Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mitch's "love for teachers" is unrequited

In his interview with Mark Mellinger on Ch. 15 last night Gov. Mitch Daniels proclaimed his love for Indiana teachers. Unfortunately few teachers are going to love him back, if he's serious about using something other than seniority to determine retention and pay. Even though the Governor and Tony Bennett are talking about a growth or "value added" model to quantify teacher effectiveness, I've never heard a teacher in favor of being judged by statistics or any kind. It seems that performance in their profession can't be measured. They are the exception to the scientific rule that theories (of competence) have to be supported by data.

The use of test scores as a component of teacher evaluations seems to be gaining ground. Obama and Arne Duncan are pushing it in Race to the Top. Last fall the ACLU sued the Los Angeles Public Schools to prevent the layoffs of teachers by seniority, arguing that losing younger teachers would disproportionately affect the success of inner city schools because most older teachers refused to work there and those that did were not necessarily better teachers. They got the district and the union to modify their layoff criterion. In the recent "interview" issue of Newsweek Bill Gates challenged union leader Randi Weingartner on why teacher pay should be predictable by nothing other than the length of their tenure. Randi didn't have an answer. She defended teachers unions by saying that unions are the basis for our middle class.

Does that mean without unions teachers would be lower class?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

High school graduation rates up, economy still down

High school graduation rates across the state and at FWCS improved by about 2% last year, the IDE reported. What's not clear is why that happened. FWCS, of course, attributes its increase to "high school reinvent" so maybe the whole state did that as well. A more likely explanation is that job prospects for teenagers, especially black males are pretty grim in this recession so they are opting to stay in school, which improves their chances and postpones the job search. Record college enrollments are driven by the same motive.

We'll see if the trend continues when the economy picks up.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Give Harding to the state

What does EACS hope to accomplish by turning Harding into a magnet school? Harding students will spend a lot of time on buses going to distant other schools. That will help them about as much as busing FWCS kids to Nothrup and Snider from the south side of Fort Wayne, namely not at all. When they establish the magnet school, students will have to be bused from distant parts of the county to Harding. It's hard to imagine who would want their kids to be bused from Leo or Heritage to Harding for a "college preparatory" course. Then there's the cost of additional busing. The effect of sending low achievers to high achieving high schools.

Harding parents are upset about the busing and "cultural" issues. It's hard to feel sorry for them. Their kids are largely responsible for the school's failure and their kids now have a chance to go to better schools. The parents who should be upset are the ones with kids going to the other four high schools. Those schools are going to go downhill and they get to pay the tab.

The lunacy of this decision is obvious in a letter from Rev. Stephen Terry in this morning's JG. He says it's about preserving local control and instituting educational "excellence". Please! Where has his concern for excellence been for the last two decades. There was no concern until the state threatened to step in and control the MONEY. And hire a new staff. Which may be just what's needed.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is the state getting ready to pounce?

If you read Karen Frisco's column today about the December meeting of the State Board of Education, you'd think the IDE was scheming to turn our failing high schools over to a greedy for profit operator as soon as possible. If you watch the video of part 2 of the December meeting ( www.doe.in.gov./stateboard/), however, you might question her hysteria at the thought of losing "local control". There are a number of steps necessary for a state takeover, like getting another round of ECA test results (not the 3-8 ISTEP+ which she erroneously refers to) this spring which have to come up by 3% to get the high schools off the hook for a while.

In the case of SSHS, for example, their math passing rate would only have to go from the current 19% to an equally pathetic 22% to meet the low bar they established last spring. That could happen with a random statistical fluctuation or an easier test, like we saw with the ISTEP+. Nevertheless Karen thinks it's ironic that we taxpayers would have to continue paying for the $30 million remodeling bond for South Side, or the $60 million bond for NSHS if they grab that one, only to have it turned into a charter school. But she saw nothing ironic with spending another $1 billion or so to remodel other district schools a few years ago which might also get taken over down the road. Pissing that money away was "sensible".

The JG and the district are in la la land. We can only hope the IDE brings them back to reality.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Where is Wolcotville?

Today's Sentinel had a letter from Richard Poor of Wolcotville, suggesting to FWCS parents that they need to make their complaints about FWCS known to the school board. The only difference between talking to our school board and talking to a brick wall is that the head brick, Mark GiaQuinta, will have the police haul you out of the room if you get too uppity. Just to make sure they don't get embarrassed, they won't let the public speak until after the meeting is adjourned and the TV cameras are turned off. As board member John Peirce opined, " why let the public use our facilities to criticise us?".

Then Mr. Poor suggests using Wendy's upcoming evaluation as an opportunity to change. Apparently he doesn't know she has a no cut contract and that her performance has no bearing on her continued employment. Never did since the day she was hired for that matter.

Must be a different world up there in Wolcotville.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gaming the tests makes AYP meaningless

As expected, grades 3-8 across the state, not just FWCS, got "better" this year as test difficulty on the ISTEP+ dropped in the second year after moving to spring testing. Whereas 47% of middle and elementary schools were in the watch or probation category, that number dropped to 27% in just the last year. Anyone who would bet money that such an improvement is possible in one year, should be taking out credit default swaps.

With high school testing changing from Graduation Qualifying Exams to End of Course Assessments, the state has not yet decided how to determine AYP for the high schools. When ECA's were give two years ago, the results were not counted. The statewide passing rates were then around 40%. Last spring they came up to about 60%. Again such an "improvement" is not possible in one year without dumbing down the tests. Despite easier tests, the results for our local high schools, especially the LEAD schools are still so bad (around 50% passing in English and 20% in math) that it would be hard to get worse. All five FWCS high schools are now on academic probation. How can the high schools all get worse while the lower grades are all doing better? They can't.

So you can bet that the ECA's will get easier again next year and our high schools will dodge the bullet. The state doesn't really want to take them over anyway. But to avoid that by gaming those tests they will also lose their credibility. FWCS didn't have any credibility to start with. With the IDE declaring victory, we'll have to see if the Republican legislature figures out what's going on. But don't bet on that either.

Friday, November 12, 2010

JG finally writes about high school scores

Today's JG article about the high school ECA's, coming well after the elections naturally, is pretty much on target about the miserable state of our high schools. The high schools are at the end of the line, where the rubber meets the road, so to speak and show the effect of socially promoting half our students through middle school. What the article didn't contain were the individual scores. Although no FWCS high school looks good, the LEAD schools are awful especially in Algebra I, where NSHS LEADs with 32% passing, followed by Wayne at 20% and SSHS at 19%.

In FWCS' defense the ECA's are harder than the GQE's they replaced (just as the spring 3-8 ISTEPs were easier). The state dropped 6% in both math and English vs. the GQE's, but even after adding 6% to FWCS scores they would still be bad. Well at least we won't have to endure another unctuous press conference, just the usual blather by Krtista Stockman.

We have two new board members now, Julia Hollingsworth and Lisa Olinger who actually know what's going on in our classrooms. Whether they can bring the rest of the board into reality remains to be seen. And the reality is that, even if everything went well at lower grade levels, it would be a decade or more before the LEAD high schools would come back. If I were GiaQuinta, I would be begging Tony Bennett to take them off Wendy's hands.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A "Canterbury Tale" for election day

According to the recently released scores on the high school End of Course Exams ( an embarrassment still being "vetted" by Wendy until after the election) only 20 % of the students at my Alma mater, SSHS, now a "LEAD" school , passed the state test over the Algebra I course they had just taken. At Canterbury school the passing rate was 100%. There is one Canterbury student, however, who has not been able to receive credit for passing the ECA because he didn't take a course called "Algebra I" and the bureaucrats at the IDE don't know how to deal with that. Oh, yeah, the student was a fourth grader.

