Urban School Districts Demonstrate How to Close the Achievement Gap

Closing the achievement gap in our public schools has proven to be a daunting task for many urban school districts.  However, two large urban school districts, in Gwinnet County, Georgia, and Orange County, Florida, have demonstrated that it can be done.  Recently, both of these districts were co-recipients of the $1 million Broad Prize which recognizes improvements in urban education.  Students in these districts will be eligible for college scholarships from this prize.  While there are some who deride the Broad Foundation  for its efforts, my purpose here is to examine the progress of these districts, and describe how they improved the educational outcomes for their disadvantaged students, so that other school districts can replicate these results.

Both school districts are very large.  Gwinnett County has over 169,000 students and Orange County has over 188,000 students.  Gwinnett County has a history of academic success which is likely influenced by the fact that it has had the same Superintendent, Alan Wilbanks, at its helm for 18 years. Academic qualitative analysis of the reasons for Gwinnett County’s ability to produce academic success for its students despite having 55% of them eligible for free & reduced lunch, resulting in increased graduation rates and narrowing the achievement gap include:

  • mentoring programs;
  • tutoring programs;
  • parental involvement; and
  • constant communication between the school, parents, and the community.

Orange County, Florida’s success is more recent, but as the 10th largest school district in the nation, which has 62% of its students eligible for free or reduced lunch, it is notable that it has:

  • A greater percentage of African-American students who are reaching advanced academic levels in Orange County than elsewhere in Florida;
  • Narrowed the achievement gap for both Hispanic students and low-income students; and
  • Increased both the participation and passage rates for Hispanic students taking  Advanced Placement tests.

Consistent leadership has also helped Orange County, as its current Superintendent Barbara Jenkins worked for 6 years under the prior Superintendent who served for 12 years before Ms. Jenkins took the helm. She attributes Orange County’s progress to:

  • a focus on data that the district uses to drive attention and resources to the weakest areas;
  • support from the community—including taxpayer approval of huge property tax increases to help fund school programs and stave off painful program cuts; and
  • centralizing curriculum, assessment, and professional development.

Closing the achievement gap is hard work, but consistent leadership, focusing resources on the most challenging students, and community and parental support, including financial support, are the keys to success.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Which Children are Left Behind?

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) recently released the annual school report cards for all Wisconsin public school districts and individual schools.  DPI’s press release proclaimed that,

Most schools and school districts meet or exceed expectations on annual report cards.

While that is certainly good news, if we care about our most vulnerable students, it is worth examining whether they are meeting or exceeding expectations.  When these report cards first came out a couple of years ago, I wrote a short piece on the performance of Madison East High School, where my son is now a senior.  I kept it short, because the report cards were new, and those were their first release, but given my penchant for insisting on school district accountability for the education of their students, it is worth examining how well the Madison Metropolitan School District  (MMSD) succeeded in educating its most vulnerable students during the 2013-14 school year.

While overall DPI considered that MMSD “meets expectations,” a closer examination of vulnerable student populations suggests that many MMSD students are not receiving an education which will prepare them adequately for adulthood.

READING

  • Statewide advanced or proficient=37.6%
  • MMSD district-wide advanced or proficient=37.8%
  • MMSD Black students: only 12.9% advanced or proficient, and a disturbing 58.2% minimal performance
  • MMSD Hispanic students: only 15.6% advanced or proficient, and a disturbing 52.2% minimal performance
  • MMSD students with disabilities: only 14.5% advanced or proficient, and a disturbing 65.4% minimal performance
  • MMSD economically disadvantaged students: only 13.5% advanced or proficient, and a disturbing 55.9% minimal performance
  • MMSD limited English proficiency students: only 12.9% advanced or proficient, and a disturbing 54.7% minimal performance

MATH

  • Statewide advanced or proficient=50.2%
  • MMSD district-wide advanced or proficient=45.5%
  • MMSD Black students: only 16.8% advanced or proficient, and a disturbing 47.6% minimal performance
  • MMSD Hispanic students: only 23% advanced or proficient, and a disturbing 32.4% minimal performance
  • MMSD students with disabilities: only 19% advanced or proficient, and a disturbing 55.6% minimal performance
  • MMSD economically disadvantaged students: only 19.9% advanced or proficient, and a disturbing 39.8% minimal performance
  • MMSD limited English proficiency students: only 23.5% advanced or proficient, and a disturbing 32.3% minimal performance

