Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ms. Frisco attacks Urban League charter school

Might as well attack the NAACP while you're at it Karen. If you're not careful what you say, someone might try to paint you as a racist. Weren't you part of the "silent minority" at one of the meetings?

Having replenished her venom from recent attacks on Brown Mackie and Imagine Schools before that, FWCS' fanged mouthpiece today went after the new charter school legislation and the new Thurgood Marshall Academy in particular. Among the highlights of her piece are the following gems with a translation:

The legislation creates unhealthy competition - government run monopolies including failing urban school districts are good and have to be preserved forever while privately run schools are bad. Any which make a profit are unconscionable. As Reagan said, the closest thing to immortality on earth is a government bureaucracy.

Legislation undermines local authority and the "ludicrous" suggestion of a state board member that those who didn't speak at the public hearing were a "silent majority" - Well perhaps. The only people who spoke at the meeting were the "local authorities" including FWCS board president Mark GiaQuinta, a Chevy salesman who drives Toyotas. He along with Wendy and other board members have been favoring us with ludicrous drivel for years. None of their drivel has EVER elicited any criticism from Ms. Frisco.

There is a direct connection between closing of Elmhurst, Pleasant Center and Monroeville and the opening of dozens of untried charters - Dozens? Please! Thurgood Marshall is a result of the closing of Harding in EACS. Harding was actually doing the same academically as the FWCS high schools south of Coliseum. It would also have escaped a state takeover. Why it took SE Ft. Wayne parents so long to wake up to the Harding fiasco is a mystery. I asked that question at one of the meetings but didn't get a good answer. But it's the same with the fiasco at FWCS.

As far as other charters, it's the chicken and the egg question.

Troubling baggage with American Quality Charter schools - perhaps. But then FWCS has a ton of baggage as well. It's just that Ms. Frisco has NEVER expounded on that. You don't rock a sinking boat.

Legislation was passed under the guise oYf the mantle of parental choice - Karen doesn't think this is a good idea unless "parents are capable of making the best choice". In other words they are incapable of making the best choice.

Karen, if you want to do the taxpayers a real service, go back to that $119MM project and give us the details that FWCS refuses to disclose for fear of losing votes on the referendum. Show us that transparency reigns at the JG, if not at FWCS.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

State board approves SE charter school

The Thurgood Marshall Academy charter school proposed by the Urban League was unanimously approved by the state charter school board yesterday. FWCS board president Mark GiaQuinta predicted the school would ultimately fail because FWCS has a "better product" and those in charge of the new school "don't have a clue" how to run a school. Maybe he should wait until we see what the Thurgood Marshall "product" looks like before pronouncing the FWCS product better. Most of the FWCS board doesn't have a clue about how to run a school either. They don't have a clue about what goes on in a classroom. That's what determines the quality of a school, not what the Superintendent tells them.

We'll see. The first, key task will be to hire a principal. Then find a building with suitable "infrasructure" (air conditioning). Then, fortunately, parents will ultimately decide on the quality of the product. Not GiaQuinta.

In related developments FWCS has been sued to stop the transfer of the former Pleasant Center building to the Airport Authority. The building is supposed to be kept available for charters for four years. Apparently the Tomothy Johson Academy had expressed an interest. Nice try though, Wendy. And the voucher lawsuit had another day in court with a decision promised in thirty days. Nate Snellenberger, president of the the ISTA, whose mission is to preserve the separation of church and state, said they would take it to the Indiana Supreme Court if necessary.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What do we want? hvAC!!...and some other stuff.

Last night the board held the mandatory public hearing and voted unanimously to put a $119MM bond issue on the ballot in May. Well, actually, they only voted on the amount. Nothing was said about how it would get on the ballot. If you haven't been to a public hearing, that's where the public hears the board pontificate and then the board doesn't hear the public pontificate. Watching it on TV, it looked like the attendance was sparse. Only three members of the public spoke which was followed by a roll call vote. Much better than the circus Wendy orchestrated at Anthis last time. No bands or balloons either.

Each board member gave a brief explanation of their vote except of course GiaQuinta, who weighed in from the center of the podium sitting behind a banner with a big "A" on it. The mute button came in handy at that point. Then it was just his lips moving.

We're still waiting for more transparency in the details on the building breakouts. Don't hold your breath. They're probably thinking if voters see "AC" anywhere in there, it won't pass.

Later two administrators came in and were asked by GiaQuinta to report on the Thurgood Marshall charter school hearing they had just left. They gleefully related that a lot of the "Public" had expressed opposition to the new school. It later turned out that the "Public" who objected consisted mostly of EACS and FWCS officials, including GiaQuinta himself. How clever is that?

Monday, December 5, 2011

JG is fully padded on FWCS project

Today's JG editorial page, renowned for making stuff up, lamented the criticism being heaped on the district's $119MM first phase of a $240MM building project proposal. The criticism sounded a lot like what's been said here, but as Mark GiaQuinta pointed out, only three people read this blog (four counting him), so it must be someone else saying the same thing.

They are quick to disavow that this project is about air conditioning. By doing that the district's mouthpiece has confirmed that it is about air conditioning. It's being spent on "infrastructure". Except by the district's own figures, $80MM (plus professional fees and contingency or $110MM of the $240MM eventual total project) of that "infrastructure" is for the "red herring", HVAC, i.e. AC, i.e. Air Conditioning. The building by building "details" under "infrastructure replacement"on the FWCS web site don't break that out so we can see it, however. Their unpublished handout (on the eventual project) to board members does break it out calling it "replacement of HVAC" ($75MM) and the addition of some chillers ($5MM).

Are all the HVAC systems shot? Or are they adding central air in buildings that have window units or no AC at all? What exactly are they proposing? Enquiring minds want to know lest they spread the disinformation further, like maybe to Indianapolis.

Roughly 45% of the $240MM eventual project is related to HVAC. If Wendy doesn't want any misconceptions out there on the first $119MM phase, then she needs to spell out exactly what "replacing infrastructure/HVAC" means in each building on the list and how that breaks down in cost. That's what this blog has been asking for since day one but we haven't seen it. Until we do we have to assume there are no misconceptions. Wendy's primary objective on day one in her job was to get all the buildings air conditioned. That's all she talked about in her initial town hall meetings. It wasn't test scores. That's what her $500MM well orchestrated con job was really about four years ago.

Spell it out in detail, justify it to the voters and perhaps they will approve it in May. The 10% contingency looks reasonable but tell us why you need 25% added for professional services for fixing stuff that's broken while you're at it. Otherwise it deserves to go down to defeat like last time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Survey says: "??????"

