Seclusion & Restraint Surges in Madison

In response to an Open Records request, I recently received the 2015-16 school year seclusion and restraint use data from the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). As MMSD has not published this data on its website, contact me at through my website if you want a copy of the data.

The use of these dangerous, aversive techniques rose significantly from the previous year, which had increased from the year before that as the numbers below reveal. Even more troubling is the wide variation of use of seclusion and restraint between schools and particularly high use in elementary and alternative schools, as well as among children with disabilities.

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U.S. Senator Tom Harking introduced the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” in 2014

MMSD 2015-16 Seclusion & Restraint Data highlights

Numbers of Students Impacted

  • Elementary School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 7.09
  • Elementary School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 5.23
  • Elementary School with Highest Use: Orchard Ridge: 16 students with disabilities/33 students without disabilities (lowest numbers were redacted by school district to protect confidentiality)
  • Middle School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 5.62
  • Middle School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 3.46
  • Middle School with Highest Use: Whitehorse: 7 students with disabilities/ 0 students without disabilities
  • Middle School with Lowest Use: O’Keefe had 0 incidents of seclusion or restraint
  • High School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 3
  • High School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 1.6
  • High School with Highest Use: East: 18 students with Disabilities/ 19 students without disabilities.
  • High School with Lowest Use: Shabazz had 0 incidents of seclusion or restraint

Numbers of Incidents

  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 56.29
  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 74.6
  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Seclusion  and Restraint Used in combination: 36.6
  • Elementary Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 94.29
  • Elementary School with Highest Use: LEAP (Olson Elementary Alternative Program): 435 total incidents (note as number of students was redacted, this means that 5 or fewer students were secluded and/or restrained a total of 435 times)
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Restraint Only: 12.38
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Only: 10.38
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Seclusion and Restraint Used in combination: 6.62
  • Middle School Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 16.15
  • Middle School with Highest Use: Sennett: 27 total incidents (note as number of students was redacted, this means that 5 or fewer students were secluded and/or restrained a total of 27 times)
  • High School Mean Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 7.33
  • High School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 5.17
  • High School Mean Incidents of Seclusion and Restraint Used in combination: 3.5
  • High School Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 9
  • High School with Highest Use: East: 49 total incidents

Districtwide Totals

  • Students with Disabilities Secluded and/or Restrained: 324
  • Students without Disabilities Secluded and/or Restrained: 231
  • Total Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 2,136
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 2,749
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion & Restraint in Combination: 1,369
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion and/or Restraint Use: 3,516

MMSD Analysis

  • 2% of MMSD students experienced seclusion and/or restraint
  • 5.6% of MMSD students with disabilities experienced seclusion and/or restraint
  • Seclusion and restraint use is highest in elementary schools (16.49%)
  • Mean incidents of restraint use in elementary schools was 56.3/building with a range per building of 1 to 436
  • Mean incidents of seclusion use in elementary schools was 74.6/building with a range of 0 to 309
  • There has been a steady increase in use of seclusion in restraint since data was collected for the first time in 2013-14 as follows:
    • 2013-14: 975 incidents of restraint and 1,387 incidents of seclusion
    • 2014-15: 1,266 incidents of restraint and 1,688 incidents of seclusion
    • 2015-16: 1,452 incidents of restraint and 2.064 incidents of seclusion
  • A small number of elementary schools account for the vast number of incidents with 23 elementary schools reported increased use and only 12 elementary schools reporting a decline.
  • MMSD hypothesizes that the increased use is simply due to better data collection
  • MMSD concedes that, “for those elementary schools that have consistently demonstrated increases in the number of incidents of restraint and seclusion, a pattern of over-reliance on restraint/seclusion may be evident.” MMSD plans training and follow up for these schools.

Conclusions

When I helped to pass Act 125 in 2012 to document and regulate the use of seclusion and restraint in Wisconsin schools, one of the chief goals was to reduce the use of these aversive techniques. Sadly, MMSD has gone in the opposite direction, and has failed to:

  1. hold principals of schools with continually increasing rates accountable for these increases;
  2. correlate the increased use of seclusion and restraint with a decreased use of suspension; and
  3. establish clear goals for the reduction and eventual elimination of the use of seclusion and restraint in MMSD schools.

