Close the Achievement Gap: Increase Intensive Support

As the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education reviews the budget which its administration has prepared for the coming year, it would be wise to take a close look at its continuing problem with the ongoing racial, disability and poverty achievement gap and focus on how appropriate staffing can help to close that gap. While some improvements have been made, persistent gaps remain.

Students simply will not succeed if they are not in school. During the 2014-15 school year 2,477 MMSD students were habitually truant (meaning 5 or more days of unexcused absence from school) representing 9.8% of all MMSD students. But 1,235 of those students (nearly half) were African-American, representing 26.9% of all MMSD African-American students.

During that same year, MMSD suspended 1,713 students. But, 1,069 of them were African-American representing well over half of those suspended students. 402 of MMSD suspended students had disabilities, representing 10.9% of all MMSD students with disabilities, nearly half of all MMSD suspended students. While the data does not reveal how many African-American students with disabilities were suspended, when one adds the African-American suspended students and the suspended students with disabilities, that number almost equals all MMSD suspended students so it is safe to assume that African-American students with disabilities have the highest rate of suspension in the district.

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That MMSD’s discipline data reveals troubling racial and disability disparities is consistent with national data. But that should come as no solace to anyone, as nobody should admire the data. Instead, we need to apply solutions that we know will work to solve the problem.

While MMSD’s Behavior Education Plan has succeeded in significantly reducing the total number of suspensions, it also reveals another glaring gap for children in poverty. While 48% of MMSD students qualify for free or reduced lunch, a shocking 89% of MMSD suspensions were doled out to low-income students.

Finally, graduation rates also reveal a troubling achievement gap. At the end of the 2014-15 school year, 80.1% of MMSD seniors graduated in 4 years. But only 57.8% of African-American students; 56.8% of students with disabilities; and 62.1% of low-income students graduate in 4 years.

Fortunately, MMSD has a program designed to address the needs of its students with the most intensive needs. The Intensive Support Team (IST) takes requests from MMSD staff to address the needs of students in crisis. As of May 2, 2016, during this school year, there were 455 requests for support to IST. Of these, 411 were served by the team in one of several capacities (consultation, intake/assessment, professional development, short term stabilization), 250 were closed and the rest still active. This means that nearly 10% of referrals were not served and over 1/2 of all referrals are still receiving intensive supports.

Unfortunately, staff cuts were made to this team last year and the administration’s proposed budget does not propose to fill those cuts. The good news is that the budget is still in the discussion stage. School board member Anna Moffit has proposed to increase the IST staff by 3.5 FTE staff to address the unmet need for these students at a cost of approximately $250,000. In an era of tight budgets and state imposed revenue caps, Ms. Moffit recognizes that the money must come from somewhere so she has identified the following reasonable places where this money can be found: reduce spending on Technology Plan; reduce spending on Educational Resource Officers; or utilize funds saved from not filling the position of Special Assistant to the Superintendent ($125,000 dollars).

The school board and our community must recognize that failing to meet the needs of these students has a significant cost both to these students and to society at large. A recent report by the UCLA Civil Rights project from which I extrapolated the high cost of suspensions in Wisconsin, reveals that each suspended student who fails to graduate results in:

  • $19,572 in fiscal costs; and
  • $60,962 in societal costs.

Thus, if the IST is able to help only 5 more students at risk of suspension to graduate, it will have saved our community far more money than the additional cost which Ms. Moffit proposes spending on this worthy program. Thus, her proposal makes senses for educational, equitable, social and economic reasons and should therefore receive the support of the full school board.

Residents of MMSD who support Ms. Moffit’s proposal should e-mail the school board to encourage them to approve her amendment at: board@madison.k12.wi.us.

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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.

 

The High Cost of School Suspensions

While many school officials choose to suspend students who misbehave either to teach them a lesson or simply to remove a child who may have caused a disruption in school, they need to understand the long term consequences to both the suspended child and to society as a whole which result from these suspensions.

