Madison’s Behavior Education Plan: Can’t Measure Progress without Goals

As I have reported previously, I worked hard to get the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) to adopt its new Behavior Education Plan, which went into effect at the beginning of the current school year.  However, while it was a good step forward towards teaching appropriate behavior instead of removing so many children from education, I expressed concerns about the failure of MMSD to set specific outcome goals and to provide sufficient training and support to assure effective implementation of this ambitious plan.

Recently, local media reported stories of MMSD teachers complaining that implementation of the Behavior Education Plan was not going well and that their schools were more chaotic than ever.  Moreover, while the Behavior Education Plan has indeed resulted in fewer suspensions, racial disparities have actually increasedDespite these glaring problems, the school district’s first quarterly report continues the pattern of failing to identify specific outcome goals so progress can be measured and implementation can be adjusted as needed.

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In response to these concerns, MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham wrote an OpEd in which she declared that Madison schools are “aiming for excellence, equity.”  That sounds great, but with equity actually getting worse, it is remarkable that her OpEd follows her pattern of refusing to set specific outcome goals.

Perhaps the biggest concern in failing to set reasonable outcome goals while the Behavior Education Plan is attacked from within is that parents and teachers who want safe schools will demand the repeal of this otherwise excellent plan.  These concerns must be met with clear goals and better training.  The tools are there.  Teachers just need training and support.

In Gainesville, Florida, for example, teachers are using a multi-tiered approach to support behavioral needs because they understand that:

“If a child is not behaving there’s a need not being met, and that’s the premise I always go on.”

MMSD’s new Behavioral Education Plan represents a sea change in how we teach our children. It has the opportunity to keep students in school, teach them appropriate behavior, improve academic performance, and close racial disparities.  However, if MMSD continues to fail to set reasonable outcome goals, and does not provide sufficient training and support for its staff, it will all be for naught.

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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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Problem Solving=Effective Systems Change

Wherever one looks, problems confront us.  We face serious problems as individuals, in our local communities, our nation & worldwide.  While lawyers are often accused of creating problems, the best lawyers know that that real success for their clients means solving their problems.  This is true in my work as an attorney and systems change consultant.  Clients come to me with problems.  My job is to solve their problems.

Of course, saying this is easier said than done, and part of my job is to help clients set realistic expectations as some problems are beyond my ability to solve.  Frequently, clients approach me with so much anger and frustration that they are unable to focus on actual problem solving.  That means that my initial work is to help them keep their eyes on the prize by helping them strip their anger away to see how solving their problem will provide a much better long term solution than simply providing fuel to their anger.

Current events in Ferguson, with ripple effects nationwide, reveal genuine anger.  Anger at police; anger at rioters; anger at institutionalized racism and all that comes with it: poverty, inadequate education and health care, excessive incarceration and the list goes on.  But, where our leaders have failed the people of Ferguson and all the rest of us who struggle to overcome these longstanding problems, is that while they cite statistics justifying anger, or try to calm legitimate anger through calming words, our leaders are failing to engage in systemic problem solving.

Problem solving certainly requires clear identification of the problem.  But that is merely a first step as problem identification alone will never solve the problem.  In fact, identifying a problem without solving it is more likely to fuel anger than solve the problem.

Once the problem is identified, the next steps which must be taken to solve the problem include:

  1. Finding workable solutions, ideally a solution that has demonstrated efficacy, as Kalamazoo has done for our public schools.
  2. Set realistic goals for solving the problem, track progress, and hold those responsible for reaching those goals accountable for the success or failure.
  3. Provide inspiration to those struggling to solve the problem, as it can be a long, hard, frustrating endeavor that without inspiration, will only fuel frustration and despair.
  4. Sustain hope for those seeking solutions, as without it, many will fail to engage in the struggle to solve big problems.

Struggling to overcome problems, large and small, is part of the human condition.  The question is whether we stay mired in complaining about our problems or engage in genuine problem solving.  I have devoted my career and much of my private life to problem solving.  If more of us do the same, we will succeed in solving more problems, sooner rather than later.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you solve problems through effective, progressive systems change contact him through his his Systems Change Consulting web site.

Still Waiting for Genuine Accountability: Madison Issues Third Draft of Behavior Education Plan

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) recently issued its 3rd draft of its Behavior Education Plan, and given my current experience representing clients who are suffering due to the school district’s current inflexible zero tolerance discipline policy, the school board should act as quickly as possible to adopt a new approach.  This version was accompanied by the first draft of a document entitled, Implications for Practice, which has not been posted to the MMSD’s web site, but I can e-mail a copy to you at your request.

Like the 2nd draft, there are separate plans for Elementary School Students and Middle & High School Students.  As I mentioned when I analyzed the 2nd draft, there is very little difference between these two plans, and I continue to urge the school board to consolidate the plans and simply identify different treatment for different ages if and when appropriate.

The good news about the 3rd draft is that all of the positive elements from the 2nd draft remain intact which should result in moving the school district

away from zero-tolerance policies and exclusionary practices toward proactive approaches that focus on building student and staff skills and competencies, which, in turn, lead to greater productivity and success.

