Monday, November 30, 2009

"Good" arrows and "Bad" arrows

Yesterday we learned from the JG that State Superintendent Tony Bennett wants FWCS to give him a presentation on their balanced scorecard. You can look at the scorecard after the first year on the FWCS web site. What you'll see is that the district finally has targets for academic improvement. That's the good news. The bad news is that they didn't meet their targets. The only area where they show "improvement" is in reducing some of the achievement gaps between white and minority students. But there are two ways to reduce the gaps. Minority scores can go up or white scores can come down. You can't tell which happened so these indicators don't mean anything.

The chart has green arrows pointing up for exceeding the target, yellow arrows pointing sideways for meeting the target and red arrows pointing sideways for failing to meet the target. Why would the red arrows point sideways instead of down? To make the failures less apparent. Is this scorecard about improvement or about appearances?

Wonder if Tony Bennett will pick up on all this? Someone should give him a heads-up.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wendy's "transparent" no-cut contract

Now Karen Frisco wants us to rejoice in the "transparency" of the process that gave us five more years of Wendy. Wow, each side even had a lawyer! This contract puts Wendy in the same league as Charlie Weis. The difference of course is that while Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick is only concerned about results, FWCS board president Mark GiaQuinta is only concerned about appearances. Discussion of Wendy's performance on the much ballyhooed "balanced scorecard" has was put off until after she got her new deal. Now that results no longer matter, she will be "evaluated" by the scorecard.

Sadly, the district has gotten to the point where it no longer matters who's in charge. Seven years ago, when Wendy got the job, it might still have been possible to turn the district around, if academics had been her top priority. But, in hindsight, that was too much to expect from a lifetime member of the FWCS education bureaucracy which is only concerned with self perpetuation. The shifts in the district's demographics and income levels are probably past the point of no return. The only schools still academically viable and attractive to middle income parents are north of Coliseum Boulevard and they will eventually succumb to the trends.

The question now is how much longer the ship will stay afloat and how much it's going to cost the taxpayers to keep bailing it out. Wendy's "frozen" salary is irrelevant in that equation as are Karen's (and the JG's) new-found concern for saving taxpayer money.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Five more years of Wendy

Surprise, surprise, Wendy Robinson's contract has been extended for five years. She declined to resign and the board is resigned to decline. Actually they said she'll be evaluated on the results of the "Balanced Scorecard". Remember the "Balanced Scorecard"? That's the system of goals and evaluations the district set up two years ago. How's that going by the way? Is it still around?

What she does bring to the table is continuity - in the exodus of middle class students from the district.

Monday, November 16, 2009

JG has selective hypocricy on black achievement

Today the JG went after East Allen Schools again, citing the formation of a task force by the mayor of New Haven to look into the inequities in achievement between New Haven and Harding High Schools and the other high schools in the district. Since Harding and New Haven High Schools have most of the black students, the obvious, startling achievement gap between those schools and EAC's other predominantly white schools infuriates Karen Francisco.

That same racial achievement gap exists in Fort Wayne Community Schools. In fact the gap in FWCS is bigger if you look at last fall's GQE scores. But FWCS hides the disparity with its cherished "Racial Balance" program, which buses black students "voluntarily" to white schools to even out the scores (the Supreme Court has outlawed forced busing). All that FWCS black students have gained from this politically expedient program is a daily bus ride at taxpayer expense. Since FWCS is steadily losing white students at a rate above 400 per year "racial balance" will eventually become irrelevant. Like Gary there will eventually be no school anyone would want to be bused to except a charter school. But that's a longer term problem someone else will have to deal with.

The only thing she has right is that the future of a city is tied to the success of its schools. Mayor McDonald of New Haven is doing the right thing, although he won't be able to do anything about it except to propose busing black kids in East Allen so they can also do a better job of hiding the problem. So get on Tom Henry's case while you're at it Karen. You won't have any more success than I did with Graham Richard. He wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.

And until you're willing to go after Wendy Robinson and FWCS with the same zeal as you do EACS, let it rest.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

JG still nagging on Imagine Schools

Today it was about the Imagine board violating the "Open Meeting Law". They didn't conduct their votes at public meeting as the state law required. That's right and the net result is? How many government board and council members decide how they vote at a public meeting? None, their minds are already made up in "private" meetings. Public meetings are a meaningless formality.

Two years ago I attended a "public meeting" on the FWCS bond issue at Anthis Career Center. After listening to district employees cheering for the project for three hours the board immediately voted exactly as they would have without a public meeting. It was an orchestrated farce.

OK, Imagine, you've been caught and properly chastised by the JG. Clean up your act so Tracy and company and stop insulting our intelligence.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gary public schools "Turn ON the lights, the party's over.".........

The Gary public schools are reportedly having a problem with school vandalism. That would be in the twenty buildings that are now standing empty because the district has lost 16000 students since 1990. So they're considering keeping the lights ON in those buildings to discourage the vandals. I wonder if those buildings were remodeled with updated energy efficient lights before they were closed.