Forty years ago there was no Canterbury. There was no need for a Canterbury because parents with talented children wouldn't have been concerned about sending them to FWCS. But even though incumbent FWCS board President Mark GiaQuinta, wasn't intimately familiar with the situation at South Side, he knew enough to send his kids to Canterbury High School instead.

Can our high schools ever regain their former excellence? Not with a board whose purpose is celebrating the satus quo. Not with a board that wouldn't address reality without the threat of state intervention. Not with a board that isnt' willing to start with K-3 and insure the gains there eventually pay off in the high schools. Not with this board.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mitch to Tower , " Everything looks good from 30,000 ft".

At a candidates seminar for the "BIZPAC" endorsement (rigged for a predetermined outcome) incumbent Mitch Sheppard gave her philosophy for school board governance as "taking a view from 30,000 feet". If you had flown in an airplane over lower Manhattan in the summer of 2008, Wall Street would have looked great from 30,000 ft. If you had been sitting in the boardrooms of Lehman's, AIG, Merrill, Wachovia or any other financial firm about to crater, everything would have looked good from the top floors of their headquarters. If you're sitting on the board in the Grile Center everything looks as good as what Wendy tells you.

That situation will continue if the candidates endorsed by such "experts" as BIZPAC and the JG make up next board. The "experts" are only slightly less informed about the situation in our classrooms than our board members. The problem is in our classrooms. The solutions have to come from people who have been in the classrooms. No one who has been in the schools would believe that last spring's increase in 3-8 ISTEP+ passing rates showed a real improvement. But that's what our board believes because they have no first hand knowledge of the reality in our buildings. Maybe that's what the public believes as well, even after they eventually see the miserable results from the high school ECA's. We'll see Tuesday.

Friday, October 29, 2010

School Takeovers Imminent for NSHS and SSHS?

The JG editorial page reported this morning that the Indiana Department of Education may be ready to turn failing schools, including NSHS and SSHS over to charter operators after the election. The state will be formulating rules for the handover, which could presumably occur any time after that.

When the district did their LEAD school shuffle it seemed likely that the state would at least give them some time to see how they performed. On the other hand, last spring's high school End of Course Examination (ECA) results for SSHS and NSHS (which have been kept out of the papers and off TV prior to the election) are so bad that the IDE may feel, as I do, that improvement is unlikely without intervention, at least until elementary school improvements filter up.

Of course at the end the JG laments the loss of control by our locally elected board. Hey, if it happens, it happened on their watch. And the JG has endorsed all but one incumbent for reelection for the "progress" they district's made, like making AYP when the tests got easier. How much more evidence of the impotence of our board do we need to see?.

By the way, "Waiting for Superman" is playing at the RAVE. If it doesn't shake you up, go ahead and vote for the incumbents.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Link to High School ECA Test scores

At Monday's board meeting Wendy said they needed to "vet" the scores for the individual schools before making a public release. They are in fact already public in an EXCEL spreadsheet on the IDE web site given below:


Then click on the link above the summary table "Statewide ECA 2009-10 Summary"

Maybe after the election so incumbent board members don't have to explain them before that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


So where are the endorsements and campaign contributions from the teachers' union this year? So far we haven't seen anything - no candidate interviews, no announcements, nothing. As those who primped and preened for their union money in the past have found out, the biggest obstacle to improving our schools, next to the demographics, is the teachers' union. If they were really expecting to make a difference in student achievement, they've since found that FWEA was not going to cooperate.

The union knows neither the current board nor the candidates most likely to be elected to the next board are going to pubicly talk about the situation in the classrooms. The teachers themselves won't even do that. The local board has no other stick over the teacher's union. The contract is set up so that it continues as is even if the board votes against it. The union is not willing to sacrifice to save the jobs of younger teachers in the face of budget cuts, nor are they willing to be flexible in reassignments to help in the struggling schools. The only thing that has motivated them to accept the "LEAD" school redesign so far is the threat of a state takeover and loss of Title I money. They don't want to hear about evaluations or pay based on student performance. And they won't cooperated in extending the "LEAD" concept to other schools. In other words the union is not "about the kids".

Our Democratic school board, even if they really want to do the right thing, will be stymied by the union whose money bought the support of our Democratic politicians. So the only hope for change will have to come from Indianapolis. It's possible that a Republican House and Senate would repeal the law that gave Indiana teachers the right to unionize. That would at least give give our board some degree of local control over the fate of our district. But for our Democratic board to actually support such an outcome is inconceivable.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

FWCS high schools achieve record decrease in scores

The Indiana Department of Education finally released the results of the End of Course Assessments (ECA's) given in the high schools last spring. These replaced the Graduation Qualifying Exams (GQE's) formerly given in Grade 10 in the Fall, as all testing including the 3-8 ISTEP+ was moved to spring. The FWCS results showed an 8% decrease in Algebra scores and a 5% decrease in English scores compared to the 2008 GQE's.

What the scores really mean, however, is only that the tests got harder. The statewide scores also decreased by about 5% in each category, so relative to the state FWCS can claim they stayed about even. I saw the algebra ECA last year and it was more rigorous than the GQE.

The problem is that when the ISTEP+ scores came out last spring FWCS claimed a record improvement in passing rates, even though their scores increased by the same amount as the state overall. In other words their improvement in the ISTEP+ was due to an easier test, like their decrease in the ECA was due to a more difficult test. That also means they made AYP because the ISTEP+ got easier, not because the kids got smarter or everybody worked harder.

The algebra passing rates at the "LEAD" high schools - 20% at Wayne, 19% at SSHS, 32% at NSHS - are pathetic. These are on a test taken right after completing the course. But that will make it easier to improve next year, right?

I'm looking forward to the explanations at the press conference and the JG editorial page.

Friday, October 22, 2010

LEAD school process can't be undone, Leo

News Sentinel editor Leo Morris has urged everyone to vote in the upcoming election. He's especially concerned about the school board since he thinks a new board might undo the changes the district made under the LEAD school process. But that's not an option. The process for every school is spelled out in a lengthy agreement between the Indiana Department of Education and FWCS. In effect it's a contract that would result in a state takeover if the terms are not met. The documents are available on the IDE web site if you want to slog through them. Maybe Mr. Morris got his false information from a lawyer, probably the same one who told him he had to stay on the board to make sure Wendy would succeed.

I slogged through the agreement for Wayne High School which analyzes the causes for their failure and prescribes all the corrective actions to be taken. Unfortunately it says NOTHING about the fact that more than half the students coming into Wayne are unprepared for high school, having been socially promoted through middle school. That's something else that won't be undone until the elementary and middle schools feeding Wayne get fixed, which will take a decade under the best of circumstances. That's fine as long as they're honest about it, which they're not. Which means Mr. Morris' lawyer will have something to keep him busy for a while.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

JG prints great school reform article - REALLY!

Today's Perspective section of the JG featured a "manifesto" for change written for the Washington Post by the chancellors and superintendents of some of the nations largest public school systems. One of them is Eugene White, Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, who came from FWCS (how did we let him get away?).