4 YEAR GRADUATION RATES

  • MMSD’s district-wide graduation rate=77.3% (up 2.7% from prior year)
  • MMSD black student graduation rate=59% (up 4% from prior year)
  • MMSD Hispanic student graduation rate=68.8% (up 5.6% from prior year)
  • MMSD students with disabilities graduation rate=44.9% (down 1.3% from prior year)
  • MMSD economically disadvantaged students graduation rate=56.2% (up .8% from prior year)
  • MMSD limited English proficiency students graduation rate=59% (down 3% from prior year)

In sum, while some MMSD students are showing improvements in their reading and math, as well as graduation, too many vulnerable students are either falling ever further behind.  Both the school district and the citizenry must demand more than incremental improvement and certainly no further slippage in performance from our school district.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Broken promises=Bad fiscal management

While Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker refuses to publicly regret his 2010 campaign promise to add 250,000 new private sector jobs to the state, despite the fact that Wisconsin will not even come close to meeting his promised goal, deeper questions must be asked about how well Gov. Walker manages state government when he operates under false premises. As Politifact amply describes, with very little time left for Gov. Walker to meet his goal, it is clear that he will not do so, having only created 102,813 new private sector jobs in over 3 1/2 years on the job, not even half-way towards keeping his promise.

While the public may be jaded and routinely assume that politicians will make empty promises they will not keep, this particular promise has implications which suggest that Gov. Walker’s overly rosy view of his ability to improve Wisconsin’s economy has resulted in a gigantic budget deficit. Earlier this year, Gov. Walker called the legislature into a special session when his optimistic economic outlook was that the Wisconsin State budget would have a $1 billion surplus.  To curry favor with the voters and the business community, he pushed for and his Republican dominated legislature delivered an over $800 million tax cut.

At the time, some in the Wisconsin business community questioned the fiscal soundness of giving so much money away so quickly. Their fears have proven true only months later, with the announcement that Wisconsin is now facing a $1.8 billion deficit. 

Gov. Walker can certainly try to spin his way out of this double dose of bad news.  What he cannot explain is why the public should re-elect a governor who routinely relies on wildly inaccurate economic forecasts.  As his opponent, business executive Mary Burke stated in response to the deficit announcement.

“In the business world, if a CEO created this big of a financial mess, he would be fired.” 

walker-burke

In a democracy, voters have a unique opportunity at election time to hold their political leaders accountable for their performance.  In this case, voters must weigh not only whether they want to re-elect a Governor who came woefully short of a cornerstone promise of his initial election campaign, but perhaps more importantly, whether they want to re-elect a Governor who routinely relies on overly rosy economic forecasts in setting the state’s budget, resulting in an a fiscal mess for the state.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Sun Prairie Police Brutality Case Headed to Trial

Last summer, I filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of my client, a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, middle school student, who without provocation, was forcefully taken down to the hard floor at his school by police school liaison officer Brandon Lingle, suffering a concussion and black eye, as well as emotional distress.  My client and his mother retained me not only to obtain justice for him, but to make clear to both the Sun Prairie Police Department and others who are taking note of this case, that police officers simply cannot use excessive force against children in our schools and get away with it.  You can read more about the media coverage when the lawsuit was filed and see the TV broadcast of the school security video showing the takedown of my client in my previous post on this case. Although my client and his mother have always been willing to resolve this matter through a fair and reasonable settlement, to date, Officer Lingle and the City of Sun Prairie have refused to enter into any negotiations, choosing instead to try to have the case dismissed before trial.

Late last week, presiding federal Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker, issued an important decision which affirms my client’s right to have a jury decide whether Officer Lingle used excessive force when he took my client down to the hard school floor.  Based on the written submissions by both parties, Judge Crocker stated that:

I cannot find that Officer Lingle’s takedown was reasonable as a matter of law….As a result, a jury will have to hear the evidence, find facts and resolve this claim with a verdict.

Unless the parties resolve this case through settlement, trial is scheduled for 4 days in federal district court in Madison, from October 27-30, 2014.  My clients will continue to seek justice for school children through this case, whether by obtaining a fair settlement or presenting their case to a jury next month.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.