Saturday, February 27, 2010

Again, no data, no credibility.

Yesterday the JG printed a column coauthored by Wendy on the success of their new teaching methods. At the end of the piece she cited Study Elementary school as an example that should be held high for all to see. But she had no data to support her lavish praise.

I've subbed and tutored at Study, an elementary school on Brooklyn Avenue (and enjoyed it by the way). The Indiana DOE web site data shows that Study has a considerably higher percentage of minority and free lunch children than the average FWCS elementary school. In the last ten years the ISTEP passing rates have improved from around 20% to a little over 60% but now appear to be tailing off. 60% is about the average for FWCS as a whole. So with a tremendous effort by principal Trudy Grafton (for whom I have great respect) and her staff, Study has managed to become average. That's actually quite an accomplishment considering the demographics but if the statistics had been included in the article, the the claims would have looked much less impressive. So the statistics were omitted. Without data, it's fluff.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wendy understands "salary compression"

Having missed last night's board meeting we have to go by Kelly Soderlund's snippets from the JG this morning. Responding to remarks about "covert raises" for FWCS administrators, Wendy said she failed to communicate the concept of salary compression to the community. That's true. The community thinks it's about the difference betweeen their salaries, which are being frozen, cut or eliminated by the recession versus the raises promised to FWCS employees by the board. The compression actually refers to the difference in raises between FWCS teachers and administrators as well as the differences between pay at FWCS versus other districts. Well, if these people can get a better deal somewhere else, I say go for it.

FWEA president Al Jaquay was upset because the board "broke their bond" with the union by covertly approving administrator raises while trying to freeze or cut teacher pay to avoid layoffs. That bond had been cemented by endorsing and financing the campaigns of five out of the seven current board members with union money. He thought they were bought and paid for.

Just for the record, when I ran for the board , I told FWEA that in the (unlikely) event I got their endorsement, I wouldn't take their money. Of course saying that made getting their endorsement impossible.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Moves in "Your Schools" lack transparency and honesty

Having read the "official" reason for administrator musical chairs and teachers reapplying for their jobs in GiaQuinta's letter to the JG, we don't have much choice but to guess what's really going on here. Supposedly, these "high risk" moves as Wendy calls them, are being made to preserve "local control". How exactly will that work? No one has received a pink slip. Does anyone believe that merely shuffling administrators will result in improved academic performance at the affected schools? Perhaps Tony Bennett told Wendy that he would get off her case for a while if she just moved some administrators around. Now there's nothing inherently wrong with moving people around to get them out of their comfort zone and expose them to different experiences. The education establishment, however, is all about staying in your comfort zone so maybe just putting people in a different environment is "risky". But the jobs are mostly similar and there's no reason to think that these people will improve their performance or that of their students just by moving.

Take Mr. Deford (former North Side principal demoted to assistant) and Mr. Smith (former South Side principal becoming Wayne principal). Both appear to be well respected by their faculties and students. Both had the deck stacked against them by social promotion from the middle schools, although they knew what they were getting into when they took the job. In a suburban district they might have succeeded but we'll never know. Mr. Mable (Principal at Wayne, which is in the bottom 20 high schools in the state, going to South Side) doesn't appear to be getting any of the praise the other two have been getting. Maybe that move is about nepotism. The deck will still be stacked at SSHS, NSHS (for Mr. Hissong coming over from Elmhurst) and Wayne, so what else is going to change? The test scores certainly won't.

Then what about having teachers reapply for their jobs at the failing (sorry I meant "LEAD") schools? How will that improve their performance? Maybe this is the only way to weed out incompetent teachers without violating the Union contract. The union probably has to go along because the budget deficit gives the district a legal way to cut teachers. But are the only incompetent teachers at the "LEAD" schools? Why doesn't Wendy make every teacher in the district reapply?

Nothing about these changes or the official explanation makes any sense. How about some plain talk and transparency. Apparently these are "our schools" only in so far as we pay the bills.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Say what, Mark?

Today the "on line" readers (and perhaps the remaining subscribers) of the JG were treated to an explanation from FWCS board president Mark GiaQuinta about the recent administrative and teacher changes announced by the district. Most of it was blather. When he says "we have a lot of teachers who don't blame parents and students" he should tell us where to find them because they appear to be few and far between. When he asserts Ball State denied a charter to Imagine for a school on Pontiac "because FWCS already has four star schools in the area" he's wrong. They have one such school, Irwin on Anthony, which is a magnet school, to which the district buses kids from neighborhoods where parents do care to a neighborhood where they don't care so that FWCS can point to one school in that area which performs well.

The most telling part of the article is the byline which says we want to retain "Local Control".
Why is local control preferable to state or federal control? For decades we have been electing rubber stamp school boards who take money from local FWCS administrations, local contractors and local architects and the local teachers union. The "E" which stands for Education in "FWEA" is an insult to our intelligence. Local control is about jobs for local adults. The kids don't vote or set salaries or award contracts.

To his credit, GiaQuinta was elected at large (as far as I know) without contributions from vested interests because he had family name recognition. He initiated the 'Balanced Scorecard" as an approach to test score improvement, although after almost three years we have had no public revelation about the results. He's no fool, so why does he suffer fools on the board? Is it so he can stay in control?