Today, the UCLA Civil Rights Project released an in-depth report on, The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and its Disparate Impact which takes a comprehensive look at the impact of school suspensions on children and society.

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This study demonstrates markedly lower graduation rates for students who are suspended even one time. Nationally, the graduation rate drops by 12 percentage points for suspended students!

The report then goes on to calculate the fiscal and social costs of suspensions which lead to high school drop outs.

The consequences are expressed as the lifetime differences between dropouts and graduates in: incomes; taxes paid; government spending on health, crime, and welfare; tax distortions; and productivity gains. Although the fiscal and social costs are related, the social costs include the aggregate losses incurred by dropouts personally such as their lower income, diminished productivity, and higher expenditures on health care due to poorer health. The fiscal costs are a subset of the social costs and cover only the losses experienced by federal, state and local governments due to lower income tax revenues and higher government expenditures on health and social services, and on the criminal justice system.

The report estimates that the national average economic loss per high school non-graduate due to suspension is:

  • fiscal costs to taxpayers: $163,340/suspended non-graduating student
  • social costs to society: $527, 695/suspended non-graduating student

When one multiplies all suspended non-graduates by these economic losses, the national economic impact is tremendous:

  • overall national fiscal cost to taxpayer: $11 billion due to suspended non-graduates
  • overall national social cost to society: $35.7 billion due to suspended non-graduates

On an optimistic note, the report then estimates the nationwide economic benefits achieved by reducing suspensions. For each percentage point of reduction, our nation would save:

  • $691 million saved in fiscal costs/1% reduction in suspension rate
  • $2.2 billion saved in social costs/1% reduction in suspension rates.

The report examines 2 states, Florida and California, but it encourages educators and policymakers to apply this impact to every other state. Thus, in examining Wisconsin’s suspension rate, while the suspension rate has been going down, in 2014-15, Wisconsin school districts nevertheless suspended 31,167 students, or 3.6% of all enrolled students. Using the report’s data, and applying the national average 12% increase in drop-out rate for suspended students, this means that the total economic impact for Wisconsin suspended non-graduates is estimated to be:

  • $610 million fiscal cost to Wisconsin taxpayers due to suspended non-graduates
  • $1.9 billion social cost to Wisconsin society due to suspended non-graduates

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provides suspension data by school district, race/ethnicity, gender and disability. For example, in the Madison area, the Beloit School District has the highest rate of suspension at 10.1% (nearly 3 times the state average). Racial disparities exist throughout the state. Statewide, Wisconsin school districts suspended 15.1% African-American students in 2014-15, nearly 5 times the state average. Beloit once again has troubling racial disparities, having suspended 21.8% of its African-American students that year.

Disparities are also troubling for students with disabilities. Statewide 9.5% of students with disabilities were suspended statewide (nearly 3 times the statewide average). Once again, Beloit exhibits disturbing disparities, having suspended 22.9% of its students with disabilities that year.

Thus, the economic impact on the most disadvantaged groups of students is many times higher than for white non-disabled students.

The report concludes with 3 major recommendations:

  1. When federal and state governments create and implement evaluation and oversight plans for schools and districts they should include suspension rates among the indicators they use to determine whether schools are high performing or in need of assistance.
  2. Use the suspension data as part of an early warning system for schools and districts. Thus, as more districts with high suspension rates explore alternatives, we will need data to help them distinguish between effective and ineffective interventions and policy changes.
  3. State and federal policymakers should provide schools and districts with incentives to improve their school climate, such as grants for substantial teacher and administrator trainings, and resources targeted at improving the collection and use of discipline data at the school level.

These are all excellent ideas, and local school districts need not wait for state and federal policymakers to implement local changes to reduce suspensions, thereby increasing graduation rates, and reducing fiscal and social costs to all of us. This report demonstrates that the investments are well worth the money and effort.

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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.

