I suspect when most people hear the phrase value-added analysis their initial reaction is to tune out whatever follows. Some have no interest in hearing a complicated methodological explanation of how value-added analyses are conduced, and others dismiss the method as a tool for those seeking to attack public school teachers.
In reality, the concept of value-added is both simple and non-threatening. The base premise is that there are numerous factors that predict the test scores of a child. Most obvious are the quality of a school, teacher, and curriculum. Perhaps slightly less obvious are parental involvement, demographics, and prior achievement.
Value-added analysis isolates the impact of things a school can control from the things a school cannot. In simpler terms, it shows the impact a school and/or teacher has on student test score growth. Once this impact is known, school and classroom leaders can make more informed instruction and personnel decisions.
Value-added is not perfect, but it is a huge upgrade over raw test scores that do not account for prior achievement or factors over which schools have little control. In WPRI’s latest report, Sarah Archibald and myself make several recommendations designed to get the most out of value-added analyses of test scores already being conducted by Wisconsin’s Value Added Research Center:
2) Ensure that all Wisconsin principals and teachers receive value-added data on their schools and classrooms.
3) Provide training on the use of value-added data to all school districts.
4) Include all publicly funded pupils, including those using vouchers, in a statewide value-added system.
We also review the history of Wisconsin state testing and make a simple recommendation: Wisconsin needs to stop the constant switching of state tests and testing practices. Whatever the particular weaknesses of a standardized test, frequently changing it undermines the potential for long-term analyses such as value-added.
Bottom line, a standardized test is only as good as how it is used. As Wisconsin moves forward with new assessment policies, it is essential that focus remains on getting the best information from those policies, and putting it in the hands of those that can best use it to raise student achievement levels.
Governance reform is a seductive idea because it is usually presented as a silver bullet for addressing a policy problem. For example, if the elected school board does not provide students with an adequate education, let’s replace it with one that will.
If only it was that simple. The inconvenient fact is that a school board does not educate pupils, teachers do. A school board governance change alone will not turn Milwaukee schools around.
The same is true for other local governments. The actual delivery of services is performed by street level bureaucrats that go about their duties regardless of who happens to be in charge of the City or County.
But this does not mean governance is irrelevant. Governance, whether it is the setting of specific policies or merely the setting of an organizational culture, can be the difference between creating an environment where an organization can thrive, or one where mediocrity is the ceiling.
Discussions of governance reforms should begin with two questions:
1) Is there a structural flaw or barrier preventing street-level bureaucrats from performing their duties adequately?
2) Is there an alternative governance structure that removes the barrier without disenfranchising voters?
“It’s time we free our parks from Milwaukee County control so they don’t have to compete for funding with state mandated services, residents can be more closely involved in their success and we can finally start addressing the problems our parks face instead of kicking the can down the road until the next election.”
It certainly satisfies my first question. As to my second, Cody notes that a dedicated funding source (sales tax) was supported by Milwaukee County voters in a 2008 advisory referendum.
I think Cody may be on to something, as structured the Milwaukee County Parks System faces some serious barriers to success. Parks are a great example of an asset that can make-or-break the quality of life of a place. If a Parks Commission is an economical way to improve the City, it bears continued discussion.
WPRI President George Lightbourn last week posed a list of questions he hoped Milwaukee Mayor and Gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett would answer. One in particular caught by interest:
Do you still favor mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools?
Barrett first floated the idea of a mayoral-appointed MPS school board in 2003, and actually took a serious crack at making it happen in 2009 and 2010. That effort, which was well chronicled by Alan Borsuk, could politely be described as a political train-wreck. Despite the support of Barrett, Governor Doyle, the two most powerful Democrats in the Milwaukee legislative delegation, and the editorial page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the proposal never made it to the floor of the legislature.
At the time I failed to see much point in a governance change. Predictors of the success of such reforms, such as unity of purpose among relevant actors, were absent in Milwaukee. More troubling to me was the failure of anyone to articulate what a mayoral-appointed board could do differently than an elected one. No matter how board members came to serve, they were severely constricted by state and federal mandates as well a union contracts.