The 3rd draft goes one step further by stating that the school district believes

that children learn by pushing and testing limits, getting feedback about their behavioral choices and making the changes needed to become contributing members of a community of learners.

This version continues “to reflect a district commitment to student equity,”  and sets forth many positive purposes behind the Behavior Education Plan.

Sadly, however, despite my urging, and despite statements within both the plan and the Implications for Practice document that accountability is part of the plan, there are absolutely no measurable goals set forth in the plan!  How can anyone be held accountable if the plan has no measurable goals?

Moreover, the entire Plan continues to fail to adopt these key provisions:

  • A commitment that no educational time will be lost due to disciplinary removals; and
  • Elimination of racial and disability disparities in the district’s disciplinary practices.

Unfortunately, although the plan continues to trumpet the “rights and responsibilities” of students, parents & guardians, teachers & staff, administrators, central office staff and the Board of Education, the plan remains silent regarding the consequences of any failures to honor those rights or fulfill those responsibilities.

The Implications for Practice document clearly states that,

Every school will be held responsible for quality implementation of the BEP.

But there is no mention of how each school, and more importantly, each individual who is responsible for implementation of the BEP will be held responsible.

The best way to hold the district and each school accountable is to set forth specific measurable goals.  For example, the most recent available discipline data is for the 2011-12 school year.  It shows the following disturbing statistics in MMSD:

  • 2,169 students were suspended (8.1% of all students)
  • Over half of those suspended students, 1,278, were African American (23.7% of all African American students)
  • Nearly half of those suspended students, 902, had disabilities (22.7% of all students with disabilities)

If the district is serious about changing its practices, it should set district and school specific goals for reducing all of these numbers and these gross disparities.

Similarly, since more time in school is directly related to improved school performance, the school district should also set forth specific district-wide and school specific goals to improve these dismal graduation rates, which in the most recent reporting year of 2011-12 shows:

  • Only a 74.6% 4 year graduation rate;
  • A 63.2% Latino 4 year graduation rate;
  • A horrific 53.1% African-American 4 year graduation rate; and
  • An even worse 46.2% 4 year graduation rate for students with disabilities.

If the MMSD School Board and Administration is serious about accountability for implementing a new progressive Behavior Implementation Plan, it will set forth 1, 3 and 5 year goals for reducing its horrendous suspension rates and increasing its dismal graduation rates. They should then bask in the community’s praise for achieving those goals, or accept full responsibility for failure to achieve those targets and adjust their actions accordingly in order to improve the district’s performance.  If the school board and administration fail to set specific goals for improvement, then community advocates must set those goals for the district and hold the district and its leaders accountable.  Failure to do so will perpetuate the MMSD’s continual feeding of the schools to prison pipeline.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Setting Goals is Critical for Effective Systems Change

Regardless of the type of systems change in which one is engaged, success can only be measured if goals for such change are established.  A good example is the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) current effort to revise its discipline policy (the current draft is now dubbed the “Behavior Education Plan).”  While it appears that these important revisions represent an effort at systemic change away from zero tolerance disciplinary practice, it is impossible to tell whether the changes will truly result in the desired systemic change because the current draft does not establish specific short or long-term goals.

A good place to start is with an examination of the most current available discipline data for MMSD which is from the 2011-12 school year.  That data reveals the following for that year:

  • 8.1% of all students were suspended.
  • 10.4% of all boys were suspended.
  • 10.2% of all Native American students were suspended.
  • 23.7% of all African American students were suspended.
  • 22.7% of all students with disabilities were suspended.

The problem with excessive suspension peaks in MMSD’s middle schools as:

  • 13.7% of all 6th grade students were suspended; and
  • 18% of all 7th grade students were suspended.

Interestingly, during that year, the largest single category of suspensions resulted from violations of school rules which were not weapon, drug, or assault related.

So, as we grapple with a significant overhaul of the school district’s behavior policies, the question for the MMSD administration, school board, and community is:

How should these numbers change in 1 year,  3 years and 5 years?

If goals for improving these dismal numbers are not set, then it will be impossible for the school board, administration and Madison community to determine if the new behavior policies are having their intended effect.

If the school district fails to set those goals, those of us who want to see Madison truly progress beyond zero tolerance policies and into genuine behavior education that leads to academic success, will need to set those goals for the school district and hold the MMSD school board and administration accountable for the success or failure of achieving those goals.

Studies show that increased time in instruction driven by implementation of school-wide behavior support instead of punitive zero tolerance practices, leads to increased academic success.  

Accordingly, MMSD should also set reasonable goals to improve the academic performance of its students so that we move beyond this dismal graduation rate data from the 2011-12 when:

  • 86.7% of white 12th graders graduated in the expected 4 years; but
  • only 63.2% of Latino 12th graders graduated in 4 years;
  • 53.1% of African-American 12th graders graduated in 4 years; and
  • 46.2% of students with disabilities graduated in 4 years.

So, let’s set realistic goals to keep students in school and improve their academic success. Failure to do so will result in further behavioral and academic failure which continues to fuel the schools to prison pipeline.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.