 

 

Madison School Improvement Plan: Insufficient Accountability

Earlier this week, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham held a press conference touting the progress which the district has made after one year under her leadership.  The basis for her claim was the progress made by many schools as set forth under her First Annual Report.  To make sure that MMSD parents were aware of how each school is doing under what she has dubbed the Strategic Frameworkshe e-mailed MMSD parents with links to the Annual Report, and encouraged them to examine the results of the children’s schools.

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To that end, I have examined the results at Madison East High School, and despite the fact that my son gets a good education there, the results reveal significant academic problems, huge racial disparities, and simply no information about school discipline issues.

First, it is worth examining the demographics of East High, which interestingly are found in the accountability link.  In the 2013-14 school year, East High had:

  • 55.4% low-income students;
  • 24.7% English Language Learners;
  • 21.5% Special education students; and
  • a minority white student, with 59.3% of its students being non-white.

Next, the academic achievement results as shown in the School Improvement Plan which provides no data for any minority groups other than African-Americans and students in special education reveals that:

  • While there was some improvement with 33% of 9th graders having 2 or more course failures compared to 38% the prior year, this is still a very high rate of failure and is magnified by significant racial and disability disparities with 49% of African-American 9th graders having 2 or more course failures, and 45% of students in special education having 2 or more course failures;
  • Once again, there was some improvement with 36% of 11th graders having a 3.0 grade point average or higher (compared to 31% the prior year), these rates plummet to 11% for African-American students, and 10% for students in special education;
  • Reading and math scores show similar improvement, but once again striking racial and disability disparities with 45% of students at a college ready reading level, but only 22% of African-American students and 18% of students in special education reading at that level; and 40% of students at college ready math level, but only 12% of both African-American and students in special education reading at that level;
  • Finally, the 4 year graduation rate has improved overall to 83%, but it is only 70% for African-American students and a mere 49% for students in special education, which unfortunately suggests that many students are graduating without college ready reading or math abilities.

Sadly, given all the attention paid to the school district’s significant modification of its Behavior Education Plan earlier this year, there is no school discipline data provided to parents or the public, which means there are no goals, nor any accountability for this area which is so critical to improving student achievement and shutting down the school to prison pipeline.

In sum, while some improvement is worth bragging about, the high level of racial and disability disparities which remain, and complete lack of data and goals around improved behavior mean that MMSD has a long way to go if it School Improvement Plan will result in a quality education for all of its students, preparing them to be productive adults upon graduation.

_________________________________________________________________________________________ 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.

Replicate this: The Kalamazoo Promise Works

The sound and fury of school reform proponents is deafening as they decry public school failures and urge privatization, charters and high stakes testing.  Equally furious public school supporters seek to cast blame for public school failures on the twin devils of inadequate school funding and student poverty.  Remarkably, neither camp spends a lot of time focusing on innovative programs with proven success and encouraging successful replication.

While successful systems change requires genuine root cause analysis of the problems which require change, real change is far easier and more likely to succeed when a successful model exists which is worthy of replication.  When it comes to increasing high school graduation rates, improving grades, and lowering behavior problems, the Kalamazoo Promise is a program which succeeds in all these measures, and clearly deserves emulation nationwide.

The Kalamazoo Promise started 8 years ago, and has nearly 4000 eligible students. Through sufficient donations, it promises to provide public college scholarships to Kalamazoo High School graduates, with at least a 2.0 grade point average, so unlike many other scholarship programs, it is not designed to serve only academically oriented students.  Of course, students must perform well enough in high school to gain entry into a Michigan college or university, which encourages students who want to obtain the Promise scholarships to work harder.  However, scholarships are available to every Michigan public post-secondary institution from local community colleges to flagship institutions such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, thereby fitting the needs of any student who seeks a post-secondary education.