Their biggest emphasis is on the importance of teacher quality and the obstacles that teachers unions place in the way of hiring, evaluating, retaining and rewarding the very best teachers for our public schools. They point out that no business, including the ones I worked in for thirty years could survive without the ability to make personnel decisions based on performance, a practice which is adamantly opposed by teachers' unions.

They call for having the courage to close or restructure low performing schools and to accept viable charter schools as an alternative to provide competition to government run public schools. In the case of FWCS that would mean having the courage to act without the threat of a state takeover and without the restraints of teacher seniority and the honesty to point out that "improvements" in test scores have to be relative to their competition. It would mean worrying about their own problems instead of fighting to keep charter schools out of the city.

It's all about how we stack up against the competition - locally, nationally and internationally. We must realize, no matter what school district we live in, that this country can't fix it's broader economic problems and economic inequities without facing up to the education gap within the US.

So, Tracy, thanks for publishing the article. The only thing better would have been if the JG had written it - like maybe about eight years ago. Maybe next time.


Monday, October 11, 2010

FWCS makes AYP - "Mission Accomplished"

In a competetive world what matters is how you compare to the next guy. For FWCS the comparisons are made against the state as a whole and against other competing districts in the county. So where do they stand now? After the spring ISTEP scores were released for grades 3-8 the District claimed a 6 point increase as a major victory. (I still haven't see the End of Course results for the high schools, so how they're being judged is a mystery). Then it turned out that the state average increased by about the same amount, so there was no real gain relative to the competition.

Passing rates are the main factor in determining AYP. True, the district has to meet the requirements in way more categories than most other districts. But since passing rates in the rest of the states increased by the same amount as ours, it looks like every other district in the state will also make AYP. So relative to the competition FWCS is in the same situation it was before. Well behind.

The test difficulty probably decreased this year after increasing last year when the tests were moved to spring. (Remember those kids who were crying and giving up last year because the test was just too hard?) It's like running the 100 meter dash with a 20 kph tailwind. Everybody runs a better time but the order of finish is the same. Like a tailwind, test difficulty and cut scores are always subject to variability so what counts is the space between the runners at the finish line. If the trailing runners are able to narrow the gap over time they will eventually be competetive and able to win.

As a measure of where the average student in FWCS stands with respect to one in SAC, AYP is totally irrelevant.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

JG posts answers to candidate questionnaires

Surprisingly, the JG is publishing the answers to all the questions asked of this fall's candidates verbatim. Overall I thought candidates for school board did a pretty good job representing their views. Not surprisingly the (like minded) incumbents had similar viewpoints. The two questions which I think need further elaboration concern school choice and improved achievement at the "LEAD" schools.

Giving parents a choice of schools outside their normal attendance area doesn't seem to bother anyone as long as schools have room. I think it weakens neighborhood schools but it's also possible some of these "neighborhood" schools wouldn't be viable without the kids who are bused there. I think that "choice" was just part of the original program resulting from the 1989 settlement of the lawsuit to narrow the minority achievment gap. That gap has not been reduced at all but the "choice" program has persisted.

The district hired extra teachers to improve minority achievement, using money (more than $100m over the years) diverted from the capital fund. That money would otherwise have gone into building upgrades and maintenance, which the district claimed needed to be made up by the $500m bond issue. A gross overstatement, only partly true. Where are those extra teachers, what are they teaching and what difference have they made? The other, probably bigger expense is the cost of "choice" busing contained in the $27m annual transportation fund. How much is being spent for busing kids to schools outside their normal attendance area? I'm guessing $10m a year but whatever it is, is it right to ask the taxpayers to pay for it?

The incumbent board members who are running all think that the balanced scorecard and shuffling of teachers and administrators as a result of failing to meet the requirements of PL221 are going to fix the achievement gap. They also believe the increased passing rate on the 2010 spring test was real. I couldn't disagree more on either point. The die is cast for these kids by the end of the third grade. The performance of the middle schools and the high schools depend almost entirely on having kids prepared coming out of elementary school. Until that happens NO REAL GAINS RELATIVE to the REST of the STATE will be realized. The biggest push first has to be in the elementary schools and it will take years for that to filter up through the higher grades. What happens to the "LEAD" middle and high schools in the meanwhile is anyone's guess, especially if Tony Bennett is gaming the tests. But after a decade of denial and procrastination, we shouldn't have much sympathy for the district if any of them are taken over by the state.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Challenge to the JG

It appears the JG editorial staff will not interview (all?) school board candidates as they have in the past. Instead they have requested candidates to respond to a questionnaire, which they will presumably use to choose whom they endorse.

I'm challenging the JG to publish the candidates' responses verbatim without editing or embellishment instead of using selected parts to support their predetermined views. If brevity is a problem tell the candidates to reduce them to a maximum word count. If the answers are incoherent, so be it. I'll stand by my answers and anything I've said in this blog over the past two years. Nothing I've written has been deleted or changed. I don't have a problem with any voter reading any blog in it's entirety, but I do have a problem with the JG using isolated pieces out of context as they've done in the past.

I would even suggest that both papers forego endorsements entirely. Print the candidates' views fairly and let the readers decide for themselves whom to vote for. But that's probably asking too much.

Friday, September 24, 2010

National Merit Scholarships, good news and bad news

The National Merit Scholarship foundation recently announced the semifinalists for Northeast Indiana. The good news is that FWCS has one semifinalist, Peter Manges, from Snider High School. Congratulations to Peter and good luck toward becoming a finalist. Actually luck has nothing to do with it. If he becomes a finalist, he will have earned it.

The bad news is that one semifinalist in all five high schools ties FWCS with home schoolers. Canterbury, where FWCS school board president Mark GiaQuinta sent his kids, had eight semifinalist, Dwenger and Homestead each had two and Carroll had one. Yeah, I know, it's not "fair" to expect kids from FWCS to do as well as those from suburban districts. It's more expedient to push them though our "LEAD" schools with social promotion and give them a diploma to get them out the door. Let them find out what "fair" means when they they get into the real world.

A long, long time ago my graduating class at SSHS had ten finalists and twice that number of semifinalists. My how things have changed. For the worse.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Volunteer for tutoring with United Way

United Way is trying to find 1000 volunteers to tutor in the region's elementary schools. Literacy by the end of the third grade is absolutely essential for any student's success in higher grades. The middle schools and high school's can't improve unless third grade literacy improves.

Providing one on one help works. You can only work with a few kids but on the other hand you actually see the result. Schools will never be able to pay for enough professionals to meet the need. The community has to step up or watch the slide in achievement continue.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Indy public schools almost number 2

After losing over 8000 students since 2003 to charter schools and flight to the suburbs, Indianapolis Public Schools is just barely larger than FWCS. Both have about 32,000 students. What's striking is that IPS spends about $500m per year versus $300m for FWCS. Apparently more money hasn't helped to improve the academics. So where does it all go?

Indianapolis voters also approved a major bond issue (bigger than the one FWCS proposed) two years ago to redo their buildings. Looks like better buildings don't help either, especially when you have to pay the extra taxes without any benefit in academic achievement.