Monday night the board decided to bond for $119 million of the $240 million they say they need. The NS said only 800 non district employees responded to the online survey and 0nly 140 attended the four public meetings. Since the total dollars are unchanged, apparently what they found out in the survey and meetings had no influence on the scope of the project. They picked a number for the May referendum which will have a chance of success with the voters. They can come back and try for the rest later after demonstrating their competence in the first phase.

Their spreadsheet scope listed about $23 million for structural (the buildings are falling, the buildings are falling) repairs. The assumed 25% professional costs are way more than they need for fixing what's broken so they will actually have over $90 million to spend any way they want. They're supposed to put a detailed scope on their website so it doesn't look like we're giving them a blank check. Then we'll have to see if they stick to it.

The mandatory public hearing and vote will be on Dec.12. If you're thinking of going and speaking, just remember it will already be a done deal and the vote a formality. But there might be a band playing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

FWCS project - "Air conditioning , etc."

The FWCS entourage gave another presentation about their $250 million building proposal at Harrison Hill, my former Jr. High School, a classic building from 1924 which still looks great. The dozen or so in the audience who were not district employees were honored with some Mark GiaQuinta oratory followed by a slide show on various building problems and an explanation of the financial aspects by Kathy Friend.

There was little detail given on the actual work to be done in each building. The work is listed in three catgories - structural, learning environment and safety. The structural part was almost all HVAC with a heavy emphasis on AC, accounting for nearly 50% of the total project dollars. Actually fixing structural stuff like walls, windows, masonry, etc. accounts for about 15%. That's the aging and deterioration they've been whining about for years. Learning environment is about improving the cosmetics. If I had presented something like this to corporate management, they would have picked it apart in five minutes and sent me packing. That's what the board should do but that won't happen. GiaQuinta gets pissed off driving to work past Imagine on Broadway every morning knowing it's air conditioned. This will allow him arrive at the office in a better mood to deal with turnip bombs.

Apparently the project will be tackled and bonded in three phases of $120 MM, and two more at $60 MM. The district may actually put the first phase on the May primary ballot themselves. If it doesn't make it to the ballot, the project would take money still available under the caps away from all the other taxing entities that might want to use it. If it's approved in a referendum it all goes on top of the caps, and won't affect anyone else. At least that's the way Kathy Friend explained it and I tend to believe her.

They tried to explain how this "deterioration" all came about without mentioning the $150 million diverted to racial balance over the last 22 years. Last time that was their excuse although then they couldn't explain what the other $350 million was for. Now they're only talking about the money they've lost more recently to the caps and the bad economy, although they're still spending millions on racial balance every year. When I brought that up at the end of the meeting, it didn't go over well with Wendy.

Last time the JG called $500 million "sensible". In the Sunday Perspective Karen Frisco called $250 mllion "modest". (Another columnist on Page 3 called American public education "abysmal".) So now we know mathematically that "sensible" x 1/2 = "modest". By extension we could postulate that "arrogance" x 2 = ("M" + "W").

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What do voucher defections mean?

At this point, not much. Since this is the first year of the program, there is no precedent to gauge the significance of 400 departures. The number is roughly the same as Indianapolis and South Bend. About 85% of them were on free or reduced lunch, so they're probably not losing the better students. But those that left all had some experience in district schools which presumably factored into their decisions.

If I were running We Are Your Schools, I would try to talk to every parent who pulled their kids out and find out why they did that. Of course sharing what you hear with We Are Your Taxpayers is a different question.

Monday, October 31, 2011

JG fabricating the news again

This morning's JG editorial page claimed I was already organizing against the FWCS bond issue. Apparently part of their editorial ethos is stating their opinions as facts. Keep that in mind whenever you read their editorial page.

I'm not encouraged by what I've heard at board meetings so far and no one should take FWCS word for what they need as a fact either. So go to one of the four upcoming information sessions (sales jobs?) and decide for yourself. Fowler Finn said there were no major building issues remaining after NSHS was remodeled. The building deterioration issue only appeared on Wendy's radar after she failed to get the board to approve air conditioning. So her end run used building deterioration as cover for a grand remodeling project which would have included air conditioning. By repeating the deterioration theme about their "aging buildings" long enough they think they can jack up the number.

Pay attention and make up your own mind. My aging house, by the way, is 90 years old.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Take the FWCS Facilities survey

FWCS has a survey on its website to get voter sentiment on their building project. That's a big improvement over last time when they assumed everyone would go along with them. Hopefully they'll take the feedback seriously and give us a report on what they learned. (After all we paid for the survey.) Then, again hopefully, they'll use the results to come up with a reasonable strategy.

There's only one way to find out.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wanna buy Elmhurst for a buck?

The new charter school legislation gives anyone the option to buy a closed government shool for $1 and turn it into a charter school. The JG ran an article on that subject today citing Elmhurst as an example of a (perfectly sound) building standing empty. In addition to some other inane comments, FWCS spokesperson Krista Stockman added that they were "open to anyone who wants to make a reasonable offer."

OK, Krista, my offer is $1. Anybody want to go halfies? We can go together for $.50 each and create our own "high school of the future" (we get to define that ourselves like the board gets to define "fiscal responsibility") for one dollar instead of $100 million a new Snyder. And we can look at the FWCS "high schools of the present" as a model for what not to do.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's all absolutely essential and long overdue

Last night the board heard from their bonding expert who went through the financing scenarios and estimates for homeowner tax increases. For a median priced home of $89,000 a ball park number the additional tax for the full $242 million looks like around $60-$80/year. The cost rises sharply for more expensive homes because the exemptions have less effect. They'll have to come out with more detailed information as they get further into the process.

Then they got into a discussion of categorizing and prioritizing the work, which went off track, so I left. Apparently the consensus (as reported by this morning's JG) was that everything in the scope was essential so prioritizing wasn't necessary. We'll just have to take their word for that. The only mention of the Capital Fund which is intended for building upkeep was that the tax caps have decreased their money and there was no prospect of getting more from the legislature. There was no mention of the money that's been diverted for "racial balance" and whether that will continue.

Also proposed was relacing Snyder altogether with a new building at double the cost ($100 million) of renovation. That has nothing to do with looking for a cost effective solution for taxpayers. That's a Mark Giaquinta strategy to get votes for the project in the NE part of town, which is crucial to getting it past the voters.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fixing the buildings is the bill for "Racial Balance"

Four years ago, School Board Member for Life Steve Corona was asked in a Ch. 15 interview how he could have let the buildings deteriorate to the tune of $500 million. He didn't answer because he hadn't. He had let them deteriorate to the tune of about $150 million. That's how much had been diverted from the capital fund, which maintains and upgrades the buildings, to pay for the "racial balance" program the district agreed to fund to avoid a lawsuit. The expenditures were supposed to be "tax neutral" but as we see now they were not.