The scholarships provide 65% of public college tuition and mandatory fees for Kalamazoo students who enrolled in high school in 9th grade, sliding up to 100% for those who attend Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) from Kindergarten through 12th grade.  This feature has actually served to increase public school enrollment in Kalamazoo, stemming what had been an 18 year trend of declining enrollment and white flight.  Between 80-90% of KPS graduates have been eligible for college scholarships and between 82-85% have received scholarships ranging from $5,000-55,000.

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This chart also reveals that KPS is a mid-size urban school district with significant poverty (13.6% in the 2000 census), and a racially diverse make-up, which makes it all the more appropriate for replication in the myriad of other similar districts throughout the country. This enrollment rise reflects both new students coming into KPS because of the Promise as well as fewer students leaving (through drop out or moving) than prior to the Promise.

In addition to the clear benefit from enrollment rising in KPS, a recent study shows important academic and behavioral results from the Promise:

  • Increased credits obtained by KPS high school students;
  • Increased grades earned by all KPS students with a more dramatic increase for African-American students; and a
  • Decrease in days of suspension for all students, with a more dramatic decrease for African-American students.

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The researchers appropriately deem these results striking and further find that:

The decrease in the number of days spent in suspension might have shifted past some “tipping point” beyond which more presence in the classroom leads to higher grades, while leaving the white students less affected.

With results like these, school advocates of all stripes should push private foundations as well as state and federal governments to put their energy and funding into replicating the Kalamazoo Promise nationwide.

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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.

 

Stop Paternalizing Children with Disabilities

In the many years I have advocated for children with disabilities, I have frequently encountered those who purport to care so deeply for children with disabilities (rarely their own) that they support methods of care and support and even legislation that purports to protect these children, but when analyzed more closely, does a great disservice to these children by preventing them to live as fully and independently as possible.

My advocacy has included combatting paternalistic policies and practices including segregating children with disabilities in separate schools, which prevents them from making friends with non-disabled children who will help them with sustaining networks in their adult lives.  Even worse, is institutionalizing children with disabilities under the guise of protecting them, but ultimately ruining their chances to live free and independent lives.

It has recently come to my attention that under the guise of helping students with disabilities, Louisiana’s legislature is proposing 2 bills that would undermine those children’s access to a quality education.

House Bill No. 993 contains the following highly damaging provisions:

  1. Waives the requirement that students with disabilities must meet state and local performance standards in order to graduate high school;
  2. Waives the requirement that students with disabilities must pursue the same “rigorous curriculum required for his chosen major by his school as approved by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education,” as all other students.
  3. Waives all state and local graduation requirements for students with disabilities.
  4. Waives the requirement that students with disabilities (along with all other students) must read at the “approaching basic” level on either the English/Language Arts or mathematics component of the 8th grade state assessment, as well as the other objective criteria established by the local school district, in order to be promoted from 8th grade to 9th grade.
  5. Waives the requirement that students with disabilities (along with all other students) who score at the unsatisfactory level on the state assessment, must complete a summer remediation program in that subject area in order to complete a high school major in that subject area.
  6. Provides that all pupil grade progressions for students with disabilities shall be determined by the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team.
  7. Provides that if a pupil with disabilities meets her IEP goals, she can receive a high school diploma.

House Bill No. 1015 goes even further down the road of degrading the education of children with disabilities in the name of protecting them.  It would:

  1. Exclude children with disabilities from the same grade promotion standards as all other children and simply allow their IEP team to determine whether to promote the child to the next grade.
  2. Excludes all state and local assessment scores from children with disabilities from the state’s accountability system.

While some may believe that these provisions serve to protect children with disabilities, my experience has demonstrated otherwise.  If these bills pass, Louisiana will be able to graduate its children with disabilities after 12th grade, even though federal special education law clearly allows students with disabilities who need up to 3 more years of education to receive those critical additional years of education.