However the situation has changed dramatically since 2010. Act 10 gives the MPS board increased power, which they have already shown a willingness to use. In November the board approved increased employee benefit contributions as well as salary freezes designed to reduce the district’s unfunded health care liability. In March the board voted to end the district’s second teacher pension, a move that will likely put more funds into the classroom.
The board’s newfound willingness to take action on two longstanding fiscal issues makes me wonder; was the MPS board Barrett wanted to replace unwilling, or simply unable to make positive changes?
Some might argue it is the Superintendent and not the board driving MPS’ recent actions. Perhaps, but it was the board that hired Thornton in a process criticized by Barrett as
“a game of beat the clock” where “the only criteria that is important is to get this done quickly to thwart any legislative activity.”
Governor Walker’s expansion of income eligibility and elimination of the enrollment cap for Milwaukee’s voucher program makes it pretty clear where he stands on Milwaukee education reform. If you do not like school choice, you probably do not like Scott Walker. Like my boss, I’d like to know where Tom Barrett stands on this issue.
I live in Milwaukee. I love Milwaukee. I love the neighborhoods, the diversity, the cultural attractions, the services, and the people. Before Milwaukee I lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. If I had to choose between the three, I’d choose Milwaukee.
Though odd that Milwaukee addresses received the mailer, it is not odd to see politicians run against the state’s largest city. Back in my school choice days I would routinely respond to claims made by candidates outstate that Milwaukee school choice programs were diverting money from their local schools. The Journal Sentinel even ran a nice editorial on the issue back in 2004 titled “Stop the Big City Bashing.”
But is Walker running against Milwaukee, or against Barrett’s record in Milwaukee? As Mayor, Barrett does have to take some ownership over the economic direction of the city. And certainly the job performance of an opponent is a legitimate campaign issue. If voters cannot evaluate Barrett on the trajectory of Milwaukee under his watch, how are they supposed to evaluate him?
More disconcerting than the fact that Cesar Izturis is starting at shortstop for the Brewers is that none of my friends and neighbors seem concerned about it. I blame the recall. Follow me for a second.
Seems like yesterday I was able to spend the witching hour (that magical time when a small child has lost their grip on reality but it is still too early to go to bed) in my front yard talking baseball with neighbors whose children were going though the very same witching hour. Not this spring. I do not know if it is the signs around the neighborhood or the incessant media coverage but even small talk gravitates toward recall politics.
Unless of course I am accosted before even getting outside by someone going door-to-door asking me how I feel about Tom Barrett, Kathleen Falk, or Scott Walker. Just last week I was holding the dog back with the front door open as a nice man with a clipboard asked me my thoughts on collective bargaining. As children wailed in the background I wondered how the man felt about big dogs; thinking maybe it was wrong to hold a dog back by the collar.
I of course heard the man out; after listening to all the others it was only fair. But the closer we get, the more ready I am for post-recall Wisconsin. Which, if polls hold, will look shockingly similar to pre-recall Wisconsin.
In just three weeks I can go for runs without compulsively counting the number of “Recall Scott Walker” and “Stand with Walker” signs in the neighborhood. In just three weeks I can stop trying to wrap my feeble mind around what happens if we elect a Governor and Lt. Governor from different parties. In three weeks I can stop trying to explain in casual conversation the connection between the state budget, school aids, and revenue limits, which I am finding makes people not want to talk to me.
So if you find yourself on Milwaukee’s south-side on the evening of June 6th and hear some guy surrounded by children rambling about understanding the need for good defense but wanting to see Bernie going down the slide, stop by and say hello. If baseball is not your thing, we can count the number of days until the 2014 campaign cycle begins.
Erin Richards at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelblogged yesterday about a 60 Minutes report on a man who lives in Pennsylvania with connections to a network of charter schools operating in 26 states. Richards writes:
“The 60 Minutes segment points out that many of these schools linked to Gulen are high-achieving, and focus on math and science.”