So far FWCS is holding even, which they attributed to being more attractive to parents than charter schools. Well, maybe, but I don't think so. Indy has more charter schools because the the state legislature allowed the mayor to create them. Fort Wayne's mayor turned down that opportunity years ago. If Fort Wayne had more charter school options, especially on the south side of town, it would be a different story. Imagine on Wells street exceeded its official charter capacity this year, which naturally triggered a critical JG editorial yesterday. Good reason for Wendy and the JG to fight charters tooth and nail.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Harding HS gets NEW principal

EACS which has several schools in the same situation under PL221 as FWCS has hired a new principal, Kent Hoffman, at Harding High School. A new principal from New York City no less, not a principal transferred from another failing school like FWCS has at Wayne and South Side. Ahead of tonight's EACS board meeting to recommend a plan for reorganizing the district, it would seem that Harding might survive as is, despite the JG's never ending call for EACS to address its "academic inequalities".

What does that mean? Harding at 28.7% combined passing on the ISTEP and rising the last time the GQE was given in 2009, was doing better than Wayne at 25.7% and dropping. I've never heard any calls from the JG about FWCS needing to address academic inequality.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

People who live in glass houses...

The worst thing amidst all the calls for Kevin Brown to resign after his DUI arrest are the morality lectures. Today we got one from the JG citing the irony of Mr. Brown's proposal for an "ethics" code for board members at the board meeting the night of the incident. Well it may be ironic but there is in fact no 'ethics" code that has anything to do with morality so whatever happens is solely up to Mr. Brown. His term is over in three months and he will have to explain himself to voters in November to stay on the board.

So what else would be contained in an "ethics" code for school board members in addition to the DUI that could be applied ex post facto to Mr. Brown? Alcoholism, smoking pot, using hard drugs, adultery, reckless driving, conflicts of interest (like taking money from the teachers' union or building contractors), filing false campaign finance reports, unpaid parking tickets.......? Let's have a code and require all the current board members to sign a statement that they are innocent of all the above and anything else we can think of that would set a bad example for our kids.

Until that happens spare us the moralizing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Movie "Waiting for Superman" reveals "Inconvenient Truth"

Anyone wondering why a public education system conceived a hundred years ago can't adapt to the realities of the digital age should read the Sept. 20 issue of Time Magazine. The new film is by Davis Guggenheim, the director of "An Inconvenient Truth" and serves as the lead in to a 16 page report on public education. TIME describes a number of changes beginning to take hold, which it sees as a hopeful sign that reform is on the way.

Well, maybe. It's a long article but a story about teacher evaluations is indicative of the obstacles. A few weeks ago the Los Angele Times revealed that they had used improvement in test scores from students of 6000 district teachers to rate their effectiveness. Using "value added" statistical models they were able to reliably identify the worst and best teachers in their study. The results were consistent over seven years of data.

Predictably the teachers union called for a boycott of the paper but backed down. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asked why it took a newspaper to do what the school district should have done years ago? A few days later the LA school board endorsed using the data as part of future teacher evaluations and is now negotiating with the union to make it happen.

Unfortunately, the shame of failure is not going to motivate much of the education establishment to change. Like FWCS, most of them will need the threat of extinction staring them in the face. With a lack of public outrage, the push has to come from politicians with more courage than we're used to seeing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

No extra credit for feigned outrage

I agree Marlin Stutzman's attempt to recruit volunteers for his campaign through FWCS was inappropriate. And giving students extra credit for campaigning is also questionable, although FWCS teachers aren't all averse to such generosity, like how many cans math students collect in a can drive (can you count?), so they can give kids a passing grade.

But the official reaction is ludicrous. This incident would not even have come to light if Stutzman weren't a Republican, As far as I know every school board member is a Democrat. Krista Stockman owes her salary to their good will and as a former JG reporter probably has the same political leanings. But Stutzman's opponent for the house seat, Dr. Tom ("it's time we tried something new") Hayhurst, who campaigned for lifetime board member Steve Corona, made the biggest ass of himself by jumping on the bandwagon with his tirade. He gets no extra credit at all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

JG doesn't like Tony Bennett either

I missed both broadcasts of Tony Bennett's (if I call him Dr. Bennett, I'd be dissing Wendy) "State of Education" address, but I read it on line at the IDE website. It's basically the same thing I heard him say in Columbia City two weeks ago. Today we got Karen Frisco's take on the speech which she published for the edification of "those unfamiliar with Indiana classrooms". That would include Ms. Frisco herself as well as every member of our school board except Kevin Brown.

Ms. Frisco's column has two headings, "Teacher Evaluations" and "Seniority", which are interrelated. She wants to give the "unfamiliar" ones the impression that teacher evaluations are related to a teachers ability to convey knowledge to their students and that they are therefore a factor in decisions on pay and retention. In fact the evaluations are totally subjective, usually a checklist, with no measurable substantiation. They're circular file quality.

Teachers can be fired for a number of reasons through a convoluted (union contractual) process but incompetence is not one of them. No principal is going to go through the trouble of getting rid of a teacher for incompetence when the evidence won't hold up in court. It's easier to leave them alone and hope they trip themselves up for something like insubordination. The only way to get a meaningful, quantitative reading on teaching ability is to tie it to standardized test scores, which naturally they are all adamantly against. It's "not fair". It can be made statistically fair (the LA Times newspaper even did it) but they don't want to hear that. So the only factor in pay and retention is seniority.

Under the heading of "Resources" Ms. Frisco goes off the deep end. Because there was no ISTEP testing in the seventies, she says Bennett's claims of stagnant achievement since the seventies are unsubstantiated and that the doubling of cost to educate kids since then doesn't consider inflation. Bennett's claims in fact are substantiated by national test data and the inflation adjusted cost as well as the number of adults employed per child have doubled in the last several decades. Indiana is no exception to the national trend toward mediocrity in our public schools.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

OMG, Tracy Warner doesn't like me

I don't subscribe to the JG anymore, so I didn't know until someone told me this morning that Mark GiaQuinta's best friend, Tracy Warner was already bad mouthing me. He referred to disparaging remarks I've made in this blog about Wendy and most of the current board. I should thank Tracy for calling attention to my blog and invite anyone who cares, to read it.

I haven't deleted anything I've posted since the last election. The blog represents a counterpoint to the self serving drivel coming from the JG and FWCS. By the way Tracy, it was Karen Frisco who recently pointed out that all the "LEAD" school were in the high poverty area south of Coliseum. And it's also Karen, the chief FWCS apologist, who's been telling us for years how difficult it is to turn an urban district around. In fact the "FWCS can't be fixed" blog was a direct response to one of Karen's columns telling us how nothing has worked to turn urban schools around.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Did I hear that right?

The other night I was watching one of the local news stations (which is unusual for me). After the usual bit on the most recent freeway car chase, (Mark Mellinger used to be a creditable newscaster) they had the superintendent of SAC talking about their budget reductions. He said they were preparing for the next round of cuts with possible cuts in salaries and health care benefits for teachers. Teachers actually prepared to sacrifice on behalf of the kids?

Unbelievable! Time to join the exodus, move to Aboite and vote in their next referendum to keep more teachers employed!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dr. Bennett and the coming state takeover

Today we got Karen Frisco's take on the Columbia City presentation by Dr. Bennett and the IDE, which seemed to portend a state takeover of our FAIL schools. Eight years after the initial shock of seeing first hand the situation in the classrooms of my old high school, all I can say is "I told you so". After years of writing to board members, to Wendy, to the papers and in this blog I failed to convince anyone to change course. The Code Blue remonstrance campaign for "Academics not Buildings" had no effect. Maybe I should have been more subtle. Apparently Dr. Bennett was unimpressed with the musical chairs "reform" they just went through. He showed he's not a fool. We'll see how subtle he is if he gets his hands on the FAIL schools.