Furthermore, these bills will make it impossible for parents of children with disabilities to determine how well their school districts are educating their children.  Parents and advocates of children with disabilities fought long and hard for the federal law provision that requires schools to educate children with disabilities in the general curriculum.  These bills take Louisiana down the road of a separate and unequal education for children with disabilities.  This is particularly troubling because the vast majority of children with disabilities are of average or greater intelligence.  Why take those students out of the the accountability system unless Louisiana simply wants to wash its hands of its responsibility for them?

The National Center for Learning Disabilities published an excellent report about the low graduation rates of children with learning disabilities (who by definition have average or greater intelligence).  That report reveals that Louisiana has the 2nd worst graduation rate for such children in the nation (only Nevada is worse).

This graph shows how badly Louisiana’s students with disabilities are faring when it comes to graduating from high school.  As you can see it fares poorly in comparison to both national and other state data.  Indeed, currently more students with disabilities drop out of high school in Louisiana than graduate.

HS graduation rate graphIf these bills pass, Louisiana will look like it is graduating the most students with disabilities even though it is providing less education to them.  Parents and advocates of children with disabilities cannot allow this to happen. Indeed, my fear is that if it happens in Louisiana, your state could be next.  For that reason, national disability advocates should weigh in to oppose these problematic bills.

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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.

The Synergy of Individual Advocacy & Systems Change

Recently, I had the opportunity to demonstrate, once again, the synergy of individual advocacy & systems change.  For nearly 20 years, I have been combating the schools to prison pipeline, as I wrote about over a year ago.  In January, I started writing a series of blogs and submitted them to the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) school board as its administrators developed a series of 4 drafts of what started out as a proposed revision of its discipline plan, but on my advice, became the new Behavior Education Plan, which will go into effect on September 1, 2014, and you can review here.  That plan had been sailing under the radar with relatively minimal public input, until my clients and I recently went public with an expulsion case which was a classic  example of zero tolerance run amok.  Fortunately, in one night, the school board ended my client’s expulsion, and then proceeded to approve the new Behavior Education Plan, in front of a packed auditorium, putting 2 nails in the coffin of zero tolerance.

As I testified to the school board that night, MMSD’s new, improved plan is not perfect, as it fails to set specific goals for reducing out of school discipline such as suspensions and expulsions, and accordingly fails to set specific goals for reducing the racial and disability disparities in both discipline and academic achievement which the district has long struggled to overcome.  In addition, I encouraged the school board to place advocates in each school to assist students and their parents through the discipline process as well as other challenges, including academic, which students may encounter.

Unfortunately, after I made that suggestion, the President of the MMSD School Board, publicly criticized my suggestion, as he does not view the discipline process as “adversarial,” which is fairly remarkable given his work as an attorney, but even more remarkable given that he truly does not understand the role that advocates actively play not only to improve outcomes for the children for whom they advocate, but to help change flawed systems for the better.

For nearly 30 years, my career as a civil rights attorney has involved taking individual cases and evolving them, when appropriate, into positive systems change.  This includes the struggle to finally pass a new law prohibiting the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint, which only occurred after representing many students harmed by this horrific practice and shedding the bright media light on it.

Any system that desires continuous improvement should recognize the value of advocacy as both an individual corrective tool, as well as a vehicle for identifying systemic problems. Dane County, Wisconsin, has recognized the value of having an internal ombudsman in its human services department to “ensure that people are getting appropriate services.”

While it is unclear whether MMSD can afford to place ombudsmen or advocates in each of its schools, it should certainly examine its budget to pilot such a program in schools with the highest discipline and academic problems.  Moreover, it could partner with outside agencies, which have existing advocacy services, such as Wisconsin Family Ties, which uses non-lawyer professional advocates, Wisconsin FACETS, which uses non-lawyer paid and volunteer advocates, and Disability Rights Wisconsin, which uses non-lawyer advocates with legal back-up and occasional direct lawyer involvement.  However, all of these agencies only work with children with disabilities, and I know of no agency providing school advocacy services to non-disabled students.