The rest of the $500 million fell into the "This is not a wish list." category. But he couldn't say that either. The diversion of money to "racial balance" continues even though after 22 years there is no quantifiable benefit for any of that program. The choice to continue is a political decision.

Now the district is floating a number of $250 million. The wish list items were pointedly taken out of the scope this time. Why the hell were they in there last time, Steve? Although $250 million is closer to the actual amount they've lost, there's no way for taxpayers to determine if it's a realistic number. We'll have to take their word for it when the final amount shows up on a ballot referendum next spring. We'll have to take the word of people who only tell us what they want us to hear. Like when they brag about the improvement in ISTEP scores but don't tell us about the deterioration of the high school scores the last two years.

They had no credibility four years ago and they don't have any now. If they want to continue funding programs beyond their budget, they should tell the taxpayers exactly what they're doing and submit it on a separate referendum. But that would require an honesty and transparency which would be a radical departure from the past.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How does $250 million sound?

Last night FWCS chief financial officer Kathy Friend along with Steve Parker, Darren Hess and Pat Casey of the facilities group presented their cost estimate for a plan to fix what's broken in 20 of the district's buildings. There is no way for me to know the details and justifications of the projects or the accuracy of the estimates. However, the group did a creditable job. In fact if this group had been in charge of the effort five years ago, they might well have succeeded.

But that's just my opinion. Times have changed and, even more so than last time, people will vote their pocket books. The most relevant comment of the night from the board came from Lisa Olinger, who said that they needed to consider what the community could afford. That might require breaking the project up into smaller chunks, being open about more to follow as the economy improves.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tony Bennett smoo..oothly complements FWCS

This morning's JG Perspective contains a letter from State Superintendent Tony Bennett complementing FWCS for getting with the program and saving NSHS and SSHS from a state takeover. How they escaped after looking at their ECA passing rates is still a mystery but nobody cares about that now. What the letter illustrates is Bennett's skill in turning a phrase to make shoving reforms down their throats palatable. Here are some excerpts followed by their translations:

"FWCS, under Robinson's leadership , implemented robust reforms....."
She accepted the reforms mandated by the Cambridge group on behalf of the IDE.

"The district was proactive and compressed a five year turnaround plan into one year..".
They sat on their butts for five years and got serious one year before being taken over.

"FWCS board president Mark GiaQuinta even recognized the state's role in encouraging swift improvement at NS and SS."
He admitted nothing would have changed without the threat of a state takeover.

"FWCS took on the status quo directly by eliminating seniority based placements.."
They complied with Cambridge mandates and the reforms passed by the Republican legislature, reforms which Mark and brother Phil, who ran away to Peoria to try and stop them, publicly opposed.

"FWCS proves that more can be done with less and funding is not an impassable obstacle.."
Quit whining about money.

"But don't forget Robinson's words: it's not enough. Keep up the momentum..."
I'm going to be breathing down your neck from now on.

Couldn't have said it smoo...oother myself. Obviously.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

FWCS high school ECA test scores still suck

Ever since all five FWCS high schools got off probation, I've been waiting to see the actual results of the ECA exams that helped get them off the hook. No results have been announced by the district or their mouthpiece at the JG, so I dug around on the IDE web site and found them. And they're still pathetic. But the "improvement" required to get off probation was based on the 8th grade scores and ECA scores for "cohort" groups which obviously bears no relation to actual passing rates in the high schools, which are shown below (sorry, but for some reason making a table doesn't work):

State, FWCS, Wayne, SSHS, NSHS. Northrup, Snyder

Algebra I
63.9 (61), 36.54 (43), 29.15 (20), 28.35 (19), 32.46 (32), 33.63 (47), 36.9(47)

English 10
63.6 (63), 50.27 (52), 44.31 (38), 39.83 (53), 46.09 (48), 58.84 (61), 58.9 (57)

Last year's passing rates are shown in parentheses. Overall FWCS declined in both areas. Wayne was the only school which improved in both categories. , The algebra scores are roughly the same as Gary and Indianapolis. I'm confused how the high schools in a "high performance", "A" rated district could perform this poorly. How could they get off probation? Maybe I got the numbers wrong.

No doubt these results will be announced to the public and discussed in a press conference and an upcoming board meeting after they're done "analyzing" them, although they may turn off the TV first. That's part of their policy of "engaging the public" by telling us what they want us to hear. I'm looking forward to the meeting.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

High performance home schooling

After graduating from SSHS (without the benefit of social promotion) when that school was the academic equivalent of a Canterbury and spending decades surviving the brutality of the private sector (performance accountability and the constant threat of extinction) I lost track of the changes in the education system. I could only infer from the declining quality of our company hires that something was amiss. We adapted by hiring high school "graduates" only as temps. Permanent hires had to have two years of "college" remedial education.

After I retired and had time to wander around during the day I was puzzled by all the kids walking around during school hours. When asked why they weren't in school, the answer was usually "we're home schooled, sir". Sir? Home schooled? What's that? First of all how can anybody duplicate the services of the government education system at home? Second, why would anybody want to?

The answer to the first question became apparent through my ten year acquaintance with a home schooling family. The two kids were home schooled until they were through the equivalent of middle school and were then enrolled in a small public high school. The eldest is now a senior who will graduate at or near the top of his class.

The second question was answered the first day I set foot in my former high school.

Both papers have recently run a letter from a home schooling mother complaining about the unfairness of the the voucher law because it requires kids to spend at least a year in public school. She wants to avoid the current "poorly performing" school system, if she chooses to enroll them in a private school. Obviously this mother has not been attending FWCS board meetings or reading the JG or she would have learned from Mark GiaQuinta that we now have a "high performance" district. It just changed overnight. Or perhaps she 's spent some time in FWCS classrooms and saw something closer to the truth.

Why, she then asks, would the legislature restrict access to vouchers when the average private school spends $4500 per student versus $9900 spent by government schools? The state could save a ton of money for every voucher they give out. Obviously this mother doesn't realize that she's over-simplifying the situation. That extra money buys the government system all kind of added features. Nicer ("decent" as GiaQuinta puts it) buildings, more bureaucracy, sports programs, and teachers unions. It buys newspaper stories about home schooling run amuck so they can agitate for restrictions on home schooling which costs the taxpayers nothing. It buys Democratic legislators and lobbyists to keep that extra $4700 coming.

The Republican legislators had to offer the Democrats some kind of sop to come back from Peoria which they did by putting in some obstacles to vouchers. So there's your answer. You should at least hire some lobbyists.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Will the Feds remodel Wendy's buildings?

The JG reported that Pres. Obama may use FWCS as an example of a "high performance" school district with budget constraints that have prevented them from fixing/remodeling their aging buildings. "High performance"? Well, whatever that means, if Obama and Mark GiaQuinta say so it must be true.

Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan actually do deserve some credit in education reform. The "Race to the Top" initiative led to the revision of laws on teacher seniority, teacher evaluations and charter schools in many states, including Indiana, reforms that were panned by the GiaQuinta brothers. Proposing those reforms took some courage considering teachers' unions were Obama's biggest campaign contributors. In fact, Arne Duncan was honored with boos and jeers when he spoke about reforms at the National Education Association convention. That's the national teachers union that counts the ISTA and FWEA as affiliates. (I've only been booed by FWEA teachers at SSHS.) While we're doling out the credits we should include Tony Bennett, who held the gun to Wendy's and the FWEA's heads. Obama won't mention that.

GiaQuinta went on by whining about the age of Harrison Hill where he went to kindergarten and where I went to Jr High School before that. He might have added that Bishop Luers where he went to high school, didn't spend anything on it's building for fifty years. Somehow 90% of their kids pass the state tests every year. How does that compare to SSHS and NSHS where we spent $100 million? Oh yeah, they were almost converted to charter schools.

Whatever. The BS is never going to stop but if we can get money from the Feds, go for it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Five Indiana schools face charter conversions

During a lengthy meeting Monday, the State Board of Education voted to assign turnaround operators to run one Gary high school (Roosevelt), one Indianapolis middle school and three Indianapolis high schools (Arlington, Howe and Manual). Indianapolis Washington and Broad Ripple (a magnet school) will be assigned to improvement specialists, leaving them under IPS control but subject to takeover if they don't improve. The IDE pointed out that the schools that were taken over refused to sign a memorandum of agreement for restructuring with the IDE last year. In other words they were uncooperative. Although no one said why during the meeting, it's probably because the Indianapolis teachers union wouldn't go along.

FW South Side and North Side undoubtedly would have faced the same fate if they had refused to restructure and raise their passing rates. But Wendy and FWEA (kicking and screaming) wisely went along. IPS superintendent Eugene White said Howe and Arlington were graded unfairly because they have combined with middle schools, whose scores were figured in with the high schools. He's threatened to sue the IDE, which makes it look like it's all about control instead of the kids.

At least Tony Bennett has shown that he's serious. Being willing to take over failing schools will keep some pressure on the ones that escaped takeovers. But as he said in a press conference, being able to escape for another five years by making "minuscule" improvement one year is not acceptable. PL 221 needs to be tightened to avoid backsliding. At the same time he should look at his rating system. When almost half the schools in the state get a grade of "A", he's made that meaningless.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No injunction against vouchers

A Marion county judge refused to issue an in junction to stop Indiana's new voucher program from going into effect this fall, saying the ISTA's case against vouchers didn't have enough merit to succeed. That meas that at least this year about 2800 students will be attending private schools with taxpayer funded scholarships. After that anything can happen in the legal system through further trials and appeals. Different judges can have different opinions. But this judge said the law was written for the benefit of students, not religious schools. He also said state scholarships to private universities would be at risk if they were unconstitutional in K-12. Next thing you know, professors at state universities will unionize to stop private college scholarships.

So far, the 2800 students who will receive scholarships this year seem like a small impact. We'll just have to wait and see how this develops as the legal challenges play out and parents become more knowledgeable on their options. But at least they have an additional option for the time being.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

NSHS, SSHS off the hook

SS and NS were among eleven of the 18 Indiana schools that were removed from probationary status by the IDE yesterday. Ironically another one was Harding, which was closed in anticipation of being taken over by the state. Six Indianapolis schools and Gary Roosevelt are still in trouble, their future to be decided by the State Board of Education at the end of August.

The "improvement" was not based on raw passing rates but on the difference between eighth grade and high school scores for the classes that took the tests in 2010 and 2011. The statewide results have not been published. so from the data given on the IDE site it's not possible to tell if test difficulty changed. But I'm sure nobody on Clinton Street cares about that.

Tony Bennett said FWCS improved by "compressing a five year improvement plan into one year". In other words they sat on their ass until he put a gun to their heads. He mentioned an incredible sense of urgency which took ten years to materialize. Well, we can't be taking FWEA out of their comfort zone just for the sake of academic improvement. Heckuva job Wendy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

JG proves worst schools are the best schools

In another astounding extension of apologist logic, Karen Frisco argues it's better to send your kids to a lousy school (can you say FWCS) than use a voucher to send them to a good school. Since we're now into the "growth" era, lousy schools with lousy passing rates are more likely to improve than good schools with high passing rates. Therefore, schools with more potential to "grow" are more desirable than those who don't need to "grow". Wonder which category the Ball State School of Jounalism falls into.

Who's the target audience for this kind of drivel? Five years ago an elementary school principal told me that only 6% of the families with kids in FWCS get a newspaper at home. Maybe now that it's available for free on line the readership has expanded.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Finally, an improvement in ISTEP scores

Now that we're in the second year of spring testing, with some confidence in a new baseline, it looks like FWCS made some progress . Overall math scores went up 3% versus the state average while language arts went up 2% versus the state. They even said the results had improved relative to the state, although they only gave out the raw numbers (about 4% in each category). No doubt their $355,000 PR consultant helped them craft the message for maximum positive spin. The numbers look more reasonable this year, however. The 6% they claimed last year did not, especially when last year's high school scores went down 6%, a fact which they never publicized.

It also looks like scores improved more in the early grades, which is also more logical than having the same increase across the board. Eighth grade language arts scores did not improve, however. FWCS middle schools dominate among the bottom five categories in NE Indiana. That's not a good omen for the high schools which are all on probation, especially SSHS and NSHS which are in their fifth year. The high school ECA scores have not been released yet but, based on 8th grade scores last year and this year, it would be surprising if high school scores improved without an easier test.

Even if they can keep it up at 2-3% a year, it's going to be a long haul. Too bad they didn't get serious about ten years ago.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

JG mischaracterizes Mitch's "mischaracterization"

Off to the side of their editorial today the JG listed the parties in the lawsuit against the state's voucher law. They used that list to show that the lawsuit was not filed to preserve the financial interest of the ISTA as the governor charged. Included along with the ISTA were the superintendent of the Lafayette schools (no financial interest there?) a member of the Lafayette school board and several others with no apparent ties (who knows?) to the government education establishment.

Balony. If the suit had been filed by parents or other parties with no financial interest in government schools then we might buy the argument that these parties were concerned solely about the (Indiana) constitutional questions. That would be fine. But as the governor said, the ISTA puts it's interest above those of the kids. The ISTA's charter is to look after its members first. The JG's charter is to look after Wendy.