At the end Karen bemoans the possible fate of our schools under "the governor, his hand picked state board of education and the state superintendent" instead of our locally elected school board. Come on! The "local" FWCS board is hand picked by the superintendent, the teachers union, local building contractors, the Inskeeps and their editors at the JG. The state can't do any worse than the "locals", maybe they can even do better.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dr. Bennett comes to Columbia City

Yesterday I attended the presentation by State Supt. of Public Instruction in Columbia City. The most interesting part (to me), on school and teacher evaluation and accountability, was given by a member of his staff (impressive), who came out of "Teach America". She descibed a model based on student growth as well as their achievement level. Each student's growth would be compared to students at the same level across the state. So district, school and teacher effectiveness would be rated on how much improvement they could generate starting from the same baseline.

They're still working on the exact formula. But Dr. Bennett did point out that with the current checklist systems, 99% of teachers' performances are rated as satisfactory. In other words the current evaluations are subjective and meaningless. He claims 97% of Indiana teachers said they would prefer an objective evaluation.

They also proposed rating high schools' performance according to their ability to prepare students for work and college. That part is also a work in progress. They just changed from using the Graduating Qualifying Exam in the fall to the End of Course Exam in the spring, so high school evaluation is already in a state of flux. The three FWCS high schools now in trouble with the state could be in limbo until this gets sorted out. That may be exactly what they were hoping for to take the pressure off for a while.

Whether Dr. Bennett can get his program past the ISTA (Indiana StatusQuo Teachers' Association) remains to be seen. They wasn't a lot of applause in the room.

Monday, August 9, 2010

FWCS "turnaround under way" too late

About 800 teachers are currently in training sessions for the district's 11 FAIL schools. FAIL is not an acronym for anything, like the "LEAD" schools FWCS came up with. It's just an accurate adjective for their status. Karen Frisco editorialized on the "profound" changes under way in the JG today. As always the real story is not what's printed in the JG editorial pages.

For starters, why is this happening now? When PL 221 was passed by the legislature ten (or so) years ago, it should have been obvious that there was going to be trouble in River City. So why didn't FWCS try to do something before now? Basically they just blew it off. They didn't want to hear it. Year after year we just heard about their concerns about lack of progress, that they were always striving to do better and working very hard to improve... yada, yada , yada. They were actually more concerned about remodeling their buildings. What we have now is the result of years of miserable leadership by the administration and the board. I would add FWEA but their mission has always been self preservation. The "Proven Leadership" you saw on Steve Corona's campaign billboards two years ago really meant "Proven Incompetence".

Then Karen says "not all teachers were eager" to go FAIL schools. I'll say. The law requires that 50% of the teachers in a FAIL school be changed. So about 400 teachers were forced to go through an interviewing process by giving them layoff notices. Those who got the notices were mostly the ones with less than 10 years seniority. The teachers who got to stay at their current schools without interviewing were the older ones, who may or may not have been the most competent. The "best" of the laid off teachers were then picked by the "new" (that's another story) principals of the FAIL schools. The "worst" of the laid off teachers were mostly assigned to other schools that had vacancies. So schools that were doing OK got the short end of the stick on teaching talent. How that affects those schools is of little concern at the moment. What's more important is that FWEA preserved jobs.

FWCS is actually divided into two systems by Coliseum Boulevard. The "poor" district south of Coliseum if failing and probably beyond saving. For twenty years the district has been busing (at great cost to taxpayers) as many kids as they can accommodate to schools north of Coliseum to even out the problem. But "school choice" didn't save the FAIL schools and is only speeding up the deterioration of the entire district.

Then Karen says the community leaders and taxpayers should take note and support the profound changes going on at FWCS. Never mind that their ONLY motivation for change is self preservation in light of a possible state takeover. What taxpayers should really consider is that over the last several decades the (inflation adjusted) cost of educating a student has doubled along with the number of adults employed to do that. And what do we taxpayers have to show for it in terms of academic achievement? Locally, eleven FAIL schools with more to come. If you're incensed about bailing out failing Wall Street firms and the auto industry, think about what we're doing here year after year.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

On the up side.....

School districts are short of money and feeling the pinch like ordinary taxpayers. Half empty schools may finally have to close. Indiana lowers the bar and adopts "common core' standards while Fordham Foundation president Chester Finn says they've done a "miserable job" implementing the ones they have. No RTT money is forthcoming and FWCS has to play musical chairs with administrators and teachers to try to fool Tony Bennett into thinking they're actually changing something.

But there is some good news coming from Milwaukee where the teachers' union is standing up for their members. Despite losing about 500 members to layoffs, the union is suing their district to get free Viagra and other erectile dysfunction meds back into their health care benefits. The school board, deciding that these were "recreational" drugs, eliminated them, saving about $800K per year. But the union disagrees, arguing that erectile dysfunction is a major problem in a profession where seniority rules reward old age instead of competence.

FWEA should take notice.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

IDE will train "turnaround" principals at Marian College

As an indication that the state may actually be serious about taking over chronically under performing schools, the IDE has chosen Marian College, in Indianapolis to train new principals as turnaround specialists and experts in teacher evaluation, including the use of statistics like test scores. The justification is that 60% of student achievement is tied to the abilities of principals and teachers (how they came up with that number was not explained). Naturally the state's teacher training universities who gave us our current crop of educators call this an unnecessary duplication of effort. But according to Andrea Neal's column in today's Sentinel and Indy Star the whole idea is to turn out principals who will operate differently than the ones we have now. And perhaps the IDE realizes that playing musical chairs with principals (and teachers) of failing schools a la FWCS won't fix anything.

Of course there are a lot of unanswered questions about the overall strategy. Where these new principals will come from and what their backgrounds are has not been revealed. And if they can identify bad teachers but can't improve them, what can they do to remove them? It's also unclear how well a new high school principal can succeed, if he has no control over social promotion in the middle schools feeding his school. It seems unlikely that taking over a small number of schools in a system which is systemically failing like FWCS is going to work unless the whole system is taken over.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mitch wants empty schools available for charters

Chanting their version of a Randy Newman tune the JG is still singing "Don't want no charter schools 'round here". Naturally they're opposed to making empty schools like Elmhurst available to charters because it would draw money from FWCS. It especially galls them that the charter might be run by a for profit company like Imagine. So what's the problem? If Imagine fails it will go out of business and disappear. FWCS has failed south of Coliseum but there's virtually no way to make them disappear.

We no longer have an academically viable public high school on this side of town. SSHS, NSHS and Wayne can't be fixed by this district. In the words of Abilgail and Stephan Thernstrom in "No Excuses", union dominated public districts "can't solve the problem because they are they problem". Fixing them will require a state takeover and/or competition which will force changes or put them out of business. Otherwise they will only preserve the status quo for the benefit of district employees.

At the end Ms. Frisco says Mitch's proposal will put a "long term burden on the taxpayers". When did the JG suddenly become sympathetic to the plight of the taxpayers? What is this long term burden assertion based on? Nothing more than the need to fill in some space at the end of the editorial. The ultimate burden on the taxpayers is the 50% of the kids coming out of FWCS high schools with an eighth grade education.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Political Savvy" needed to pass school bond referendums

Indiana University reported that 42% of school bond referendums submitted to voters since the adoption of the new law were approved. In contrast to predictions that no one would ever be able to pass another bond issue, IU concluded that getting a bond issue passed depended on convincing voters that the district was after "needs", not "wants". Sounds like the most important thing is to tell the truth.