If the MMSD truly wants to ensure that its new Behavior Education Plan succeeds, it should actively engage with existing advocacy organizations, and work to obtain foundation support to fund advocates for non-disabled students.  Working together with the school district, on behalf of students, these advocates can correct natural human errors in the new system, and provide useful data to the MMSD administration so it can take corrective measures when repeated problems inevitably crop up.

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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.

Moving from Worst to First: Creating the Madison Model

This past fall, the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families released its Race to Equity report on the state of racial disparities in Dane County, Wisconsin.  The data was alarming, including:

  • A Black unemployment rate of 25%–5 times higher than the 5% unemployment rate for non-Hispanic Whites: worse than the Wisconsin ratio of 23:7%; and far worse than the national ratio of 18:8%;
  • An even more shocking poverty disparity with 75% of Dane County Black children living in poverty compared to 5% of Non-Hispanic White children: once again far worse than the Wisconsin disparity of 49:12%; and the national disparity of 39:14%.

Academically, the disproportional disparities persist in Dane County:

  • 70% of Black students did not take the ACT in 2011, compared to 36% of non-Hispanic Whites, contrasted with the state wide non-participation rate of 50:41%;
  • 50% of Black students in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) did not graduate in 4 years in 2011, compared to 16% of Non-Hispanic Whites, contrasted with a 36:9% ratio statewide.

Arrest rates are also alarming:

  • Juvenile arrest rates in 2010 were a shocking 46.9% of Black juveniles arrested in Dane County, while only 7.7% of White juveniles were arrested, compared to a 32.9:9.8% statewide ratio, and a 7.1:3.3% national ratio;
  • Adult arrest rates in 2012 show a similarly shocking 29.5% of Blacks arrested in Dane County, while only 3.6% of whites were arrested, compared to a 23:5.3% statewide ratio, and a 8.2:3.3% national ratio.

Much has been written about these shocking numbers and their human toll, with great leadership being demonstrated in the African-American community, particularly by Rev. Alex Gee, whom I wrote about previously.

However, 6 months after this compelling report which basically describes Madison and Dane County as perhaps the worst place for African-Americans to live in the nation, none of the institutions responsible for this ongoing tragedy: our schools systems; our system of justice; or our economic policy makers; have made specific commitments to stem the tide of this tragedy.

When I last met with Rev. Gee a couple of weeks ago, I suggested that his leadership had presented a unique opportunity to move Madison and Dane County from the Worst to the First in the nation on addressing racial disparities.  While many may be skeptical and remain satisfied with tinkering around the edges to seek and hopefully obtain minor, incremental improvements, I believe that with:

  • clearly identified, measurable goals,
  • community-wide support to achieve those goals,
  • policy changes and programs designed to achieve those goals; and
  • clear accountability for community leaders to take credit for achieving those goals and blame for failure to do so,

we can create The Madison Model for ending racial disparities, and more importantly, achieving racial justice as an example for the nation.

Skeptics will argue that my suggestions are naive and such dramatic improvement simply cannot be achieved.  Indeed, without clear measurable goals, community-wide support to achieve those goals, policy changes and programs designed to achieve those goals, and clear accountability for community leaders to achieve those goals, Madison and Dane County will likely stay mired in its misery of racial injustice.  Fortunately, Rev. Gee’s coalition has galvanized many and will be convening organizing meetings on March 29th & April 5th to move this process forward.  I look forward to participating in both sessions to continue our work in moving Madison from Worst to First.

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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.

Reforming School Discipline in Madison: Seize the Educational Opportunity

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) is currently engaged in drafting a new Student Conduct and Discipline Plan, with the school board’s goal of implementing that new plan in the 2014-15 school year.  Recently, the ad hoc committee working on revising this plan released its first draft.  For reasons that remain unclear, neither the school board, the ad hoc committee, nor the district administration has made clear how and when the public will have an opportunity to provide input into this important plan.  However, since systems change rarely happens for those who wait, it is important for advocates who want to seize the educational opportunity to end Madison’s schools to prison pipeline and eliminate racial disparities, to engage in this plan now.  It is in that spirit that I offer the following input on this plan.

