Friday, November 2, 2012

Wendy gets a hook

That's what a grade of "C" was called in my day. That's not the kind of hook we need to jerk her off the stage. Anyway that's down from an "A" last year. Well not really. The were never an "A" except under the IDE's screwed up new letter grade rating system, which had SAC and NAC rated as "C" districts.

But they got to pretend to be an "A" district until the IDE got their act together this year and the ratings were reversed. They got to hang banners all over town proclaiming themselves to be an "A" rated school district. They got to hang ""A" rated district" after FWCS in every print article for a year. They got to convince voters they deserved a bond issue to air condition their "A" rated schools.

Now that the IDE has fixed their calculation and FWCS' grade is realistic, they and the JG are complaining that the system is incomprehensible. There were no complaints last year. For a year FWCS and  incumbent board members John Peirce and Becky Hill were able to lie to us with the assistance of the IDE. You could argue that they really believed the ratings but that would be testimony to their incompetence. They should grateful for undeserved favors. Voters should be grateful to learn the truth before the election is over.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Davis and Jehl for School Board

If you live in one of the contested FWCS school board districts, you may or may not know that incumbents John Peirce and Becky Hill are being challenged by Jenna Jehl and Michael Davis respectively. If you know nothing about any of them then the key to your vote should be that the JG endorsed the incumbents. After an earlier editorial encouraging people to run for the board, they then proceeded to trash those who did because they looked to be conservative.

Incumbent 32 year board "vet" Steve Corona, another JG favorite, is unchallenged in district five. Mr. "proven leadership", as his billboards said four years ago, has been sitting on the board for 32 years watching my former school district and high school go down the tubes. Like the two challenged incumbents, Corona is still ignorant about the situation in our classrooms. But since all three believe Wendy walks on water, they're more than happy to take her word for the state of the district. Ms. O'Frisco's recommendation referred to increasing pressure from the state. That's the result of no pressure from a blissfully ignorant board of cheerleaders.

Michael Davis is the owner of a software business he started. He knows the educational requirements of today's economy.  He had three kids in FWCS. He knows what's going on in the buildings. I know Mr. Davis personally and supported him with a check.

I don't know Ms. Jehl personally. She was endorsed by the Sentinel. Predictably, she was dismissed by the JG. That alone would make her the best choice to replace John Peirce.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Can the cans

The new FWCS high school grading system has been rolled out as described in a lengthy article on the front page of the Sunday JG. An appropriate summary would be "Much ado about nothing." Well, OK, it will have an impact on can drives..

According to Faye Robbins-Williams they wanted to address inconsistencies such as students who were getting F's in all their classes passing the standardized tests with flying colors. What a ridiculous statement. Absolutely backwards. But it does point out again that high school grades mean nothing. With any grading system teachers will still have to find a way to pass 50% of an algebra class when only 20% can pass the ECA.

The problem with the high schools is the elementary schools and middle schools that feed them. A high school grading system will do nothing to fix that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

FWCS #1 by default

Indy media reported to day that IPS has lost 1500 students from 2011 while FWCS lost about 350. That makes FWCS the largest district in the state in terms of enrollment. It should be noted that four IPS schools were taken over by the state and converted to charters. About 1700 student chose to transfer to other IPS schools instead of going with the new charters, so the losses in Indy could have been much worse. In all about 500 appear to have opted out of IPS or former IPS schools entirely. But we need to see the state figures on vouchers and charter school enrollment to see what's really going on.

Nevertheless we expect GiaQuinta to organize a celebration featuring the high school bands.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pain brings gain

FWCS'  percentage for kids passing both the Math and LA  portions of the ISTEP this year improved by about 3% versus the state overall. Over the last 3 years they've improved 2%/yr on average, about what should be expected. So after nearly a decade of claims to the contrary, it seems that they can do better despite the demographics.

The improvements began when the state legislature and the IDE finally lowered the boom. The district couldn't inflict the necessary pain on itself,  forcing the state to step in and dictate a plan for schools that were heading toward a takeover. That allows the administration, FWEA and Democratic politicians to paint Mitch and Tony Bennett as the bad guys, and vilify them from now on for "destroying the public schools", which in the case of urban schools were already destroying themselves.