Monday, February 15, 2010

JG changes their tune on closing schools

Today Karen Frisco predicted bruising battles about closing any FWCS schools as part of their "bold plans" to cut costs. Of course the cost reductions are necessary because the taxpayers are getting what they deserve after letting the legislature shift school funding from property taxes to sales taxes. We should have just let them continue to tax people out of their houses so the schools could keep their "stable" source of revenue. But that's just an aside and if you haven't been foreclosed on by now, you're probably OK.

No, Karen thinks the real tragedy is losing the anchors that neighborhood schools provide. They encourage parental involvement. Kids and parents have loyalties to their schools and the traditions they provide. But that wasn't a concern three years ago when Wendy and her consultant proposed closing five elementary schools and one high school as part of her remodeling project. That was a "sensible " plan because the Inskeeps and Karen Frisco were on the remodeling bandwagon.

She doesn't see any inconsistency between her feigned concern for neighborhood schools and her support for busing kids across town for the sake of "choice " and "racial balance" either. Only her hypocrisy is consistent.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why is full day kindergarten sacred?

In looking for ways to cut costs FWCS has ruled out only a reduction of the $4.5 million it's spending for full day kindergarten. How can they take that off the table without showing us the data that shows whether it's working?

Probably because they don't have that data. Full day kindergarten does have a benefit for kids when they enter first grade but by the time they reach third grade the effect disappears. We don't know how to sustain it. FWCS had full day kindergarten in Title I schools long before Wendy instituted it everywhere else. How did those kids do compared to the ones who only went half a day? Apparently they either don't know or they aren't saying.

Now that we have it, getting rid of it is a political issue. Parents like it because the kids are out of their hair all day instead of just half a day. More teachers have jobs and FWEA gets more dues. It sounds like it should work, but like the "racial balance" program there is no data to support an academic benefit. In fact African American kids in FWCS are doing no better than their counterparts in Gary, Indianapolis or any other public systems in the state which have not spent more than $100 million plus busing cost for such a "unique" program.

I suspect the same is true for full day kindergarten. Indianapolis teacher and columnist Andrea Neal of the Indiana Policy Institute debunked full day kindergarten when Mitch was trying to find money for it. FWCS' improvement efforts are supposedly data driven. If Ms. Neal is wrong, then lets see the data, guys. You have no credibility without it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

That's right, Mark, blame the governor!

FWCS board president Mark GiaQuinta, was quoted in today's JG as telling us to write the governor, who is not "education friendly", to complain about the effect of budget cuts on the schools. The budget shortfall is due to two factors. A reduction in earnings on district funds because of low interest rates and the drop in state revenues which pay for teacher salaries. In other words, it's the economy.

So what exactly should we tell the governor? Raise interest rates? Print money? That's the Fed's job. Raise taxes? That's always the answer when the public sector doesn't want to feel the same pain as the rest of us. That's why four European countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) appropriately abbreviated as the "PIGS" are about to default on their loans.

Look at the bright side. Now Wendy can get even with the people at Elmhurst, who wouldn't go along with closing the school as part of her remodeling project. Just spare us the BS.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Oh, the irony of it all!

We're now seeing letters in the papers from FWCS high school students, testifying to the situation in their classrooms and bemoaning the futility of playing musical chairs with school administrators and making teachers reapply for their jobs. How can can we expect high school teachers to succeed when the problem is with the kids and their parents? How can we blame high school teachers when the administration on Clinton Street with assenting nods from the school board keeps dumping unprepared kids into the high schools with a blanket policy of social promotion and then tells us they're going to turn that around with Freshmen Academies and "High School Reinvent".

It almost makes you feel sorry for the teachers until you realize that they and especially their union are complicit in the hypocrisy. They know these programs won't work but they just go with the flow. If their superintendent and administration are incompetent, remember that almost all of them were formerly teachers. But if someone (like Mitch or Tony Bennett) suggest looking outside their profession for people to run the schools, all you hear are howls of indignation. Then remember that most of the school board members quietly going along with this charade (isn't unity great?) were elected with financial campaign support from their union (As far as I know, only Mark GiaQuinta and Kevin Brown did not get money from the FEWA).

Then try to remember how many high school teachers have come to a board meeting and told the truth about the situation in their classrooms. I can only think of one and his fellow teachers thought he was crazy. And they were right because the Wendy and Faye and the board didn't want to hear it and he got nothing but grief for his honesty. Sorry, but now they're going have have to go along and see how it plays out even though nothing will improve.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

FWCS re-re-invents high school schedule

FWCS wants to return to a seven period class schedule from the four period block schedule currently used in all the high schools. Whether this happens depends on current negotiations with the teachers union, which are already pretty dicey due to budget cuts and proposed reassignments.

The idea behind block scheduling was that the longer class period would allow more material to be covered, so that, theoretically a two term course could be condensed to one term. But in actuality that doesn't happen because it's practically impossible to keep kids engaged for 90 minutes, so typically during the last half hour, you let them do their "homework" in class. And by taking, say algebra, for half the year instead of the whole year, they have half a year to forget what they learned in the previous course prior to taking the next course.

From an academic standpoint longer periods don't make sense unless the class is a lab where it takes time to set up and take down equipment and kids are not sitting in a desk most of the time. Maybe block scheduling was worth a try, but going back shorter periods is the right move.