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.


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.


Combating the Racism of Low Expectations Once Again

Sadly, the battle to combat the racism of low expectations in our schools is pervasive.  I previously wrote about this issue in the context of the decade old class action I fought against Milwaukee Public Schools and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Now, I am confronting this issue in rural northern Wisconsin, on behalf of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (LDF Tribe).

While many of the members of the LDF Tribe live on their reservation in northern Wisconsin, just west of Woodruff, their children attend the Lac du Flaubeau Public School, a K-8 school which feeds into the Lakeland Union High School (LUHS), along with the primary schools from Arbor Vitae, Minocqua, and Manitowish Waters.

The LDF Tribe’s Education Director asked me to meet with and train parents on their children’s rights in school because they are experiencing many problems ranging from physical and verbal abuse, failure to comply with special education laws, excessive discipline and low academic performance leading to low graduation rates, and blatant discrimination, even in homework assignments, such as the “What Happened After Chief Shortcake Died?” math assignment which rightfully outraged the LDF Tribe, garnered an apology from the teacher, and attracted media attention, just a little over a year ago.


Of course, one racist assignment does not make a whole school, but one look at the LUHS School Report Card reveals that LDF children are not receiving the education they need to succeed as adults.  While the graduation rate of White students at LUHS is almost 97%, the graduation rate of Native American students is only 57.9%.  This is not terribly surprising when one finds that 41% of LUHS Native American are reading below a basic level, and almost 54% of LUHS Native American students are performing math below a basic level.

There are many reasons for this, many of which have deep roots in American history, but a few comments from my session last night spoke volumes about why such poor academic performance is tolerated by the LUHS.

  • Apparently, the LUHS administration is protesting the low Native American graduation rate on its school report card,  because it does not want to count drop outs!  Fortunately, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, has refused to accept the LUHS position on this issue.
  • LDF members have been told by school officials that their children have a high rate of Speech & Language special education needs because their parents do not read to their children, rather than understanding the genetic issues of a high proportion of LDF children who develop middle-ear infections causing Speech & Language delays.
  • When confronted with bullying issues, school officials have simply responded by stating that, “boys will be boys,” rather than instituting anti-bullying programs and policies which protect children and support victims.

Fortunately, the LDF Tribe’s Education Department has seen enough and while it wants to work collaboratively with the public schools to improve their children’s educational outcomes, it is also prepared to bring in additional advocacy resources to help them achieve this goal.  I look forward to empowering LDF parents and children to combat the racism of low expectations and improve their children’s educational performance.

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

Combating the Racism of Low Expectations

In the current education reform wars, poverty is often used as a rationale for poor student performance.  Indeed, as discussed in the NY Times:

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates.

But the conversation simply cannot end there and serve as an excuse not to provide an appropriate education to children who are impoverished.  Excuses based on poverty are easily translated into excuses for failing to properly educate racial minorities given the much higher rates of poverty which African-Americans and Latinos suffer from as compared to whites.

A quick look at the data reveals shocking disparities between state level achievement and the achievement of minority groups, especially those concentrated in urban districts.  In Milwaukee, for example, the 10th grade reading performance data shows that only 8.8% of African-American students in Milwaukee were reading beyond the basic level, as compared to 44.1 % of white students who read at that level statewide. Other large districts in Wisconsin, with high minority populations, reveal academic achievement disparities as well.

In addition to academic achievement disparities, there are also discipline disparities. Indeed, the disparities are so bad in Seattle that the US Dept. of Justice launched an investigation of the suspension and expulsion rates there, which are 3 times higher for African-American students compared to white students.

Graduation rates are similarly disturbing.  While Milwaukee has shown some improvement, its latest data shows only 66.2% of its high school students graduating, compared to an 87.5% statewide graduation rate.

This racism of low expectations revealed itself during the class action trial in Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Public Schools, which helped to create some of the recent progress in MPS. Among the methods the school district used to try to defend itself was to try to show that the students we claimed were harmed, MPS suggested had succeeded.  Indeed, one of the plaintiffs graduated and MPS trumpeted that fact.

On cross examination, however, my co-counsel, Monica Murphy, pressed the point with his educators that he graduated with only an 6th grade reading level.  The educators simply did not understand her concern.  In fact, what became crystal clear was that the mere fact that this student had graduated made him a success in his educators’ minds, regardless of his inability to read sufficiently well to succeed in his adult life.  When Monica finished her cross examination, I whispered to her,

You have just elicited testimony on the racism of low expectations.

As long as educators and policy makers believe that graduating an African-American student with an 8th grade reading level is a success, then we will never get beyond the current achievement gap between the races in this country.  Regardless of which side of the education reform debate one supports, everyone should agree that while poverty, and therefore race, may impact on a child’s performance, the answer is not to accept those horrible results.  The answer is to work harder to change them, as has been done in Union City, New Jersey.

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