining groups did not meet the minimum cutoff to meet the AMO but because of statistical limitations, the value is considered to meet the AMO through the wide confidence interval. Those groups were Black Not Hispanic, Hispanic, White Not Hispanic and Limited English Proficient. 

Math: There are also seven math district-wide measurements for the district. Two groups also met their AMOs outright for math this year: All Students and Black Not Hispanic. Three groups failed to meet their AMOs outright: Hispanic, Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient. The last two groups, White Not Hispanic and Economically Disadvantaged fell into that Confidence Interval Limbo.

Out of fourteen district wide groups for which there are enough students to make statistically valid statements about whether or not they met the state AMOs, our district outright failed four groups (28.6% of the groups), helped four groups meet their objectives and may or may not be helping the other six groups. When the district can demonstrate that they have definitively met AMOs for only 28.6% of the groups for whom sufficient numbers exist to make the measurements, this is a problem. When the same district has demonstrated that they have failed an equal number of those groups, that is also a concern. The only thing that can be said about this data is that it is normally distributed. But Shhh. Don't say bell curve. Educators hate it when you point out obvious things like "100% of a population of humans cannot become proficient and advanced at anything except maybe breathing."

Stay tuned for a summary of each school in the same fashion. Some day I will discover how to load charts and stuff from the internet into my blog so you can see what I'm seeing as I write my analysis. So much easier to see the chart if you want to really understand something.

Then I might begin to summarize the data for the groups of districts that convened last night for a panel discussion on 4K. I plan to write more about that meeting in another post. There's all kinds of fun to look forward to!

A board member who shall remain nameless recently said about me after I buried them with a flurry of emails about a plethora of educational issues both personal and generic, "What's with all this crap from Melissa? Doesn't she have anything else to do?" I guess my concern about the quality of education for the children of Evansville should be replaced by raising money for the press box. Or officiating a football game. Or raising taxes in Evansville. All much higher moral paths than the one I'm on! When I advocate for my kids, I advocate for all the kids in Evansville. When I tell them that scheduling two gym classes a year violates state statutes, this is important to the continued standing of the district, not just my kid's potentially invalid diploma had we not changed her schedule. We all have our strengths. Mine are data plumbing and analysis and tracking details and historical context of the district. I am able to take an eagle eye view without the blinders of special interest groups. The data speak volumes if you're willing to listen with an open mind.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Senator Grothman (R-West Bend) Proposes That Middle School Students May Earn High School Credit: Finally!

Click on the link below to read the Wisconsin State Journal article about proposed legislation to enable students taking High School level classes in Middle School to earn the credit for their labor. When I was on the school board, I pointedly asked why a kid in 8th grade algebra didn't earn High School credit for a class that had the same curriculum as the High School class. I was told it was because the teacher had to be certified for high school instruction for that to happen. I was appalled with this state of affairs. However, it seems it's a bit deeper than that. Kids that are two years ahead in math and science go over to the high school and take those classes and earn credit. But those credits only count toward EHS graduation requirements and those students must still take the statute required math classes as described on the DPI website (http://cal.dpi.wi.gov/cal_8gr_algebra_hsgrad):

According to s.118.33, Wis. Stats., students must take at least two credits of mathematics in grades 9-12 to meet the state high school graduation requirements. If algebra or geometry is taken by students in the middle school, a district may award high school credit providing the course is the same as the course offered at the high school, the course is taught by a licensed mathematics teacher (a grade 1-9 with mathematics minor license may be used for algebra but not geometry), and district policy permits awarding credits prior to grade nine.
Credits obtained would count toward the overall district’s credit-requirement, but not for the credits specified in law.
Should a district permit accumulation of high school credits prior to entry to grade nine, a student must still take at least 4 credits English, 3 credits social studies, 2 credits science, 2 credits mathematics, and 1 ½ credits physical education in grades 9-12 to meet the state requirements.

This is such a waste of time and resources, I cannot wrap my head around it. It is a rare thing when I agree with a Republican on anything, but Grothman has been spot on with his proposal to allow high school credit in middle school and with his insistence that voucher schools be answerable to the same standards as the public schools from which they are sucking revenue. He joins the even rarer group of politicians who want to do the right thing, regardless of the party line. Both sides of the political aisle are more concerned with party uberloyalty than representing their constituents, so much so that they threaten the integrity of our republic. Thank you for bucking your party, Senator. 

Now, I'm pretty sure the good senator also has in mind whipping these kids through high school more quickly and off the public "dole," envisioning as he probably is a reduced teacher count. But I envision students who want to stay in high school the full 4 years to take advantage of other opportunities, like AP classes to get a jump on college credit at deep discount prices. They could have 2 or 3 credits freed up in high school to investigate other areas and broaden their education. What a concept! Produce students with a well-balanced education. Ye-ha! Enable a kid to fully investigate a topic he is passionate about.  Imagine the possibilities...