At the outset, it is important to note that our public schools can and must teach appropriate behavior.  Therefore, the Student Conduct and Discipline Plan, would be better named the Student Conduct and Education Plan. Only when educators recognize that the mission of all behavior management should be education, will we improve the educational results for all children.  It is time for MMSD to embrace a mission that no student should ever be denied an education.  While some students may have such highly challenging behavior that they need a specialized setting for their education, if anything, those students need more education, not less.

In addition, the draft plan does not list any goals.  Without goals, how will we know if the plan is working?  Laudable goals that should be applied to this plan include:

  • reduction in the number of students suspended;
  • reduction in the number of students expelled;
  • increase in the overall safety of students and staff;
  • reduction in the racial and disability disparities in suspensions and expulsions;
  • increase in the educational performance of the student body;
  • decrease in racial and disability disparities in educational performance;
  • decrease in truancy;
  • decrease in drop out rate;
  • increase in graduation rate;
  • increase in college acceptance rate; and
  • increase in post-high school employment rate.

These lofty goals will certainly not be achieved at once, so a 5 year plan for gradual improvement in each area with specific targets for each year should be embedded in the plan with built-in review and accountability measures put in place.

Next, the draft states the purpose of the plan.  While the purposes listed are fine, and fortunately include “support positive behavior change in students,” additional purposes should be added, including:

  • Identifying home and community issues, including health issues that could be contributing to behavior challenges and connecting families to appropriate resources to assist with those issues;
  • Adding data review to the already stated purpose of ensuring that “students are treated fairly and without discrimination,”
  • Connect quality education with behavior improvement, as it is well known that frustrated students often misbehave out of frustration in the classroom;
  • Identifying strengths and weaknesses at the classroom, school and district-wide level on an ongoing basis to improve on weaknesses by replicating promising practices; and
  • Using behavior challenges to engage in the child find obligation of state and federal special education law to evaluate whether these children may qualify for special education supports and services.

The next section of the draft lists various Rights & Responsibilities.  These rights and responsibilities will only become a reality if those responsible for enforcing them are held accountable for doing so.

The Student Rights & Responsibilities include many good things.  However, they are missing this all important right:

  • Access to appropriate supports and services to succeed in school.

The Parent/Guardian Rights & Responsibilities also includes many good things.  However, they are missing:

  • An in-school ombudsman to help parents resolve issues as quickly as possible.
  • Reasonably quick response time from the school district when parents express concerns.

The draft School Administrator Rights & Responsibilities is a good start, but critically it fails to include the responsibilities to:

  • Be held accountable for the successes and failures to achieve the goals of the plan at both the school building and district-wide level.

The Central Office Rights & Responsibilities must also include accountability measures. In addition, it should include:

  • Clearly defined purpose of police presence which should be to carry out the goals of the plan, including reducing the school to prison pipeline, not increasing it.
  • Clearly defining lines of authority between school based staff and central office based staff when handling behavioral challenges, which is currently quite muddled.

Finally, the Board of Education Responsibilities must include holding those responsible accountable for identified success and failures in achieving the gold of the plan.

The best part of the draft is the inclusion of many proactive strategies to improve behavior such as Positive Behavior Support (PBS), but even here the draft remains unclear as to how PBS will be applied; who will be accountable for its successful implementation, what are the lines of authority in its implementation, and will it be implemented district-wide.

The draft identifies many good Intervention Strategies, but misses the mark by failing to connect Effective Classroom Management with Quality Teaching.  In the draft’s list of many pro-active intervention strategies, Trauma Informed Care should be added.  In addition, it remains unclear how these strategies will be applied, who decides when they will be applied, who will be held accountable for their application, and what resources will be provided to ensure that they can be successfully applied.