Monday, July 4, 2011

ISTA gets religion

Well, actually it's the religion they've always had, namely keeping union teaching jobs. Claiming that because the vast majority of private schools where vouchers could be used are religious schools, the union says the voucher law is unconstitutional. Wasn't that issue settled by the Supreme Court a few years ago, saying that vouchers were constitutional if the kids were not given religious instruction? Well no matter, there was no way the ISTA was going to let this pass. The IDE said they expected the suit.

The biggest use of vouchers and the biggest impact on school budgets by far would be in urban areas where government schools are uniformly failing and where they are uniformly resistant to change because of resistance from teachers' unions. Their tenacity in holding on to their jobs traps kids without means in failing urban government schools. The "common schools" provided per the Indiana constitution are interpreted by the ISTA as government run and union dominated are common indeed.

All the reforms passed by the legislature are long term efforts, even without court challenges and delaying tactics. A far quicker tool for change is the strict enforcement of PL221 to take over schools in their sixth year of academic probation. No dumbing down the tests to get them off the hook. No second chances if they don't make it by year six. When they've had five years to change and did nothing until the fifth year they deserve no more time and no more sympathy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What planet was I on?

On what planet would a high school going from one of the top ten in the state to one of the bottom ten be a cause for celebration? A hallelujah, born again moment. Where staying the course and watching it happen is considered strong leadership. Only on the Mork and Mendy public education planet.

I only went to the state's "public" hearing at South Side last night. As expected almost all the speakers were officialdom or teachers. Less than a handful of parents spoke. They were all committed to the reform bandwagon. Amazing what the threat of a state takeover did for their motivation after five decades of excuses. Like the JG said this morning they all asked for more time, if scores didn't improve this year.

That's probably what they'll get and I can't say I disagree with that, although they did nothing for six years. One year to turn around the deplorable situation at SSHS will not be nearly enough and the teachers who signed on to fix these schools would get the shaft if they're taken over after only a year. But as I said last night to Mr. Bennett and Co., continuous improvement will require continuous pressure from the state. The district showed that it couldn't reform itself without intervention and the continued threat of state takeover has to be maintained. The problem is really in the middle schools, and unless that's fixed, the high schools will have a tough time improving.

So stay tuned.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

D-Day the 21st of June

In case you're among the (less than) 30% of Americans who know about the D-Day on the 6th of June, 1944 this is not that D-Day. That D-Day the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe and eventually my former country from the Wehrmacht. On the June 21 D-Day the Indiana Department of Public education will land at my former high school Fort Wayne South Side to liberate it from Wendy and Mark GiaQuinta. Well, I hope, maybe.

If they don't show sufficient improvement in the 6th year of academic probation under PL 221 SSHS (and NSHS) could be taken over by the state and put under new management (read charter school). The state will conduct a public hearing on the 21 st to get community input on that or other options. The hearing will precede the release of the latest test scores so an actual decision will have to wait on the data, which will be based on the delta between the ECA scores and the 8 th grade scores for the same kids the previous year. Since these two high schools are dependent on the k-8 schools that feed them, I don't see much chance of significant improvement until the feeder schools improve. That will take years. But there's probably not much chance the state would step in right away. Most likely they will get a pass for a year or two.

Both papers have recently run lengthy articles on the LEAD school process,which by and large were pretty well balanced, outside of Karen Frisco's tiresome, obligatory potshot at charter schools. Of course the district claimed in both JG articles that they consider this process as having started ten years ago. No way. Ten years ago Wendy and the FWEA were concerned only about getting all the buildings air conditioned. That turned into the $850 million remodeling wish list rejected in a remonstrance by property owners. Losing that may have caused a change priority but they didn't get serious until the state threatened to step in last year. That's what it took get the FWEA to "do the right thing".

The SSHS hearing will start at 5 pm in the (air conditioned) auditorium. According to IDE director of school improvement Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, the meeting will be conducted by Tony Bennett, who will talk for 5 minutes followed by Wendy who will explain the program at SSHS. So the IDE won't be dodging bullets on Omaha Beach. Instead they will face a barrage of feel good propaganda. Hopefully GiaQuinta can hold himself in check. After that the members of the public can talk for 2-3 minutes each, but they have to sign up ahead of time. I wouldn't put it past Wendy to stack the sign up sheet with friendly speakers, so you might want to get there early. They'll be leaving for NSHS at around 7 pm. Actually, I'd recommend writing Ms Kwiatkowski a note and sending it in the mail or giving it to her at the meeting. Written input will be considered in their recommendation.

I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Social promotion is a lie

Yesterday the NS published an article quoting David Chow, superintendent of the Anderson, Indiana public schools who said that social promotion is a disservice to students. Today the NS followed with an editorial which put the burden on public schools to justify continuing the practice. Social promotion is a lie to the student who thinks he is doing well enough to get a diploma that's not worth the paper it's written on. It's a lie to the taxpayers who think their sacrifice pays for graduates who can meet meet a minimum standard. It's a lie to the business community and colleges who think a high school graduate is prepared for the next step. Most important it's a lie that keeps the money flowing.

The blanket social promotion practiced by districts like FWCS is an admission of failure so obvious that they won't even talk about it. They're afraid of a lower graduation rate if kids are told the truth and held accountable. What's the difference between a drop out and a kid who gets a worthless diploma? None for all practical purposes. But it's proof of a failing system with a gutless school board and administration.

Friday, May 20, 2011

FWCS to participate in designing teacher evaluation process

Nikki Kelly of the JG reported today that FWCS will be one of six Indiana districts working with the IDE to develop a merit based teacher evaluation system. The new system will consider improvement in standardized test scores as part of the evaluation, although how much weight they will get is not clear. Also unclear is what will be used for those teaching subjects which are not covered by standardized test.

In spite of the difficulty and their past resistance to the reforms, participation is a good move for FWCS. Being part of the process, they can influence the product with the participation of teachers and administrators and get better buy in from both. And by working with the IDE they'll get points for cooperation, which will help in keeping SSHS and NSHS from being converted to charters if their scores don't improve this year.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

All four major reforms now law

Now that the legislature has passed all of the reform bills for government schools, we can speculate on what their effect will be. These reforms will not "kill public education " as we know it, especially with respect to vouchers and charter schools. The pressure will be mostly on urban districts. Government schools have not been motivated to change by competition as yet, preferring just to circle the wagons and stay the course. Actually the best tool for rapid change would be the strict enforcement of PL 221. But that depends on consistency in the testing program and the willingness of the IDE to step in, both of which are doubtful.

Vouchers - will pay up to $4700 for a student to attend a private school, depending on family income. That would be enough to pay tuition in parochial elementary and middle schools. The catch is that they have to attend a government school for at least a year and kindergarten doesn't count. That makes things awkward. But then what? The choice of private high schools is more limited, so are they then going to go end up having to go to a goverment high school?