By avoiding the tough decisions for decades the district opened the window for charter schools, vouchers and the other reforms passed by the legislature. School choice has arrived and the response from the district is to trash charter schools. The best way for FWCS to discourage losses to charters and vouchers is to get their own house in order.

It looks like the state has finally accomplished what couldn't be done under "local control".

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Too little, too late, Wendy

Both papers today reported on a "frank" presentation Wendy gave at last night's board meeting on the loss of students (money) to charter schools. I didn't tune in myself because the mute button on my remote is flaky so I'm just relating what was in the papers. Funny thing, a couple of years ago,  in a discussion about Imagine Schools, I heard Mark GiaQuinta say he welcomed the competition (as long as they didn't have air conditioned buildings of course). Now they're changing their tune but as usual the blame for their problems lies elsewhere. .

Wendy should have done this presentation ten years ago. Now she wants to talk to parents who want to flee the district to get them to stay. She could have been talking to white parents who have been fleeing for years, but parents and taxpayers don't know squat and losing 400 white kids a year apparently is not a problem. In fact she could still ask GiaQuinta why he pulled his kids out and maybe in private he would give her a straight answer. But now it seems minority parents are finally waking up and looking for better options, or a "better product" as GiaQuinta puts it.

She claimed the district has been making progress academically for the last three years. Let's see, that would coincide with the time the state finally lowered the boom. That would be about the time she had a conversation she couldn't ignore because the state was ready to move in and the money was on the line. No ignorant parents or taxpayers whining at the end of a board meeting even with the TV cut off. This time it's about self preservation.

And so now she's losing minority kids to charter schools because those schools are spreading "misinformation" about FWCS. Really? The Urban League is lying? Former SSHS principal Thomas Smith is lying? If I said that they'd be calling me a racist (again). Even Karen O'Frisco would dance around that one. FWCS is going to go door to door to spread the truth. Can't wait 'til they get to my door.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Prediction on the bond issue?

Nope. Not from here.

Although from the letters in the papers it's obvious that anyone who wants to do business with FWCS is in favor of the project.  "Strong Schools" = strong buildings + strong bottom line.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We're getting closer to the truth.....

Six years ago, when the district was floating its $500MM bond issue, I went to a board meeting and told them the amount was excessive and if they persisted there would be a remonstrance. I told them that the remonstrance would also provide an opportunity to reveal what was going on in the district's classrooms which bears no resemblance to the happy talk in the board room. The talk did no good. The bond issue failed but unfortunately no significant changes resulted toward academic progress until the state threatened to start taking over their schools.

The last project was Wendy's roundabout way of trying once again to get the buildings air conditioned. Today the JG wrote that it will add air conditioning to 13 buildings, not "replace cooling systems" in 13 buildings that don't have AC as the district says on its website summaries. Of course the JG does not say that about $110 million of the project total is for HVAC and chillers. So in case you missed Krista Stockman babbling on "Midday Matters" last summer, it's still largely about air conditioning. The district claims that AC is being added because heating systems need to be replaced anyway but it could just as well be that they have to replace heating systems to allow the addition of AC. We have to take their word for it and admittedly I, personally, believe nothing they say.

They're in this situation because for over twenty years they've diverted $200 million of capital funds to "racial balance". They did that because funding racial balance was supposed to be "tax neutral". Obviously the "tax neutral" bill has come due. Without that diversion they could have done all of this on a pay as you go basis with no bond issue, no bond interest and no questions asked. And despite having no quantifiable academic benefit to show for it, they continue to do it.
Don't let anyone tell you how to vote, least of all our newspaper editors. They're slanted and/or ignorant just as they are when endorsing candidates for office. Which ever way you vote just make sure you know what you're voting for. Plus this time it's a secret ballot so Bill Sweet can't go look at petitions to see how you voted.

Friday, March 30, 2012

An all boys SE charter school

Former SSHS (and Wayne) principal Thomas Smith has received approval from Grace College for an all boys charter school in SE Fort Wayne. As principal of SSHS and before that Miami middle school, Mr. Smith is fully aware of the difficulty in educating young black males. He is probably on the right track with an all boys school, since recent studies suggest they help boys do significantly better academically.