What honesty has to do with "political savvy" was not explained.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

FWCS answer to Elmhurst lawsuit - Stall

FWCS continues trying to delay justifying in court why they decided to close Elmhurst. Undoubtedly they think that stalling until school starts and perhaps cleaning out the building before that time will make a judge more likely to agree that the issue is moot. But if their case for the closure is well justified and well documented why not just present it in court and get it over with?

Probably because their case is bogus. If you've already made up your mind what you want to do, it's no problem to come up with something, like say a matrix, that makes the numbers come out the way you want them to. Having years of experience telling management what they wanted to hear, I could have come up with a matrix to close Wayne for example. But that's not saying FWCS would stoop that low.

And why gut the building anyway unless they're afraid it will end up as a charter school? Frank Gray's column in the JG last week was searching for uses for the building, but not that one. That's one the JG would never mention. Would FWCS also spend taxpayer money to tear it down to keep it from "falling into the wrong hands"? Like in Gary which has 20 schools standing empty but is trying to figure out how to keep them away from charters. So much so that Mitch is trying to pass a law to enable charters to use them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

End of Course Exams, another log Wendy can fall off

Last week every school district in the state got a gift of a five point increase in test scores courtesy of the Indiana Department of Education and State Superintendent Tony Bennett. By moving the test to spring, dumbing it down and adjusting cut scores, Mr. Bennett was able to claim victory for himself and everybody in the public schools.

But these scores were only for grades 3-8. In August the state is supposed to release the "End of Course" (EOC) or Core Forty test results given to high school students to cover their first algebra and English/language courses. These have replaced the Graduation Qualifying Exams covering similar material previously given to high school sophomores. But again they're muddying the waters and shifting the baselines so that we won't know where we're at for another few years. And you can bet that this will give FWCS another opportunity for mutual backslapping and self congratulations.

I saw a sample algebra test last year, and it was a surprisingly thorough test. Not surprising was the overall state passing rate of just 40%. The FWCS passing rate was an abysmal 20%. At Elmhurst it was 8%. These results were not published on the state web site and were not mentioned by FWCS. This is supposed to be a test given to high school freshmen the term after they have taken the course. You can bet more than 20% at FWCS passed the first algebra course and had moved on to geometry and advanced algebra even though they didn't have a clue how to do beginning algebra. It was so bad that the first 30 minutes of geometry and advanced algebra classes had to be dedicated to reteaching freshman algebra so they could do better next time. Of course that meant those courses were only able to cover 2/3 of the material they should have. But that's OK because there are no standardized tests over those courses.

So now that we have declared victory in 3-8, what's going to happen in the high schools? Mr. Bennett can't afford to see a disaster in the high school results that contradicts the 3-8 results. So look for the EOC's to show some really dramatic statewide improvement over last year, again courtesy of the IDE. Then consider our three designated failing high schools. With a change in the test and artificially inflated results, these schools may instantly be turned into incredible success stories. Had she known the IDE would make it that easy to fool us, Wendy could have avoided all those painful pink slips and administrator shuffles.

We're all looking forward to the next press release and another jubilant press conference. Let's see if the local media, like Fort Wayne's only "dedicated education reporter" on WANE, catches on this time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

If it sounds too good to be true, it's FWCS test scores

The Indiana Department of Education today announced that the statewide scores for language arts improved by about 3% while the scores for math improved by about 4%. That means the real improvement for FWCS is about 2% in each category, rather than the much celebrated 5/6% we heard in the district's premature announcement. The statewide improvement may be the result of moving the test to spring or that the test got easier but either way the FWCS results are far from impressive. At least they're up but the increase is about as much as we could expect, considering the difficult task facing the district.

All the hype we heard from the district and the JG a few weeks ago was just that, hype and BS. Lets see the reruns on WANE-TV of Wendy and her buffoons patting themselves on the back. Better yet lets have another press conference or JG editorial apologizing for misleading the public about their results. Maybe John Peirce can stop drinking the Wendy Kool-Aid and write another JG column to set the record straight. Fat chance!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Outsourcing FWCS custodians

Last night the FWCS board voted 6 to 1 in favor of outsourcing 200 custodial jobs to Sodexo. Current FWCS custodians will be allowed to interview for jobs with the new provider but even if they are hired, will take a beating in wages and benefits.

I'm not a fan of outsourcing but in 35 years in private industry I never worked in a building where custodians, either for cleaning or building maintenance, were on the company payroll. In the mid nineties we even outsourced the security guards at the plant I worked in. What's obvious from the pay cuts the FWCS custodians will have to take (from around $18/hr. to $11/hr) is that they were making way more than the going rates outside the public sector.

I agree with the custodians that there is a value in having district employees dealing with the kids in our schools. But how do you quantify that value? I have no information about the process leading to the board's decision. Sodexo will charge the district a management fee which will be added to the hourly pay of the custodians. If this were given to the employees, presumably they would still have done better as part of FWCS than they will when they are outsourced. But apparently they couldn't accept the necessary concessions.

So both sides lose.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

JG jumps on the premature bandwagon

Today Karen Frisco joined in the celebration of a 5% increase in FWCS test scores. Unfortunately, what matters is not the absolute change in scores, but how they compare to the state as a whole. It's all relative, especially when spring testing is new and tests and grading were adjusted after the change to spring testing last year. But announcing the results before the state results are published makes it look like the district's biggest concern is maximizing the boost to its image. Last year, when the district underperformed the state, the results were totally ignored.

If the improvement versus the state turns out to be smaller when all the numbers come out, which is likely, will they have another press conference? Even if the improvement holds up, the premature celebration detracts from FWCS' credibility. And if the numbers don't hold up, .... well, let's wait and see.

Friday, June 4, 2010

FWCS test scores, smarter kids or easier test?

Yesterday FWCS announced it's spring ISTEP scores had increased by 5 to 6 percent across the board at all grade levels. These are preliminary numbers but the district, apparently desperate for good PR, jumped out and announced the results before the IDE put out any numbers for the statewide results. Spring testing was started last year after fall tests were given for the last time. Last year FWCS spring scores were 3.4% lower than their fall scores, while statewide the scores were 1.6% lower. I don't remember a press conference last year announcing FWCS had underperformed versus the rest of the state but maybe I just missed it.

Last year's spring tests were different from the fall tests with different benchmarks for passing. Those were adjusted last summer after complaints that the tests were too hard. Until we see statewide scores from the IDE, the rise in FWCS scores means nothing. No other district has announced their scores but I do know the Indianapolis Public Schools also saw higher scores. I would bet that when the IDE releases statewide scores, FWCS improvements will be no better than the state as a whole. In fact I'll give $100 to Wendy's favorite charity if FWCS outperforms the state wide score by 2% or more. If not, the loser will give $100 to the "Save Elmhurst" group.

Any takers? Mark? Steve? Maybe we should get all the numbers before we celebrate.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

FWCS board reduces waste

The board of We Are Your Schools (the WAYS) announced last night that the five minutes allotted to members of the public to address the board at the end of their meeting would be reduced to three minutes. That's a two minute reduction in waste of breath telling them what they don't want to hear.

Personal attacks on board members are no longer allowed. Since public animosity toward the board is usually a given, expressing it in a public meeting is unnecessary and a waste of time.