Charters - it's hard to start a school, so I don't anticipate a slew of charter start ups. High schools are especially difficult and expensive. And they won't be able to control enrollment. If they end up admitting too many unprepared government school kids, a charter high school is going to have the same problems as a govenment high school. Having $1 access to a closed government school building will help but there will still be initial building outlays for revisions and repairs.

Teacher evaluations - have the potential to improve teacher quality, although slowly, if it's done right. Each district will have to set policies and salary administration factoring in test score data for at least 50% of the evaluation. An annual system based on competence and data instead of seniority can be a big step forward depending on how it's set up.

Collective bargaining - will now be limited to pay and benefits. Contracts last no longer than the state budget cycle, so they are forced to renegotiate every two years. Districts now have the opportunity to redefine their work rules and regain the flexibility they lost under collective bargaining agreements. Reasonable provisions of current contract can be kept so those will probably be used as a starting point. Again the benefits of this change will depend on how districts structure their new policies.

All in all teachers will be working under systems similar to those most professionals see in the private sector. Less job security with opportunity for higher pay. It will take years to see how this all pans out, so don't expect any dramatic change.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Charter school bill passes both houses

Both houses of the legislature have passed the bill to allow expansion of charter schools in Indiana. Although much decried by the government education establishment, its effect will mainly be felt in urban districts where government schools are "under performing". Those areas already have charters in place. Establishing a new school is a difficult task, especially to serve the population in urban areas. The best outcome would be for the existing charters to stabilize and improve their operations before seeing a new wave of schools being opened. We may also see some failing government schools taken over by the IDE under the provisions of PL 221 and given to charter operators. That mechanism, rather than new charters, is the best means to put pressure on government schools to change.

Meanwhile the JG continues to beat a dead horse, attacking for profit charter operators for paying no property taxes on their schools. Charters got no funding for obtaining their buildings or fixing them up to serve as schools. To recoup that outlay they have come up with various arrangements like sales and leasebacks. They have increase the value of the property, but in the case of for profit operators are being challenged in court over property tax liability. This situation incenses Karen Frisco who wrote a long, excruciatingly detailed piece on the topic in the Sunday Perspective.

Fine, let for profit charters pay property taxes. No problem, end of story.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

So why did Harding fail?

Throughout the fiasco at Harding no one has talked about the cause of its closing. It didn't just get bad overnight. Like all failing urban schools, it has been in a long decline, which nobody seemed to notice or care about. It would have gone on like that forever absent state intervention. As Winston Churchill said "Americans always do the right thing, when they have no other choice".

Kids in urban districts start school behind in basic skills. The elementary and middle schools fail to get them caught up and pass them into high school unprepared. So they fail. Upset parents are now trying to turn Harding into a charter school. They didn't seem to be upset when their kids were coming out of Harding undereducated, but are now outraged about long bus rides to the remaining district high schools where the culture is unwelcoming. Other than avoiding busing, what else would turning Harding into a charter accomplish? The kids will still be coming from the same homes and passing through the same elementary and middle schools that couldn't prepare them for high school. A charter school won't do any worse, but the improvement will be limited.

But why pick on Harding? In FWCS Wayne has virtually identical scores on the ECA, about 4 points lower in math and about 4 points higher in English. Considering that Harding has 30% English challenged Burmese you could argue they were actually doing better than Wayne, which also just fired its principal, apparently because he wasn't with the program either. Then there's SSHS which is only a bit better and is now run by the principal who couldn't fix Wayne?

Well, as Henny Youngman's most famous one liner would have put it to Tony Bennett, "Take my high schools .....please!" More likely the he'll dumb down the ECA's.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

If "research suggests", it must be true

NAC announced it will be offering full day kindergarten, for a $2000 a fee for those who can pay. Superintendent Chris Himsel said "research and evidence for those who participate in early childhood learning programs are much, much more likely to graduate from high school". Note he didn't say those who participate in full day kindergarten vs. half day kindergarten. There is no conclusive evidence that full day kindengarten is more beneficial than half day once kids are past the third grade. Studies at Indiana University and the University of Southern California "suggest" the benefit is gone after grade three. In other words Mr. Himsel is blowing smoke. Just like FWCS saying eliminating full day kindergarten to save money (and keep Elmhurst open) is off the table. It's a popular baby sitting service and now that we have it it's not going away.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Cash strapped" dismal district votes $355K for PR consultant

Last night the board voted to let Wendy spend $355,000 for a Virginia "communications consultant". According to the Sentinel's Sarah Janssen, the company will first evaluate the effectiveness of the district's current surveys. Say what? Mark GiaQuinta said the contract related to the importance of board's number 2 goal, "engage the community". He didn't explain how that squared with their other goal "fiscal responsibility', which is apparently much farther down their list. This isn't quite as bad as the $450K of taxpayer money they pissed away on Schmidt & Associates to do a sales job on taxpayers for their failed $500mm bond issue. Although $50K of that did go to a friendly city councilman to benefit the local economy (and him). Make no mistake. This money is being spent to do a better sales job on us "stakeholders" the next time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Here we go again

Kathy Friend and Krista Stockman were on WBOI today parroting the company line about the dire and dismal buildings. Kathy lamented the loss of money in the capital fund because of the tax caps. She failed to mention that most of the hit to the fund has been to pay for the failed "racial balance" program, which is Wendy's sacred cow. They haven't learned that transparency and honesty might be the best way to approach this issue. They still think spin works better.

Then Krista chimes in and says we need air conditioning because more of the kids come from air conditioned homes and can't adjust to non air conditioned schools. What I see in the statistics is more kids in FWCS on free lunch, living in poverty and homelessness every year. But at the same time more of them have air conditioning? Come on . They think we're idiots.

This is going to end up as a ballot referendum. Taxpayers will vote their pocketbooks. If FWCS overshoots the acceptable number they will get nothing, just like last time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Let's try this again

Writing a blog the other day after reading Sarah Janssen's article about Wendy sobbing about her "dismal" buildings, was not a good idea. Better to try be objective.

Twenty or so years ago the district agreed to spend additional money for a "racial balance" fund to improve the educational fortunes of the district's black kids. That spending had to be "tax neutral" (no property tax increase) so they took it from the capital fund which was used to fix, upgrade, remodel the buildings. Over the years roughly $150 MM was diverted from the buildings about 2/3 of it to hire more teachers. The results were predictable. The buildings suffered, although it's hard to say how much, and the money did nothing to lower the achievement gap.

Four years ago the district tried to get $500 MM do "fix" the building. Why $500 MM you ask? Well why not? "This is not a wish list". Pick a number and as long as you have a pretense maybe taxpayers will fall for it. Well they didn't, Wendy got nothing and the buildings are still (supposedly) a problem. We'll just have to take their and Karen Frisco's word for that word for it. So now, in the new age of ballot referendums (instead of remonstrances) a housing collapse and enormous government debt they're revisiting the topic.