Of course Ms. Frisco at the JG objects to the religious connection with grace College. Then she questions if Mr. smith has the experience for such a venture. A decade as principal of SSHS apparently is not good enough for Ms. Frisco. What she's really questioning without saying so is Mr. Smith's competence. Funny she never questioned that while he was working for Wendy and SSHS (and all the other FWCS high schools) was going down the road to a state takeover. Actually she's opposed to anything except more of the same as FWCS

I had several conversations with Mr. Smith when I tutored at SSHS. My take, and his as well, was that he could do very little when he had no control over the kids he got (socially promoted) from the middle schools. He was well liked by the students and the teachers, many of whom tried to follow him to Wayne. He will have an opportunity to prove his administrative abilities with this charter school and we should all hope he succeeds where FWCS has failed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Same thing in the land of cotton

Reading the papers during our winter stay in Bluffton, SC, it seemed like the only thing different surrounding the public schools was the scenery. In Bluffton and Hilton Head Island across the intracoastal canal the public schools are 60% black and Hispanic and "minority" passing rates on their state tests are around 40%. Business groups on the island are setting up learning centers to give kids access to technology and tutoring outside normal school hours. A good idea but probably way short of what's needed.

Four years ago Bluffton won a referendum for a new $150MM school complex. About 15% of registered voters showed up and it passed by less than 100 votes. Residents of the nearby SUN CITY, who were previously concerned only about their two overcrowded golf courses and maintenance fees are now complaining about their property taxes. Elections have consequences even if you don't vote. Improved test scores, unfortunately, were not a consequence.

Thirty minutes up the road in scenic Beaufort (setting for The Big Chill) the high school principal was forced to resign for altering 200 grades of 33 students. He explained he was trying to inspire unmotivated students to graduate and thought education was about nurturing and not testing. Changing grades was OK as long as he followed the prescribed procedure but he didn't, breaking the law, and giving the board no choice. Many students and parents were outraged that a "good guy" had to step down. Others wondered about the integrity of the whole system, calling it "academically bankrupt".

Over in Atlanta, they're still dealing with the aftermath of a cheating scandal. Eigth grade passing rates had risen by 14% over seven years under superintendent Beverely Hall. That's an average of 2% a year. After Ms Hall retired in 2009, investigative reporter Heather Vogell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, questioning some of the numbers, got a statistician to examine the data. That led to an investigation which uncovered widespread, organized cheating by principals and (over 200) teachers who still haven't been fired.

Here in Indiana ISTEP+ scores jumped 5% statewide (6% in FWCS) when the state switched to spring testing two years ago. If 2% average increases are unrealistic, what does that say about a 6% jump at FWCS in one year. Lacking any investigative reporting into the difficulty of the new tests, it says we need to pop out the champagne, like Wendy and GiaQuinta did. And since Ms. Hall had received national recognition as superintendent of the year (Arne Duncan was extremely disppointed), nominate Wendy for superintendent of the century and give her a big raise.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Record graduation rates in record recession

What do the record high school graduation rates mean? Simply that more kids are staying in high school for four years. When unemployment especially youth unemployment is at record levels, what other options does a teenager have? Lack of jobs is also a major factor pushing up college enrollment. It's a way to postpone job hunting until the economy improves and perhaps improving one's prospects with a degree.

Higher graduation rates do not, unfortunately translate into a better educated workforce. Sitting in a classroom is not necessarily the same as getting an education. Yes, students take standardized tests in English and math early on in high school but they are not required to pass them to "graduate". They can graduate with a "waiver" and receive a diploma for sticking it out for four years. Or as Wendy put it a few years ago, "the tests are not an issue" keeping kids from graduating. In other words, any kid who doesn't drop out is guaranteed a diploma. The typical 50% remediation rate for college freshmen show what has happened to the value of that diploma.

All other things being equal, the higher graduation rates would be a good sign. But we'll have to see what happens when the economy recovers to see if the trend is real.