Simply blaming the increasing numbers on better documentation is insufficient in the face of an ever increasing use of dangerously aversive techniques that are well known to traumatize children. In order to reverse this troubling trend, MMSD must insist on better training in the use of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and accountability for its staff and administrators who fail to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of seclusion and restraint.

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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.

 

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Education Progress? A Deeper Look

Recently, I received a copy of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s 1st Quarterly Review of its Strategic Framework. It is addressed to the Madison Community and opens as follows:

We are pleased to present our 1st quarterly review of progress for the 2015-16 school year. Our school district is on a mission to close the gaps in opportunity that lead to disparities in achievement and to ensure that every child graduates ready for college, career, and community.

FrameworkImage

However, as I read the review, I noted that it focused exclusively on African-American students and contained very little data, none of which appeared to be from the 2015-16 school year. While I fully support the need for Madison to close the educational achievement gaps for its African-American students, this cannot be done successfully by touting limited and misleading data. Moreover, my long career in educational advocacy has taught me that educational progress for one group of students cannot be achieved in isolation from the rest of the school district. Rather, educational progress must be premised in articulating clear achievable goals, providing necessary support and training to staff and students to achieve those goals and holding administrators accountable when goals are not met.

Thus, when I examined MMSD’s progress in its Strategic Framework from the 2013-14 to this 2014-15 school year, I was troubled to discover that the progress is not nearly as rosy as the district’s 1st Quarter Review suggests.

Here are some key pieces of data that the district does not reveal in its 1st Quarter Review.

District-wide Progress

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 45% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 37% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 48% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 44% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 42% (up 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 39% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 20% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 48% (down 2% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 79% (up 1% from the prior year)

African-American Students (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 16% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 13% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 12% (up 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 15% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 7% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 9% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 47% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 13% (no change from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 56% (up 2% from the prior year)

Hispanic Students (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 26% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 20% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 25% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 18% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 21% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 18% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 30% (down 8% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 35% (up 9% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 70% (no change from the prior year)

Students in Special Education (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 20% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 13% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 13% (down 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 11% (down 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 12% (no change from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 10% (down 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 38% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 18% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 50% (up 3% from the prior year)

As you can see, the results are mixed and though there is some progress from some students, in many ways the results are very troubling. To be clear, I am a strong supporter of our public schools and will continue my many years of advocacy to make sure they receive the support and funding they need to provide a high quality education to all of our children.

However, it does not help to provide limited data to the public to create a perception that more progress is being made than is actually the case. That is why I have provided this deeper look.

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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.

Charter School Expansion: Whither Accountability?

Wisconsin’s powerful Joint Finance Committee recently approved a dramatic change to Wisconsin’s charter school authorization law. This change would expand so-called independent charter schools to over 140 new school districts. More troubling is that the new charter school authorizers would include the University of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee and Waukesha County Executives, tribal colleges and Gateway Technical Colleges, adding to the already confusing maze of Wisconsin school choices.

FallGuide09cartoon(cartoon by Eric Joselyn)

Sen. Alberta Darling acknowledged that this provision did not include any oversight for these new charter schools. Perhaps she and her colleagues who passed this provision failed to understand that they cannot change federal law which contains quite a few obligations for charter schools.

As I wrote about a year ago, charter schools are public schools and they must comply with federal civil rights laws. In fact, perhaps due to the confusion wrought by charter expansion, the U.S. Department of Education issued a guidance letter last year that made perfectly clear that charter schools are public schools subject to all federal civil rights laws.

In summary, that letter confirms that:

  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin;
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting discrimination based on sex); and
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (prohibiting discrimination based on disability)

all apply to all operations of charter schools.

including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.