I have no clue what they're going to ask for. Whatever it is, the problem will resurface again as long as money is being diverted from capital projects to keep more teachers employed for "racial balance". I don't necessarily have a problem with the extra teachers even though they have totally failed in their original objective. But what they're doing is not "tax neutral". Sooner or later we will get another tab for building repairs. If you want to keep those teachers, then ask for that on another referendum like SAC did. And when you do that let's air out the "racial balance" issue. That discussion is long overdue.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stanford U says Indiana charters better than government schools

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University just released a comparison of academic performance for Indiana charter schools versus traditional government schools. The statistical comparison concluded that in Indiana, charter schools performed "dramatically" better than traditional schools. In reading all the charters but two were better, while in math all were better.

The comparisons were presented in terms of standard deviations, a statistical comparison which makes it hard to translate the data to differences in actual passing rates. This is the same measure CREDO used to do a national comparison, which called charter performance a mixed bag. But the national study, which did not include Indiana, was used by the JG's Karen Frisco to discredit charters schools across the board. We will, no doubt, see a follow up from Ms. Frisco, now that we have the Indiana data.

Charter schools are obviously not a panacea, but can be a viable option to failing government schools, depending on circumstances. In Indiana, they provide a comparable or better education for less cost to the taxpayer. The challenge for the charter advocates is to close down the ones that don't work academically. That's something that doesn't happen at all in government schools, as the closing of Elmhurst vividly demonstrated here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I can't believe they (the NS) printed the whole thing

Thanks to the News Sentinel for printing my letter in its entirety. I can't say it's the best thing I ever wrote but at least it makes more sense than the abridged version that came out in the JG.

My biggest disappointment with the situation at FWCS is in the teachers. They know what they're doing isn't working but they don't want to change. They've unionized to prevent change. They can't afford to tell the public what's really going inside their classrooms, so they maintain a conspiracy of silence. They know the system will eventually look like Gary and Indianapolis but they seem to think by that time "I'll be gone, you'll be gone". They're probably right in that respect as long as they can keep strangling reforms.

Monday, February 28, 2011

That was my letter, at least most of it

I saw my letter to the editor on school reform in the JG today. I've written a number of them over the years. Surprisingly enough they have all been printed, although not always as I wrote them. Today's version was considerably shorter than what I wrote but I have to say it didn't change the essence of my thoughts, most of which were pretty well preserved.

My experience at my former high school, which included a year of tutoring in algebra classes after trying unsuccessfully to teach as a substitute, started my frustration with FWCS. The score at SSHS on last year's End of Course Exams (19% passing in math, omitted from the letter) show that, if anything, the situation is getting worse and meaningful reforms are not coming from within. Yet the official line from the board and administration continues to defy the reality in the classrooms. The reality is bad enough. The hypocrisy just compounds it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

FWEA "defiant" toward new legislation

Sounding much like past UAW president Ron Gettlefinger defying the new reality at GM (we know how that ended), FWEA and ISTA officials set a "defiant tone" (arrogant would be a better word) against the Governor and State Superintendent of Public Instruction at Northrop HS. FWEA president Al Jaquay bemoaned that teachers were being "blamed for all the ills of public education". A more accurate assessment would be that teachers' unions are being blamed. ISTA president Nate Snellenberger said he's getting the "cold shoulder of disrespect" from legislators. After decades of paying off Democrats to do their bidding, did he and the ISTA expect hugs and kisses from Republicans?

Snellenberger also said pending legislation would set back public education 40 years. If only that were true. I could still be proud of my former high school. But the demographics changed, teachers unionized, FWCS lost flexibility and couldn't adapt.

The prospects in the legislature are sobering because, as Steve Brace put it "we're fighting against ideas for change". Well, we certainly wouldn't expect those ideas to come from FWEA. Unless they involved remodeling the buildings.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

HB 1003 spells out school voucher proposal

Indiana's school voucher bill , HB 1003 was submitted by Rep. Bob Behning of Indianapolis, head of the House Committee on Education. The bill would allow any student who has attended a public school for at least two semesters to apply for a taxpayer funded voucher to an accredited private school, including faith based schools. The amount of the voucher is determined by family income. Transportation is not provided. Private schools would not be required to alter their admission policies or curriculum but would be required to administer the state test to all students and receive letter grades as do government schools. There is no limit on the number of vouchers that can be given, although it's estimated that existing private schools, could accommodate about 20,000 students.

Naturally urban districts would be most affected by vouchers. Suburban parents are not the ones clamoring for alternatives through vouchers and charter schools. The country's biggest voucher program has been in existence in Milwaukee (the Viagra district) since 1989 affecting about 20,000 students. A study published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel claims that there is no appreciable difference in student achievement between those accepting the vouchers and those staying in the public system. Graduation rates were higher by 18% and overall cost to Wisconsin (but not Milwaukee) taxpayers is lower. Private schools accepting state funds were not subject to to the same accountability as government school, but that would be changed as part of the effort to expand the program, which is currently limited by law. Parents were said to be happy to have the choice.

Rep. Behner says his aim is to increase competition. Milwaukee public schools are said to have improved slightly with the challenge but there was no information on whether any poorly performing public schools were closed after losing students to private schools, which would be the other goal of providing competion. All in all it doesn't appear that the effect is as dramatic as predicted by both proponents and opponents. Contrary to the claims of the Indiana Teachers Union, this (Daniels) bill is not going to kill the existing public school system.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

All five FWCS high schools on academic probation

In addition to the charter members of the IDE's bottom category SSHS, NSHS and WAYNE, the other two remaining FWCS high schools, Snider and Northrop, joined them last year by going on academic probation. Naturally neither the district nor the JG deemed this piece of bad news important enough to talk about it publicly. No gushing Mark and Wendy news conference. No apologist wailing by Karen Frisco. They could have legitimately claimed that the new high school test, the ECA, was more difficult than the GQE it replaced, which is true. The ECA's at FWCS were about 6% lower than the GQE's, which mirrors the 6% drop statewide. But then they would have been caught in a trap on their "improvement" on the k-8 ISTEP scores.

The IDE's recent review of NSHS and SSHS noted that FWCS seemed to be serious about reforming their high schools. That may be, but at the end of the day, they can't make a real and lasting improvement in the high schools until they improve the middle schools. How will we know if the middle schools are improving? When the district stops blanket social promotion through the middle schools and quits sending kids into high school unprepared. ECA scores will fluctuate. The state may "adjust" the difficulty but it only matters how they do relative to the rest of the state, so that's how the scores have to be viewed.