Is this the future of unionized urban districts in Indiana? Surely not in Fort Wayne. Surely FWCS board member Steve Corona, who went to school in Gary (the Marion County Correctional Institute's high school has a better ISTEP passing rate than Steve's former high school), won't let that happen here, at least not before I'm gone.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Harry S. Truman to the JG "The prostitutes of the mind.....

Another day, another article (make that editorial) on Don Willis and Imagine Schools, this time on their involvement setting up charters in Texas. I can't figure out if Willis has done anything wrong or unethical. If he has, Ball State Teachers College (the school that gave us the JG editorial staff and David Letterman) can easily pull his charter. What is obvious is that Wendy Robinson and by extension Harriet Inskeep and her reporters and columnists at the JG despise Don Willis for having the balls to challenge Wendy and get some of her money.

Around the time of the 1948 presidential campaign, Harry Truman was getting the same kind of treatment from the ALL the major papers. In a letter he never mailed he wrote "The prostitutes of the mind in my opinion are more dangerous to the future of mankind than the prostitutes of the body". He had a special contempt for the papers' owners, who were "character assassins" and their columnist doing the dirty work who were "no better than whores (Harry had a way with words, didn't he) in that they offered their favors for money". He did respect the reporters who were trying to make a living getting stories. But the JG articles, while written by reporters as "news" read more like a hatchet job on Imagine Schools. They belong in the editorial pages along with similarly biased opinions such as Karen Francisco's Sunday piece, "Who's Minding the Charters?".

Sunday, Karen also favored us with her opinions on revised state proposals for teacher licensing. She talks about attending a class for illiterate middle age people who had been "failed at some point by Indiana schools". "For too many years students somehow passed from grade to grade without making the connections that would somehow engage them in learning". She implies that "rigorous academic standards and accountability requirements for teachers and schools" now in place keep that from happening now.

WRONG!! Hello, Karen, get a clue. We're still "somehow passing students from grade t0 grade"! Having standards is totally different from achieving standards. In her classic story on "One School" she failed to mention that all the struggling students going through that middle school are being socially promoted from grade to grade and out the door into high school whether they meet the standards or not. These kids, about half (going by last fall's GQE scores) of the freshmen coming into our high schools, don't meet the standards and start high school unprepared. That's why our high schools are failing. "Freshman Academy" isn't going to fix that. "High School Reinvent" won't fix that. We can't do remediation in the high schools. Half of those unprepared kids will drop out. The rest, after failing five times to pass the required GQE, will get a diploma with a waiver. You'll see them in those literacy classes in the coming years, Karen.

The high schools won't do better if our elementary and middle schools don't do better. If Imagine can get kids coming out of their elementary schools ready for the next step they could put FWCS elementary schools out of business. That prospect has Wendy and the teacher's union (and by extension the JG) in hysterics. Because it's not about the kids. It's about their money and their jobs.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mark Twain to the JG "First God made idiots...

In today's JG, Dan Stockman and Kelly Soderlund go on and on about the lack of influence the local board has over Imagine Schools. Dan's wife Krista, by the way, works for FWCS as a public relations person. She gets more than $60K a year from the taxpayers to issue platitudes about school matters to the public and the media, a job she does very well (why that's worth $60K per year to the taxpayers is another question). But I'm sure that has much less influence on Dan's opinions than what the Innskeeps want us to hear.

As Mark Twain said over 100 years ago. "First God made idiots. That was just for practice. Then he made school boards." What good is a "local" board that doesn't have a clue what's going on in our classrooms? What good is a local board elected with money from the teachers union and local building contractors? What good is a local board who's main agenda is patting each other and the superintendent on the back? By failing to stop the slide in academic achievement, they have effectively ceded their function to the state and eventually the feds.

Go to an FWCS board meeting and count the number of people in attendance who don't work for the district or the media. After sitting through a meeting or two, you'll never come back. The test for a school district is the choice people make on where they send their kids. If Imagine Schools can't attract students, they will go out of business. That's all that matters at the end of the day.

Nice picture of Imagine's Wells Street campus, by the way. Aren't you going to tell us how Don Willis ended up with such nice buildings without spending any of the taxpayer's money?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Earth to the JG, "Charter Schools not the Problem"

Today the Journal Gazette, on behalf of FWCS, launched a frontal attack on Imagine Schools. In case you're wondering which planet the JG and FWCS are on, the name of the planet is "Money". This has nothing to do with the quality of education offered at Imagine Schools , which should be the primary concern. Despite the professions of Mark GiaQuinta that they "welcome the competition" (he's only pissed off because the Imagine School on Broadway has air conditioning as does the campus on Wells Street thanks to Becky Hill), Wendy Robinson is seething because Don Willis is taking some of her money. The teachers union is awash with rumors that the state will turn South Side, North Side and, soon after, Wayne high schools into charter schools.

What are they worried about? Eventually, a well run charter system will probably do a better job academically than the current establishment schools and maybe even do it for less money. We can only hope. If not, charter schools will fade away and the status quo will reign on Clinton Street. This is not New Orleans. We can't hope for a hurricane to give us the opportunity to start over. This is not Washington DC either. We don't have a mayor with the power to dissolve the school board and let someone like Michelle Rhee clean house.