Specifically,

  • Charter schools may not discriminate in admissions, meaning:

Charter schools must ensure that language-minority parents who are not proficient in English receive meaningful access to the same admissions information and other school-related information provided to English-proficient parents in a manner and form they can understand, such as by providing free interpreter and/or translation services. Also, communications with parents with disabilities must be as effective as communications with other parents. Appropriate auxiliary aids and services (such as Braille materials or a sign language interpreter) must be made available whenever they are necessary to ensure equally effective communication with parents with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.

Of course, this means that charter schools may not have admissions criteria which discriminate on their face. But, in addition,

a charter school may not use admissions criteria that have the effect of excluding students on the basis of race, color, or national origin from the school without proper justification. Charter schools also may not categorically deny admission to students on the basis of disability.

  • Regarding children with disabilities, OCR makes clear that,

every student with a disability enrolled in a public school, including a public charter school, must be provided a free appropriate public education–that is, regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet his or her individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met. Evaluation and placement procedures are among the requirements that must be followed if a student needs, or is believed to need, special education or related services due to a disability. Charter schools may not ask or require students or parents to waive their right to a free appropriate public education in order to attend the charter school. Additionally, charter schools must provide nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities in such a manner that students with disabilities are given an equal opportunity to participate in these services and activities.

  • For English Language Learners,

charter schools must take “affirmative steps” to help English-language learners overcome language barriers so that they can participate meaningfully in their schools’ educational programs. A charter school must timely identify language-minority students who have limited proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, or understanding English, and must provide those students with an effective language instruction educational program that also affords meaningful access to the school’s academic content.

Together with the U.S. Department of Justice, as I have written previously, the U.S. Department of Education has also clarified that, like all other public schools, charter schools must also administer discipline in a nondiscriminatory manner, which is an important component in stemming the tide of the schools to prison pipeline.

If this highly problematic provision passes the full Wisconsin legislature and is signed into law by Governor Walker, it will be interesting to see how all of these new charter entities will implement state and federal special education law, which requires them to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE), and includes many protections to prevent discriminatory disciplinary exclusion of children with disabilities. Each one of these new chartering entities will need to be sure that it assigns a local education agency representative to each Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting who has the knowledge of all the charter school’s resources and the authority to commit them to students with disabilities whose IEPs require such services.

Of course, in order to be effective, civil rights laws must be enforced. Concerned parents and advocates can contact OCR at (800) 421-3481 & ocr@ed.gov, since OCR is clearly inviting complaints if charter schools violate any civil rights laws. Contact information and complaint forms can be found here. It will be up to parents and advocates to make sure that OCR honors its commitment to enforce the law if violations occur.

Parents who believe charter schools have violated state or federal special education law may file complaints with the state education agency. In Wisconsin, you can find information about how to file a complaint and a sample form here.

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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.

Using All the Puzzle Pieces to End Racism

My community is reeling in the aftermath of yet another police shooting of an unarmed black teen. While Madison anxiously awaits for the release of the state Department of Justice’s investigation into this killing, and whether or not the police officer will be prosecuted by the Dane County District Attorney, protests continue and acrimony remains high.

It is important to understand the larger context of this shooting to fully understand the furor of the protests. Despite its image as a progressive community, Madison’s racial disparities in school, incarceration and poverty are well documented. In fact, it is not unreasonable to describe Madison and the entire state of Wisconsin as having the worst racial disparities in the nation. I have previously written about the need for Madison to move from worst to first in this critical area.

It is not surprising then, that a group such as Young, Gifted & Black has surged to the forefront of the protests since Tony Robinson’s violent death at the hands of a police officer. This group has organized protests and shouted out demands for change at mayoral debates. Earlier this week, they blocked traffic for 7 hours in a major 6 lane artery in front of my son’s high school, causing disruption throughout the day.

Some, including Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, have chastised the tactics of some of the more vocal protestors, suggesting that “you deserve anything that you have coming to you when you engage in that sort of rhetoric.” Such statements only add fuel to the fire and suggest that the Police Chief could use some help editing his blog and before he speaks publicly.

Other voices are more moderate, calling for change and understanding. Rev. Alex Gee has led this group dubbing his movement, “Justified Anger.” Rev. Gee and I have discussed the need for a systems change approach to end racism in Madison.