Social promotion in the middle schools is an admission of FWCS' failure to prepare kids for high school. They may be serious about improving the high schools in the face of a possible state takeover. But nothing the Superintendent, the board or the JG says about progress can be taken seriously until blanket social promotion stops. It's just more hollow rhetoric for public consumption. If they want to show us they're serious, they have a way to do so.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

And speaking of vouchers....

Although the legislature is reportedly working on a school voucher proposal, I haven't found the details of an actual bill submitted. Nevertheless opponents of vouchers are already telling us why they are bad. The JG has a column this morning by an IU professor of elementary education, Daniel Holm with a list of six objections (surprise, surprise) to vouchers.

1. Private schools are not held accountable for meeting state standards-

So make them accountable as a condition for taking public funds. I don't know of any private schools in our area that don't already give the state tests and they're pretty much a non-event. Passing rates in the parochial schools are around 90%. The tests are easy.

2. Private schools can refuse admittance-

True, but to what extent and why are they doing so? Lack of space or refusal to deal with poor students? Government schools expel students who can't adapt after they admit them. Why not give government schools a better way to handle expected problem students rather than mainstreaming them in with everyone else?

3. Negatively affect government school finances-

Parents who opt out of a government school and take the money elsewhere is another way to provide competition for government schools. Government monopolies in education are no more desirable than any other kind of monopolies. Giving vouchers to parents who are already paying out of their own pockets to send their kids to private school will increase the cost of public education. Personally I'm willing to pay more taxes to see that happen but that doesn't mean everyone else will.

4. Transportation issues-

Lower income parents may have trouble providing transportation to a school outside their neighborhood. Perhaps but FWCS is already busing kids to schools outside their neighborhoods in their school choice plan. Many other urban districts bus them to magnet schools. Schools are not obligated to bus anyone unless they have a physical disability or if their local school is in trouble long enough that parents can opt to send their kids to another school. The schools do it because they're getting the money from the state to operate expensive transportation systems. I can see some justification in rural district but few of them are clamoring for alternatives. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for any transportation in an urban district? Nobody rode a bus to SSHS when I went there.

5. Private schools can't accommodate special needs students-

Another can of worms that needs to be aired out. How many of these students are there? Are we talking about special-ed and ELL? FWCS has 20% of their students designated as special ed, an astounding number. Do they do that because it brings in more money? Why are they mainstreaming these kids if they have so much trouble learning? The ones that can keep up shouldn't be special ed. The ones that can't are frustrated and hold the rest of the class back. Why are non-English speakers put into regular schools before they can function in a classroom? Why are they tested before they're proficient in English?

6. Parochial schools will push religious agendas-

Nonsense. Plenty of parents send their kids to parochial schools as an alternative to bad government schools, if they can afford the tuition. If they are going to get public money, they will have to limit the religious instruction to those that want it and keep it away from those who don't. Eventually non-religious private schools will spring up to serve disenchanted government school parents. Like the one GiaQuinta sent his kids to.

The professor closes by saying more money needs to be given to government schools because they are already providing a "quality" education. What does that mean? How does he define "quality"? He doesn't. It's meaningless. Then he adds we should spend more for pre-school and full day kindergarten. Fine. Show us how well that works. With data. A study by IU concluded that full day kindergarten was "no worse" than half day. FWCS has had full day kindergarten in Title I schools for over a decade. Where's the data on the benefits of that expenditure? Taxpayer funded babysitting and more jobs for education school graduates?

It's going to be fun following the uproar from the government education establishment, not to mention the JG. It may well end up in court, with religion as the pretext for a suit but the real issue will be money.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Harding as a charter?

EACS is reportedly discussing turning Harding into a non-conversion charter. That would turn its operation over to a charter operator but keep it under the district's control. It's hard to see what turning any high school into a charter would accomplish in terms of significantly improving academic performance, which is ultimately controlled by the quality of the feeder schools.

But the Harding debate has never been about academics. It's been lagging for years and nobody cared until the state threatened to intervene. Now the objections to the current EACS plan are based on the inconvenience of longer bus rides and incompatible cultures. And if the board goes along, it will only be to keep control of the money. There's no way this story can have a happy ending but the district would be better off to let the state have it and wash their hands of a can't win situation.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Education agenda going full steam

Sen Dennis Kruse of Auburn has filed a bill on teacher evaluation and pay, Rep. Brian Bosma of Carmel has introduced a bill to expand charter schools while a bill on school vouchers is also in the works. Finally after decades of staying the course while urban districts continue to churn out graduates with worthless diplomas, the politicians, make that Republican politicians, are willing to force change. No it won't be perfect, there will be unintended consequences and there will be adjustments down the road.

There has been relatively muted reaction from teachers' unions since they know they can't block the tide. They'll have to start buying Republican politicians instead of Democrats now. Predictably the hysterics have come from the JG, which went on another inane tirade against charter schools in Sunday's Perspective. Today's commentary mentioned that Tony Bennett's wife is consultant for the state charter school association. Like there's no hypocrisy at the JG.

Relax guys. The threat of extinction did wonders for the US automobile industry. It will do the same for FWCS.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mitch's speech doesn't fly with FWEA

Devon Haynie's article in the JG on FWEA members reaction to Gov. Daniels speech illustrates why the public education establishment can't change itself. Steve Brace's reaction to the Governor's proposal to let high school students graduate early, for example, was a bad idea because that would mean less money (fewer teacher jobs) for school districts. Any benefits for the student and taxpayer don't matter. By preventing change from within, public schools will finally get change from without. In the meanwhile thousands of kids have been going out the doors of districts like FWCS with high school diplomas that weren't worth the paper they're written on.

That doesn't seem to bother anyone in the system enough to do anything different, certainly not enough to speak out about it. Image matters more than substance. When Wendy claims to be thrilled about the "progress" report on the LEAD schools, nobody on the board asks her why she didn't try that eight years ago. When the Cambridge group or the IDE comes to SSHS for their status review, she tries to impress them with $100,000 of new carpeting.

Maybe if Thomas Smith had recarpeted Wayne, he would still have his job.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy new year and principal at Wayne

Although he was seen packing up his office two weeks ago, FWCS is still not commenting on Thomas Smith's departure from Wayne HS. The Sentinel's story the other day pretty much made it "official". How swapping the principals at two failing high schools was ever going to work in the first place is still a mystery. Apparently only Pamela Martin Diaz, the lone board member to vote against the switch, was astute enough to see what would happen. The rest, who have been fooled more than once, figured Wendy knew best.

The question now is whether Carlton Mable will survive at South Side. There's very little chance he can actually do better but it may be more a question of putting on a better front for the consultant, Cambridge, than Mr. Smith was able to do. Consultants are not your friends, as Smith apparently failed to realize. They can sink you. And although Mable has been anointed by FWCS, we'll see if Cambridge can see through it.