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.