Monday, May 10, 2010

New Tech at Wayne, how's that going?

One of the segments of "High School Reinvent" was the establishment of a high tech career school at Wayne. Operating with project based learning and separated physically from the rest of the building at a cost of $2million, the school was initially started with about 100 students, with the intention of expanding it to several hundred based on demand.

The district reportedly is having trouble even keeping the enrollment at 100. The word is that it's too challenging, too hard. There are no prerequisites for enrolling, so presumably they're getting the same 50% of the overall population that's coming into all FWCS high schools unprepared. So if they want to keep the failing kids coming they're going to have to dumb it down.

These graduates would theoretically be prepared for the kind of jobs that business leaders tell us they can't find qualified applicants for. New Tech was probably worth a shot on this scale to see how it pans out but the problem in this district goes down to the lower levels, especially the middle schools so the approach has to change. New Tech implies competency in literacy and math, which half of FWCS students don't have.

Let's see if Steve Corona comes up with another $35 million proposal for a high tech career center for kids who can't do math. If we build it will they come?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Who cares about local control of schools?

Today we were treated two articles in the Perspective section of the JG lamenting the loss of local control of public schools. And who exactly is upset about losing local control? Why the "locals" who are currently in control and don't want to lose it of course. In the first article Diana Showalter, superintendent of North Manchester Schools, is quoted as saying "when we can't control our own destiny through the collection of property taxes, we are setting ourselves up for a difficult time". In other words, "When we lost the power to tax people out of their homes to preserve the jobs, salaries and benefits of our unionized teachers, we put them in the same boat as the taxpayers who have to adapt to economic reality." Well, amen to that, Diana!

The other article deals with FWCS efforts to keep the state from taking over North Side and South Side High Schools next year and nine other schools after that. Here we're told that although many districts were caught by surprise by the state's vigorous implementation of PL221 sanctions, FWCS already knew they were falling behind and work was already under way to improve these schools. Actually the state showed up unannounced and unexpected at every targeted school in the state including those in FWCS. NSHS and SSHS are failing all right but Wendy, FWEA and the board didn't want to hear it and blew off PL221 (and NCLB) until the Cambridge group was knocking on the door. They were having too much fun telling us how hard they were working and closing board meetings singing Kumbaya. Does anyone believe they would be going through this current excercise of musical chairs with administrators and teachers if the state didn't have a gun to their heads?

Then at the end Wendy lamented thay they couldn't think outside of the box when they were boxed in by the state. A unionized, urban school district that thinks outside the box? Please, we weren't all socially promoted.

The only people who care about all this are the ones who sit through those useless board meetings because nobody who doesn't work for the district bothers to attend them. So bring it on Dr. Bennett. You can't do any worse than the "locals".

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The infallibility of the school board

Now ms. Frisco is telling the Elmhurst supporters to get over it because the courts shouldn't be able to reverse the decision of elected school board members (like in Brown vs. the Board of Education). You voted them into office so you should accept their wisdom. As if having the courts overrule elected officials is unheard of (didn't GiaQuinta sue the mayor a while back?). Wendy's rubber stamps are sort of like the Pope and his cardinals. They're infallible between elections. To the JG, FWCS is infallible for eternity.

The reason for keeping Elmhurst open is that it's still a viable alternative to the other three failed high schools south of Coliseum. Unfortunately, even if it stays open, that won't be true much longer under a management on Clinton Street that's determined to close it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Suit's on

Yesterday the Vegeler Law Office officially filed suit on behalf of Elmhurst parents to keep the school open. How this will all play out is any one's guess, and the most urgent question at the moment is whether the school will at least be open this fall. The constitutional question about access to education to me boils down to whether someone with a child at Elmhurst should be forced to send them to Wayne. If it were me, the answer would be a resounding "NO WAY!".

A more interesting point of discovery will come in examining the district's finances to see whether there's another way to find the money needed to keep Elmhurst open. My guess is that there's enough deadwood in the "fiefdoms" in the Grile Center and the schools to pay for that and for the additional 8 million they will have to cut next year. Just finding out what FWCS has squirreled away should be worth the cost of the lawsuit. They are "Our Schools" after all.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cambridge consultants' assessment of SSHS spot on

South Side High School got mediocre (poor to fair) ratings in the recent follow-up by the Cambridge group on behalf of the IDOE. Krista Stockman's comment was "we knew most... of this already" (but we just didn't do anything about it until the state came in with a hammer). That's right. In fact I sent Wendy a letter eight years ago after subbing at South Side, describing much of what Cambridge said. I sent Mark GiaQuinta a similar letter after he was elected to the board. (wonder what happened to those letters.) Steve Brace criticized Cambridge for denigrating the staff after spending so little time and effort. Well, Steve, after spending a year at South as a volunteer tutor in freshman math classes, I can say that the consultant has a remarkably good grasp of the situation. But you know that, don't you, Steve?

The report is available on line as a PDF file
http://www.journalgazette.net/assets/pdf/JG71687413.PDF in last week's JG article. Much of the criticism falls on principal Thomas Smith who's strength is discipline and creation of an orderly environment. His weakness is lack of vision and management skill in carrying out an academic improvement strategy. He is also hampered by a top down administration on Clinton Street, which allows no discretion in devising different strategies or administering personnel. The straitjacket of a union contract was, of course, not explicitly mentioned. But now Mr. Smith is going to Wayne to straighten them out. Good luck with that.

I don't have anything against Mr. Smith. If the middle schools weren't dumping unprepared kids into South Side (as ordered by the top down administration on Clinton Street) he would probably do just fine. To expect anyone to succeed pulling up an anchor at the end of a broken chain is unrealistic, and I personally told him so. But he knew what he was getting into. And it will be worse at Wayne.

Friday, April 9, 2010

It ain't over 'till it's over

As Yogi Berra said a long time ago, back when FWCS was a great school district instead of another failing urban mess. Judging by Angie Hayden Sutton's letter which appeared in the JG this morning, apparently several weeks after it was written, FWCS never had any intention of doing anything but closing the school. The "fluff" JG editorial she mentions about kids adjusting to their new schools was written before the vote was taken, so even Karen Frisco knew it was a done deal. What Angie says is right on target and it would be a shame if the "Save Elmhurst" group accepts this decision without a challenge, in the courts if necessary.

But it's up to Elmhurst parents and alumni to take up the challenge, not just with words but with their wallets. There's still one high school on the south side of Fort Wayne that works and is worth saving as long as it can remain academically viable. Send a few dollars to the cause (Paypal, credit card, whatever, .... on their website http://sosehs.com/) and give Elmhurst a chance. You never know what you can do until you try.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wayne HS officially a failure, Elmhurst parents threaten to sue

The state DOE has officially added Wayne HS to its list of failing schools. It was already unofficially included, being on the district's list of "LEAD" schools. But being on the official list has triggered more anger from Elmhurst parents, many of who's kids have been slated to go to Wayne. Somehow they have awakened to the fact that three high schools which will take in most of the former Elmhurst students are all in the bottom 5% in the state's academic rankings and are all in danger of being taken over by the DOE. None have a realistic chance of improving, so they may soon be at the mercy of Tony Bennett and the governor whom the FWCS administration has taken great pains to vilify.