Sadly, the power structure in Madison and the State of Wisconsin simply has not changed with regard to its failure to own genuine accountability for these horrific racial disparities which are ruining so many lives and poisoning our society at large. Indeed, Madison voters appear to accept the status quo in recently re-electing the mayor who has presided over these persistent racial disparities for so many years.

Systems change does not come easily and it takes many actors working the system in many ways. Rather than fighting about whether someone’s methods are effective or not, recognizing that no one method will solve the gigantic and historic problem of racism, will help all those working on the problem understand that they should support each puzzle piece in fitting together to solve the problem even if it is not a puzzle piece they choose to own for themselves.

Recently, I was reminded that one of the puzzle pieces involves bringing the community together in  joyous ways. Last weekend, the Madison East High Jazz Orchestra played a wonderful free concert at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. From a young, gifted and black singer who channelled Stevie Wonder and James Brown IMG_2565to the son of Madison School Superintendent who loved dancing to the music, IMG_2564this concert helped students feel pride in their accomplishment and the community recognize that there are many ways to come together to solve the problems or racism including music and dance.

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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.

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.

oss ethnicity 1314 oss 1415

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.

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.

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.

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.

FrameworkImage

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.

Results Driven Accountability: Raising the Bar for Students with Disabilities

Today, the US Dept. of Education announced the first results of its new Results Driven Accountability (RDA) system for monitoring the performance of state education agencies’ implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law.  This new system moves away from decades of focus on procedural compliance and towards an examination of how well students with disabilities are learning.  This is a welcome change as parents and advocates have learned that procedural compliance alone does not guarantee that children with disabilities are actually learning what they need to know in order to become independent productive adults.

In his press release, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated what parents and advocates for children with disabilities have known for decades:

Every child, regardless of income, race, background, or disability can succeed if provided the opportunity to learn. We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel. We must be honest about student performance, so that we can give all students the supports and services they need to succeed.

This chart showing the poor and declining math performance for students with disabilities from 2005-2010 demonstrates exactly why this new emphasis on educational results is so critical to the long-term success of children with disabilities.

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Reading results are similarly poor with less than 40% of students with disabilities capable of reading proficiently, with stagnating results from 2005-2010.  Worse yet,

Less than 10 percent of our nation’s eighth graders with IEPs are scoring proficient in reading, according to the best available data. We can and must do better,

said Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services.

Today, the Dept. of Education announced the results of its multi-pronged RDA analysis based on 2012-13 data, where states are grades in one of 4 categories: Meets Requirements; Needs Assistance; Needs Intervention; or Needs Substantial Intervention.  Here is how all state education agencies were categorized.

  • Meets Requirements

Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau

  • Needs Assistance

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Marianas, Guam, Puerto Rico

  • Needs Intervention

California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Texas, Bureau of Indian Education, Virgin Islands

Fortunately, no states were deemed in need of substantial intervention, but it is deeply troubling that nearly 40 years after Congress first passed federal special education mandates, a majority of states still need federal assistance or actual intervention in order to provide meaningful education to their students with disabilities.

It remains to be seen how vigorously the US Dept. of Education will enforce these new requirements, as prior federal enforcement has been notoriously lax.  In theory, if a state needs assistance for 2 years in a row, the Dept. of Education must take actions such as requiring the state to obtain technical assistance or identifying the state as a high-risk grant recipient. If a state needs intervention for 3 years in a row, federal law mandates that the Dept. of Education must take specific actions, which can include requiring the state to prepare a corrective action plan, enter into a compliance agreement or, ultimately, withholding a portion of the state’s funding.

To help states improve the quality of education which students with disabilities receive, the federal government is providing $50 million for a new technical assistance center, the Center on Systemic Improvement to help states make effective use of the $11.5 billion in federal special education funds which they currently receive to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.

Parents of and advocates for children with disabilities should pay close attention to the new RDA, particularly in states which need assistance or intervention,  to make sure that the federal promise that this new program will improve the education of students with disabilities comes true.

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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.