It is good to see the draft acknowledges the obligation to follow state and federal special education law.  However, as mentioned above, one aspect of that law that is left unmentioned is the child find obligation to use repeated behavioral challenges as a trigger to evaluate students for potential special education supports and services.

The draft concludes with a complex behavior response chart about which I will save in-depth comment for a future draft, other than to mention four critical missing factors:

  1. Identification of specific staff support when assistance is needed;
  2. Interventions should include support for academic challenges the student experiences;
  3. As interventions move up in intensity, review should include whether prior interventions were applied appropriately;
  4. No loss of educational time should be allowed even if removal from the classroom or traditional school building is absolutely necessary.

In sum, it is laudable that the MMSD school board has taken some initial good steps in revising its Student Conduct and Discipline Plan.  Now is the time for advocates and the MMSD to come together to polish the plan and improve educational outcomes and safety of all of our students.

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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.

Ending Racism Requires Systems Change

Recently, Rev. Alex Gee, wrote an incredible personal story about his Justified Anger about racism in Madison.  The story’s publication on the front page of the Capital Times has sparked many fruitful conversations about how to end enduring racism in a city where most would expect that such problems would be minimal.  After I read his compelling story (and I strongly recommend that you read it as well), I reached out to Rev. Gee to meet him and discuss how we might work together to transform the important conversation his article has started into enduring systemic change.

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We met for coffee the day before Christmas, which I am sure must be a very busy time for any Pastor preparing for his church’s most important holiday.  But his commitment to ending racism in his life long town inspired him to take an hour out of his day to meet me and start what we both hope will be a fruitful relationship.

Of course, neither of us is naive enough to think that ending racism in Madison is an easily accomplished task.  After all, given its liberal, progressive history, if it were easy to end racism in Madison, it would have been done long ago.

Sadly, however, the markers of racism pervade our bastion of liberalism.  An examination of the available data tells the story only too well.  Whether it is the gigantic gap in our schools, with Black students graduating over 30 percentage points lower (55%) than White students (86.7%), or the juvenile arrest rates with Black juveniles being arrested at a shocking rate of 46.9% compared to the White arrest rate of 7.7%.

While some might jump to the conclusion that these horrific statistics are evidence of internal problems in the African-American community, Rev. Gee’s article reveals that the problems of racism are deeply rooted in systemic attitudes and perceptions about people of color.  Indeed, Rev. Gee himself has been a victim of racial profiling, as the Madison police dared to question him in his own car in his own church’s parking lot, investigating what he was doing there!  On another occasion, when he was questioned by the police while at a local bank, Rev. Gee asked why he was stopped.  A police officer told this honorable man of the cloth that it was because he fit a drug dealer profile!  It does not take a deep understanding of racism to understand that the only reason Rev. Gee fits a drug dealer profile, is that this well dressed professional happens to be black.

Thus, without enduring systemic change in the multiple layers of our society: schools, police, courts, housing, employment, and health care, the problem of racism is simply not going to go away.  The task is not easy, but if our nation can elect a Black President, surely we can bring the legacy of racism to an end in a liberal college town.

As I have written previously, systems change requires persistence.  It must start with how we treat our youth in school as generational change begins with the newest generation.  That means we must put an end to the schools to prison pipeline, which starts by ending the practice of routinely suspending students for mere disruptive behavior. Of course, if we do not resist the racism of low expectations, we will be doomed to stay mired in this painful cycle of low achievement rooted in racism.

After my meeting with Rev. Gee, we exchanged messages about how we both hope to work together on this important issue.  I felt truly blessed when Rev. Gee said that he “was inspired” by our meeting.  Indeed, Systems Change Requires Inspiring Action.  

In the coming weeks, I hope to work with Rev. Gee to bring together key community leaders to take his inspirational article from starting many important conversations to truly ending racism through systemic change.


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