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

Sunday, April 7, 2013

My Analytical Skills Were Useful Before, During and After My Term on the Board

When I was on the ECSD board of education, I took my responsibilities very seriously. I read the packet cover to cover prior to the meeting. This often included 75-100 pages of reports, data and budget updates and often became a feat of endurance because the administration had issues getting the board members a packet by the Friday before the Monday meeting. Just prior to my winning a seat on the board, the administration and the board seemed to be in a contest of making each other look bad in public. Board members would blindside administrators with cold questions and adminitrators wouldn't bring reference materials pertinent to the topics at hand. I vowed that I would ask my questions by email first so the administrators would be prepared, but insisted on discussing the answers in the meeting so everyone would know what my concerns had been. When the packets weren't available until Friday, it made it very hard to discuss issues with the right people. This has been an ongoing issue for the board for six years. It's such a control issue that anybody looking on from the outside would be appalled by the inability of the administration to provide packets to the board members in the time they want them. On the flip side, it's also been pretty dang obvious since I left the board which board members read their packets before the meeting and which ones don't. It's a big effort for admin to produce the packets and one can't really blame them for balking at getting packets ready early to sit in the district office until five minutes before the meeting starts. But I don't think the majority of the board comes unprepared and the admin. needs to resist the urge to paint everyone with the same brush because of a few members who aren't engaged.

I'd like to run through a list of predictions I made before, during and after my term on the school board based on data I reviewed, extrapolated and shared with fellow board members and administrators over the years.

2006: The expected increase in enrollment will not come to pass.

Background: Admin. was convinced that the "surge" in enrollment threatened to exceed building capacity by 2010 with the growth from 05-07 of about a hundred. With much gnashing of teeth, chicken little declared a new building was required and NOW!

What was really happening: Full day kindergarten was introduced in 2002 and quickly, probably by 2006, became the norm in the district. This doubled the count of kindergarten students from a sixth to a third of a FTE student (new students are counted in a rolling average beginning with a third, two thirds and full accounting in year three). 2007 was the year when the new accounting system was fully realized. If anybody would have bothered to think it through, they would have noticed that the bump in enrollment was a mathematical state aid accounting thing, not extra kids. Sheesh.

The district experienced a false surge in enrollment due to the switch to full day kindergarten. Anybody who carefully evaluated the situation could have realized that this "increase" was not sustainable. Counting the kids for double what they had counted the year before simple gave the impression of an increase in 25 kids in the district. (1/3 of 150 instead of 1/6 of 150). By the time they were counted in full the third year, it seemed like a hundred more kids had entered the district in the past 3 years. The enrollment is now about sixty lower than the high of 1831 back in 2008-2009.

How I confirmed my suspicions: I looked at building permits and extrapolated what that meant for the enrollment and I was spot on.  Not only does this lack of enrollment decrease projected revenues, it causes the increasing debt service to be in increasing burden on property taxes even when millions of dollars in revenue is cut from the district. Debt service is not encumbered by the revenue cap, but rather is stacked on top of the cap. This in turn decreases the chances of a referendum passing. We already have the highest mill rate in the area and, from what I hear, can't refinance the debt until 2015. Combine this issue with the ever widening open enrollment gap and the district is hosed.


AYP is at risk at TRIS and JCMC via WKCE trend analysis.

No Child Left Behind Annual Yearly Progress (NCLB AYP): I predicted TRIS and JC McKenna would fail to meet AYP goals on a number of occasions. I was right a few times and wrong due to large confidence intervals and "safe harbor" designation, but the values were still lower than allowed to meet AYP for at risk groups such as students with disabilities and students living in poverty. JCMC is currently on the cusp for achievement in Language Arts, if what I hear from instructors there is accurate. I haven't done a WKCE analysis in quite a while. Being designated in "safe harbor" simply says you have improved low achieving student scores by 10%, not that they have met the standard.

2007- Boy's ACT performance is stagnating while girls formerly abysmal performance shines. Could it be the block schedule?

ACT Trend analyses have illustrated declining performance across the board for EHS seniors on this primary midwest college entrance exam ever since 2007, so we can probably safely say "no."   Over 60% of recent EHS grads indicate interest in attending 4 year universities, 65% of our graduates take the ACT and the range of composite score considered by our flagship University 20 minutes down the pike is 26-30. Our average composite score was 22.4 last year. Hmm. Guess that eliminates a whole lot of folks.

