No Accountability? No Improvement

Earlier this week, the Madison Metropolitan School District released its latest Behavior Education Plan (BEP) data. Unfortunately, there are many troubling aspects to that data.

The recently revised BEP has three goals, as follows:

  1. Increase the number of students, families and staff who feel safe, and a sense of belonging.
  2. Improve the successful development of foundational practices and integration into school-wide systems, including the effective use of interventions.
  3. Reduce the disproportionality in use of exclusionary practices, including suspensions for African-American students and students with disabilities.

school to prison pipeline

Unfortunately, the terms “increase,” “improve” and “reduce” contained in these goals do not contain short or long term measurements for how much of an increase, improvement or reduction, the school district hopes to achieve. So, neither the district nor the public has any way of measuring success.

Remarkably, none of those goals includes a reduction of suspensions. Nor is there a goal to analyze the data on a school by school basis to examine which schools are meeting the stated goals, and which are not, thereby allowing the district to intervene in schools which are failing to meet these goals, and replicate the practices of the schools which are meeting these goals.

From the outset of the original BEP, and throughout its existence, I have urged the school district to provide more resources to help staff and students implement the plan in an effective manner. Yet, for reasons that are not clear, the monetary resources the district is putting into the BEP actually declined in FY 2020 by $140,000 from the prior year. This translates into 4 fewer staff available to help implement the plan.

Regarding the first goal, despite the lack of a clear definition of what “increase” means, the results are dismal by any measure.

  • Only 58% of African-American students feel safe in MMSD schools, and only 66% of White students feel safe at school.
  • This aligns with the fact that only 56% of African-American students feel that they belong in MMSD schools, and only 66% of White students feel that way.

There is no data for whether students with disabilities feel safe or feel that they belong in MMSD schools.

The second goal is being measured by self assessment, and although self assessment scores are provided, there is no indication of what is considered an acceptable score. Nor is there an indication of how high the rating scale is. So, while I suspect the following data is based on a 4 point scale, and therefore is not very encouraging, there is no way to know for sure based on the data provided to the public.

The restorative justice self-assessment scores are:

  • 1.67 for elementary schools; and
  • 1.81 for secondary schools.

The culturally responsive teaching self-assessment scores are:

  • 2.28 for elementary schools; and
  • 2.25 for secondary schools.

The social-emotional learning self-assessment scores are:

  • 2.67 for elementary schools; and
  • 1.84 for secondary schools.

The Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) scores are:

  • 2.69 for elementary schools; and
  • 2.28 for secondary schools.

Finally, the disproportionality goal is clearly unmet, because despite the lack of definition of how much of a reduction the district seeks, there has actually been an increase in the number of suspensions and disproportionality has worsened, as follows:

  • Total increase in out of school suspensions from first semester 2018-19 to first semester 2019-20 from 1,412 to 1,524. This continues a trend in which school suspensions have increased every single year since 2015-16, when there were only 910 out of school suspensions during the first semester;
  • The rising trend of suspensions includes African American students who received 846 suspensions first semester 2018-19 and 866 suspensions during first semester 2019-20, with similar annual increases since 2015-16 with 559 suspensions;
  • A similar rise occurred for students with disabilities who received 783 suspensions first semester 2018-19 and 791 suspensions during first semester 2019-20, with similar annual increases rising from 509 suspensions during first semester 2015-16.
  • There was a slight decline in the number of suspensions of African-American students with disabilities from 459 during first semester 2018-29 to 449 during first semester 2019-20. However, this year’s rate is still much higher for this group since first semester 2015-16 when there were 329 suspensions.

There has been modest progress in reducing disproportionality for suspensions of African-American students but the results are still dismal.

  • Whereas the overall student body is 18% African-American, this group received 54% of the suspensions, declining from 57% last year.

However, absolutely no progress is being made in reducing disproportionality of suspensions for students with disabilities.

  • Whereas 15% of the overall student body consists of students with disabilities, they receive 54% of the suspensions, the same as last year.

MMSD has a school board election in April (with a primary for one seat on February 18th). I attended a candidates’ forum last night, hoping to hear some comment on these dismal numbers, but nobody commented on the district’s failure. One candidate, Wayne Strong, repeatedly mentioned the obvious: the need to have safe schools, but he failed to articulate how to accomplish that or comment on what the school district needed to change.

I listened carefully for the candidates to mention accountability, because as my readers know, I believe that without accountability for results, nothing will improve. Although Karen Ball mentioned that she would hold herself accountable, which is laudable, she failed to mention how she would hold the Superintendent accountable. In her closing remarks, Christina Gomez Schmidt mentioned that her two priorities were accountability and transparency. After the forum, she approached me and stated that without measurable goals, it is impossible to demonstrate improvement and hold anyone accountable. As I have written previously, I agree wholeheartedly.

It is my sincere hope that the MMSD school board articulates measurable achievable goals to improve the behavior outcomes in our district. Without doing so, we can only expect continued failure to improve a very unsatisfactory situation that continues to fuel the school to prison pipeline.


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


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