So the Elmhurst parents group that tried to save the school announced on Channel 21 news last night that they want to sue FWCS because forcing their kids into failing high schools violates their constitutional right to an equal education. Here's hoping they go ahead. There are plenty of other places to find the $2 million saved by closing Elmhurst and Pleasant Center that won't compromise academic achievement. They're just more uncomfortable for the administration to confront.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

FWCS can't be fixed

If events over the last year or two haven't convinced you that FWCS is going down the same path as every other urban school district, you can read it into today's Karen Frisco's JG editorial. Karen laments all the failed reforms that have been attempted like vouchers, charter schools, accountability testing, ending social promotion, NCLB, etc. She even faults Bill and Melinda Gates for spending their billions trying to fix urban schools. Somehow that's undemocratic because it takes away the power of democratically elected school boards. As if these idiots (Mark Twain's observation) know better than Bill and Melinda. Stop wasting your money guys and just let taxpayers keep wasting their money.

Notice that nobody, including Karen and especially our school district, ever comes straight out and admits that urban public education doesn't work, can't be fixed and inevitably ends up in suburban flight. So there's no point in criticising or trying to push the schools into doing anything different. And we could accept that if they weren't spending half our state tax money and patting themselves on the back with one hand at board meetings while they're picking our pockets with the other. If we could be sure that FWCS wouldn't go out with a $2 billion dollar building flame out like Kansas City, we could just ignore them and let nature take its course. Better just to leave them alone, if they would leave our pocketbooks alone.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Elmhurst students to see "Magic" of failing schools

Last night the board OK'd the closing of Elmhurst and Pleasant Center schools. The decision to close them was actually made four years ago by Wendy's Yellow Ribbon Task Force. Elmhurst was only taken off the table to minimize signatures on blue petitions in the remonstrance. Pleasant Center would already be closed if the bond issue had succeeded. Nothing anyone said in the recent public meetings to keep the schools open would have made any difference. People just got to vent but if they believed anyone on the board was listening with an open mind they were sadly mistaken. Actually either school could have been closed at any time after FWCS lost the petition drive, saving the taxpayers $2 million/yr. But the budget cuts gave her the political cover she needed to actually proceed. Fiscal responsibility hinges on having a good story tell angry parents.

The district will lose 91 teaching positions as well because the teachers union was unwilling to make any salary or health benefit concessions (concessions the rest of us have had to make in the recession) that would have saved fellow teachers' jobs. Retirements and turnover may reduce actual layoffs but that won't help kids in the classrooms.

Contrary to the bluster from Wendy and a board president who talked about the same "Magic" in the three "LEAD" schools as at Elmhurst, this district is in deep trouble. If you want to get another perspective on their situation read retired FWCS teacher Anne Rickert's guest column in yesterday's Sentinel. Her assessment is right on the money.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Worse than being waterboarded.

OK, I've never been waterboarded but it can't be any worse that sitting through the FWCS public hearing on closing Elmhurst and Pleasant Center at the Grile Center last night. Admittedly the board had to listen to some inane questions and comments but the pontification they gave in their responses was almost unbearable. Like GiaQuinta and Corona explaining why they sent their kids to private school. Hey guys, I would have done the same thing if I were in your shoes but I wouldn't sit up there and bullshit my way around it like you did.

After Elmhurst closes there will be three failing public high schools south of Coliseum Boulevard. Academically they are in the bottom 5% of the high schools in the state. Wayne is ranked close to the high school in the Marion County jail (Corona's former Gary high school is worse that that.) Their teachers and administrators are being forced through a ritual of reapplying for their jobs and musical chairs to keep the state off their backs for another year or two. That won't improve anything. Those teachers are no different than the ones in the the other schools in the district.

Wendy's strategy for turning this around is to first remove the stigma of losers by calling them "LEAD" schools. Then to fix them with Freshmen Academies, "High School Reinvent" and best of all the "Balanced Scorecard". That's not going to fix them for the reason Wendy inadvertently gave last night. The middle class parents have deserted the south side of town. They will eventually desert the area north of Coliseum.

Hopefully the State will come in and take the South half of the system away from Wendy and her clueless puppets and turn it into a charter system. They've cost us the right to local control.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

No concessions from FWEA. And you thought it was about the kids.

The tentative teachers contract contains no salary concession and retains pay increases by seniority. FWEA representative Steve Brace said any sacrifice should "not be made on the backs of teachers. This is a community problem".

That's right Steve, the sacrifice will be made on the backs of the taxpayers and the kids. And the younger teachers who will be laid off first. Sounds like Ron Gettlefinger of the UAW talking. Why don't you guys just drop that FW"Education"A charade and have the UAW negotiate for you. Then FWCS and the Big Three can go out of business together. Kansas City, Detroit, Fort Wayne here we come.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Time for a charter high school

Thursday night parents from Elmhurst will get another shot at talking to Wendy's brick wall at the Grile Center. With limited seating capacity in the board room, Wendy has at least limited the number of people who can get in and vent their frustration. You can't fault parents if they don't like the options facing their kids if Elmhurst closes. Wayne, with a 35% passing rate on the ISTEP is an academic disaster. South Side and North Side with passing rates around 45% are "LEAD" schools with virtually no chance of improving. Why should they be happy about sending their kids to South Side when school board president Mark GiaQuinta and their District 1 school board representative Steve Corona decided it wasn't good enough for their kids?

But the parents should consider that if Elmhurst stays open it will still be run and staffed from Clinton Street by an inept administration overseen by an incompetent board. FWCS has clearly shown a lack of imagination and flexibility. They're unable to adapt to the realities of their demographics and in all probability will continue to short change Elmhurst as the system's stepchild high school.

In the long run parents would be better off to organize with the goal of establishing a charter high school in the Southwest part of the district. Whether that school should occupy the existing Elmhurst building is an open question. It's an old building but still quite suitable. The reports about its deterioration were greatly exaggerated to justify closing it three years ago . Although not air conditioned, the building is still viable. Saving the building would save FWCS the demolition costs ($500,000 if I remember right from the bond issue) and provide a return from either a sale or a rental to the charter organization.

It may take some time to get the enrollment up to capacity but considering the alternatives south of Coliseum boulevard there is little doubt it could be done. With guidance from the city's existing charter school organization, a determined group of parents could make it happen. They've offered to work with the administration to find a way to keep it open, but if that doesn't work, cut the cord.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Like talking to a yawning brick wall

Like District 1 board member Steve Corona, the one who represents the interest of Elmhurst, I skipped the public hearing at Elmhurst last night. It sounded like most of the appeals were emotional, which will hold no sway with Wendy or the board. A parent might have said he didn't want his kids to go to Wayne because it's one of the twenty worst high schools in the state or to South Side, because it wasn't good enough for GiaQuinta's or Corona's kids. But there's no use getting pissed at Wendy, because she's still pissed that she didn't get to close the school three years ago. Corona was going to let her close it then but the board took it off the table because they thought it would make it easier to pass the bond issue. And besides that she has a five year no cut contract thanks to the brick wall you were talking to last night, a brick wall she and the teachers' union built.

You might have made some suggestions to cut costs. Why do they need four assistant principals, or half a dozen guidance counselors, or conflict mediators or teaching coaches, or armed police officers in a school with 900 kids.? How about dropping football (they don't have football at Canterbury do they?) or other sports or extra curricular activities. You might have even suggested a modest bond issue to fix what's really broken in the building (and it's not the foundation, the roof or the boilers). Sorry guys, but you're going to have to do better than you did last night, if you want to buy some time for your school.