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Board Packet Finally Available for Tonight's Meeting at 6 PM in the Board and Training Center

Click on the link below to access the board packet for tonight's board meeting I sent an email to the board and district administrator wondering if since the meetings are now on Wednesdays, couldn't they post the packets on Monday to enable the citizens to digest the information and ask questions of the administration and board prior to the meetings, particularly for the press. Jerry responded, "Past practice is to post Board packets the day of a Board meeting.  Our timelines are very tight to complete the board packets.  I do not anticipate making a change at this time."  I wrote the email in full knowledge that the board had access to their packets on Thursday, so this is a load of hogwash. Last month it was available on Tuesday afternoon. I included in my email a carrot about "It’s possible that you would increase the chances of citizen participation if the packets were posted with sufficient time to properly process the data." Apparently, this is not a priority. Too bad. Well, I have to go digest data now, so hope to see you at the meeting tonight. ~M


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I'm not the only one who wondered about the CAC vs. Strategic Planning

The first question asked at the Citizen Advisory Committee information sharing meeting tonight was not asked by me, but was the same question I had. "How does this process differ from the Strategic Planning Committee of 3 years ago?" Jerry's answer was unclear to me. It was useful for me to go just to verify for myself that I am surrounded by the good company of folks who get the distinct impression that the district doesn't use the information it already has. And it's always the same folks who show up to help on these projects, so I'm guessing they are just done with the district shelving all the initiatives. Either quit paying all those big consultant dollars OR LISTEN TO THEM! Create the plans as the act of follow through necessary in every business that is serious about being successful. I followed up the first question with "Much work was done on the Strategic Planning Committee by many of the very same people sitting here tonight. Are you planning to incorporate that data in this committee?" Answer, "it could be included." Other questions asked included "there have been a lot of initiatives and no follow up. Why should we reinvent the wheel?" And on and on and on.

There was the technology survey which resulted in no plan. There was  the safety survey just completed last week. There is a plan to have a facilities survey, which I thought we had done in house on a five year rotation. Every one of these things costs a fee for the consultant. Now they want to hire a consultant to run another survey to capture the perceptions of the community. "What if the people want to have certain initiatives but are not willing to go to referendum? What do you expect the committee to do then?" Jerry simply spoke the usual "prioritize and work it out" baloney. If there were a strategic plan, this would be much simpler. And, oh, by the way, I'm not interested in doing the job of the very well compensated District Administrator for free. He wants 15-18 community members representing 10 separate groups from the community (parents, elders, staff, etc), but didn't include city officials in the groups represented. I figure I represent any number of groups and really don't want this to turn into another monumental clusterf&*k, which it will be if nothing is done with the data. Oh, and they haven't even got board approval for the consultant yet, but because we have another rubber stamp board in place, Roth doesn't even  pretend to be waiting on board approval. And yet he noted the CAC will be accountable to the board. Really? Hmm.

So the question to me is, will I be more effective on the CAC or the 4K committee? I'm sure I have done more research than the rest of the proponents put together about 4K in Wisconsin and the origins of the concept. I have closely followed all the longitudinal studies that followed up from the High Scopes Perry preschool project in Kalamazoo Michigan in 1961-1963. I know the criteria required to see the benefits seen in that study and no public school in America meets the 5-6 to 1 student teacher ratio. No public school in America provides universal preschool beginning at age 3. The touted societal benefits will be diluted because the program is diluted. So stop quoting the data from a study you cannot hope to emulate in practice. Do it for the kids who need it and quit trying to placate the people who just want free preschool, because who doesn't like free stuff? Except it's not free and your property tax bill should be an annual reminder of that. Which would you rather have, 4K or a competitive curriculum that prepares students for work and college participation? Because that is the question at this point. Ain't no such thing as a free lunch folks. If the CAC helps the district enumerate community priorities and thereby help decide which initiatives to endorse with taxdollars, I'm willing to help out with that. But we should capture all the data from 2-3 years ago and supplement it, not redo it all.

Let the district office know if you want to participate on the CAC within the next week. There is a link on the district website for a form to fill out and return to the office if you're interested. Deadline is next week, I think. Click on the link below to access it.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) to Convene September 9 at 6:30 PM in the TRIS LMC

I got an email from Jerry Roth, district administrator, inviting me to attend the first meeting to establish the CAC. I presume every parent in the district got one. This committee is supposed to

"consist of community members, parents, staff and school administration for the purpose of reviewing, researching and making a recommendation to the School Board with respect to upgrade/improvement options:
·         Curriculum and instruction
·         Technology
·         Communications
·         District facilities
·         Operational funding
·         Athletics and co-curricular activities "

Last I checked, the board and administration spent a lot of money and time doing just this in 2010- 11. They already have the Vision Statement that resulted from that effort and the data to create a strategic plan but  the current administrator refuses to use the data because he didn't "have buy in" to the process (control issues much?), so of course it isn't useful data. So now we have to do this all over again? What an egotistical moroon. Use the data you have and tweek it with current input. This is such a cluster f*&k. I am appalled that all the effort that went into creating the Vision Statement three years ago is being thrown out the window. I'm going to go to this meeting and say these words, perhaps in a more refined way, perhaps not. It is the height of hubris to believe that since you did not champion a process, its product is flawed. He'd rather waste more resources, repeat effort and piss citizens off for not listening to them the first time around. "Jayzuz, Mary and Joseph!" as my Irish grandmother would have said. Or, "Saints presarve us!" Divine intervention will be required to set this administration straight, that much is clear. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

It only took an hour...