Further analysis of ACT data indicate that, due to the way in which preparation for university is assessed by the ACT, as a product of Math, Science, English and Language Arts level of preparation, chances of EHS grads succeeding in Freshman Level classes at university level is down to an index of 12.5 out of 100, well below state average (US News). Six students from the Class of 2012 (about 142 strong) got into UW Madison this year and nearly all were on the Dean's list first semester. I know all of these kids and they have beat the odds by challenging themselves with rigorous classes and testing their limits. Good show kids! Glad you and your parents weren't satisfied with the status quo and demanded excellence of yourselves.


I opposed funding the implementation of 4K in the ECSD on the backs of the half day five year old kindergarten program. At the time the district began offering full day kindergarten, they could no longer offer summer enrichment classes and kindergarten round up was cancelled because somebody failed to count properly while building the HS. It was counterintuitive to me that they would double the kindergarten staffing and benefits in a time of financial concern.

I was also philosophically opposed to the watered down program offered by Wisconsin Public Schools because 4K proponents quoted all the societal gains from a longitudinal study called the High Scopes Perry Preschool project. Nothing irritates me more than uninformed politicians and administrators quoting the societal benefits of a new educational program based on a model that is unachievable. If anybody bothered to read the original study and it's ongoing checkpoints fifty years later, it specifically stated that those gains would only be realized by strict adherance to the original delivery of 3-4 year old preschool. To whit, it required 2 years of instruction beginning at age 3. Teachers had to have a Master's in early childhood education and student teacher ratio had to be 6:1 at most. What public school program can provide this product?

A quick review of available data for success with Wisconsin Public 4K is not encouraging, but I have detected a disturbing consistency of educational initiatives being undeterred by a silly little thing like data.  Exhibit A: Milwaukee Public School District has offered 4K for over 20 years. It hasn't done them much good in either achievement or enrollment. Exhibit B: While 4K offers a true opportunity for increased enrollment because you are actually adding a class (about 140 kids for our area), at least two area schools have seen that initial enrollment bump immediately followed by an enrollment decline at about the same rate they were previously experiencing. Hmm. Maybe kids aren't fleeing those districts because of a lack of 4K but for some other reason.

I now reluctantly agree that ECSD needs 4K because the lack thereof puts the district at a competive disadvantage. People need to understand that this diluted version Wisconsin offers will not solve all the issues for at risk children. Also, it will not fit in our existing buildings and will devastate area preschools if it is not implemented through the community coop model in places like LaCrosse. Some fence mending is required to revisit this idea.

I don't think having 4K in our district will magically improve student achievement or necessarily serve children, but in the world of free market education, disadvantages are cumulative. Kicking out Headstart plus lack of 4K plus inability to adequately prepare students for the ACT plus decreased student achievement on the WKCE plus the ever widening open enrollment deficit for reasons that appear to be directly related to students not getting their educational needs met and parents getting fed up and voting with their feet all leads to the downward spiral into educational mediocrity.

How does all of this information honor the district Vision Statement of Excellence in all areas? Short answer: It doesn't. This district was once (2005) considered among the top 20 of over 400 in the state. Schooldigger.com ranks the schools separately and indicates the following for our area schools:

TRIS 458/1024 trending slightly up, but mostly the same after a huge drop from 2005 high
JC McKenna 202/565 trending down since 2004
Evansville High School 155/460 largely trending down since 2005 with a slight increase since 2009

Thanks to Karen Aikmann for pointing out much of this information. She wondered what happened in 2005 to cause this plummet? So do I, but I strongly suspect ditching the curriculum coordinator position in 2003 and distributing the duties amongst the other admin, finding out that nobody was doing it and then not filling it until 2009 was a contributing factor. But what do I know? I have no background in education so I must have flawed capacity to observe data and draw conclusions. 

I pray the district can overcome the bad hand it has been dealt. I would have liked it if more voters recognized that my skills are a valuable asset for the district. Skills that voters covet for elected officials in Evansville seem to skew in a different direction and that is their perogative. I'm just sorry that my dedication to education for my own kids, which I extrapolate to all district students, wasn't recognized or endorsed except for by a few brave individuals who were willing to take a risk and publicly throw their hats in the ring for me. Thanks again to them. I feel like I am in a Dale Carnegie class right now, where they encourage you to "hope for the best but prepare for the worst." Carry on!

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