Well, we stormed the citadel this morning to fix my kid's schedule. Upon entry, the office staff were not particularly helpful. "Do you have an appointment?" "No, nobody called me back. I'd like Lynda and a counselor to work together with us." "I don't know if she's here." Long pause... "Can you CALL her?" (as I'm standing there with my cane and eye patch, hoping to avoid a useless trip to the second floor). "Is there an elevator we can use?" "Yes." She gave me directions to the elevator but no directions to Lynda's office, but we blundered our way to it anyway. Granted, I was in a foul mood for all the crap they have already put us through on this subject, and to be honest, for the last 14 years of crap we have had to endure. So, my demeanor was not friendly, but a little more direction would have been nice.

Lynda Oleinik, the GT coordinator for the district, took unscheduled time to work with us to come up with a rigorous schedule that will put our child on track in case she  does major in business (she's 16 and subject to changing her mind about this stuff). There are still gaping holes second semester, but we will look at the free distance learning options before we lose heart. Also, at least she can begin her schedule today with a set plan. Was it easy to do? No, but it only took an hour and a willingness to think outside the box and an ability to move things around in your head in three dimensions, something our kid excels in. Bonus points are awarded for spreading out her AP schedule so she isn't faced with 5-6 exams her Senior year.

In my fantasy world, school should be mostly excellent experiences with the occasional mundane or horrible experience thrown in to build character. ECSD seems to provide the opposite ratio, prizing as it does building character, I suppose. This continuous battle has left me weary and without respect for the administration of our schools. What bothers me most about this is that I am the perfect candidate to advocate for my kids' futures. Confidence? Check. Educated? Check. Scrappy? Check. Knowledgeable? Check. Willing to question authority? Check. Determined to prepare my kids for their future? Check. Time in my schedule to do all of the above? Check. How about all the parents who lack the time, determination, skills and confidence to fight the good fight? How do their kids fare? Unless they're Einstein 2, our experience tells us that these kids are not adequately served, if at all, in this district. There is nobody to champion their cause and this leaves me saddened beyond belief as I despair about all the lost opportunities for them. And they still wonder why the slope of the line of kids open enrolling out continues its annual steep increase. My friend told me that when she was called for the "why are you leaving the distric?" survey, she told Mike Czerwonka, "It seems like you just don't want our kind here." Not necessarily referring to her kids' level of aptitude, but more in reference to being packaged with involved and vocal parents concerned with their kid's future. Sad. Very, very sad. People who have gone toward the light in other districts all have the same report. "It's like night and day! They listened to me and have offered my child opportunities they never had in Evansville. I don't think it's because the district is larger, I think it's a matter of priorities."  It always does come down to priorities, doesn't it?

When I was where my kids are now, I observed that people often could be categorized in two groups. Those who could delay immediate personal gratification because they saw how taking the long view would benefit them in life and those who always chose immediate personal gratification, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead to Nirvana, whatever that might be for them. Some of  those in the second category seemed to spend more energy trying to circumvent the system than it would take to conform to the system. I still don't understand that, but it's inconsequential. Priorities are what drives both of those types of folks. Some of us might say a lack of priorities drives group two, but in reality their #1 priority is self-gratification.

If the ECSD isn't willing to prioritize college preparatory education in our district, they need to be up front about it and stop shilly-shallying about with kids' lives. It does not need to be this hard to be an academically concerned parent who intimately knows her kids' educational needs and aspirations. I know them a hell of a lot more than any of the administrators and teachers who seem to think they know more than I do about my kid. Clearly, their inability to schedule my child for a reasonable college prep plan speaks volumes. Since she's a girl, obviously she must want to be in Foods and the Nursing Career prep class. God, that screams sexism!  We won't even go there because I already lost that battle in this district.  Suffice it to say I'm close to being done with these yahoos. They want compliant parents who don't rock their boats and are happy to pony up their kids' state aid and their property tax every year regardless of the outcome of their kids' education. They want to be treated like the professionals they aren't and revered as experts in education when clearly they do not champion all students.

Kudos to Lynda Oleinik for taking time out of her busy schedule to fix one of apparently a number of FUBAR schedules as she prepares to leave our district to become Mauston's Curriculum Director. Good for Mauston, bad for us. The exodus continues and that, too, is very, very sad.