Two of these charter schools currently operate in Wisconsin (one of these schools, Wisconsin Career Academy, did not have its MPS charter renewed and is planning on joining the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program next year). Milwaukee talks a lot about the need to bring successful school operators to town, so the arrival of these schools is presumably a good thing.
Cue scary music. Gulen is from Turkey, and he is Muslim. Hence, the 60 Minutes piece “questions why Turkish immigrants linked to a powerful religious leader are building so many schools in the U.S.”
The story harkens back to some of the more ridiculous statements made about school choice over the years. Howard Fuller and Kaleem Caire detailed many of these in a 2001 report called “Lies and Distortion.” Most notable was former DPI Superintendent John Benson publicly worrying that folks like Timothy McVeigh might come to Milwaukee to start a school.
The fears documented by Fuller and Caire and Clinton’s concern are of course ridiculous. The Milwaukee voucher program has included religious schools since 1998. During that time a mix of Islamic, Jewish, Catholic and Christian, and non-sectarian schools have coexisted without any sign of religious extremism. Shockingly, people of all faiths seem united in wanting quality education for their children.
If Gulen’s schools are failing academically or if he is violating state or federal laws I too would be concerned. However, the heartburn over Gulen appears to be about his faith and nationality. In 2012, that is depressing.
Filed under: Polling — Christian Schneider @ 8:18 am
Yesterday, Marquette Law School issued their monthly poll of Wisconsin politics; the closer the state gets to the recall election on June 5, the more weight these polls carry. The poll showed Governor Scott Walker and potential Democratic challenger Tom Barrett in essentially a dead heat – when “likely voters” were asked who they would vote for, Walker led by one point, 48% to 47%. When “registered voters” were asked, the numbers flipped and Barrett led 47% to 46%. Both leads are well within the poll’s 4% margin of error.
Some thoughts as I dug a little deeper and perused the crosstabs:
Scott Walker beats Tom Barrett 47% to 35% among Independents with (9.5% undecided.)
60% of Independent voters think the state is better off in the long run due to the changes of the past year.
Voters favor limiting collective bargaining for most public employees, 49%-45%. This is why, once the Democratic primary is over, that will be the last the state will likely hear of the collective bargaining issue – which is the whole reason the recall election is taking place.
Voters disapprove of Kathleen Falk’s pledge to veto the budget if it doesn’t restore collective bargaining by a 48% to 37% margin. Voters are more receptive of Tom Barrett’s plan to call a special session to restore collective bargaining powers for unions, by a 52% to 39% margin.
Scott Walker’s favorable/unfavorable rating with Hispanic voters is 55% to 41%. Tom Barrett’s is 41% to 34%. Granted, once you start dicing polls up by race, the sample size gets a little sketchy – but in the same poll, Hispanic voters favored Barack Obama over Mitt Romney 48%-40%.
Last week, Kathleen Falk’s campaign said she was “dead even” everywhere in the state other than Milwaukee. Yet the Marquette poll has Tom Barrett beating Kathleen Falk 70%-20% in Milwaukee, 37%-20% in Madison, and 33%-18% in Green Bay. Barrett leads Falk 38% to 21% statewide.
Fewer Democrats say they’ve displayed a yard sign or bumper sticker than Republicans. This seems suspect – If you’ve been to Dane County lately, you’d see that anti-Walker signs and bumper stickers are blanketing Madison.
Oddly, Democrats are more likely to say that the state of their public schools is “very satisfactory,” by a 26% to 21% margin over Republicans. (One would think Democrats would be more likely to downplay the excellence of their schools, given Walker’s changes over the past year.) Only 9.9% of Democrats say they are very dissatisfied with their public schools.
Despite Walker’s strong lead among independents, the fact is, there just aren’t very many independents left in the state anymore. That, plus the heavy sample of Democrats in the poll, is what leads Walker to essentially be tied with Barrett in the survey.
It appears that the public, for the most part, is on board with Walker’s most controversial plans, and oppose things he didn’t do, like cutting school aids. Walker’s goal should be to make sure people give him credit for the things they like, and he should spend the next month demonstrating how he actually didn’t cut schools – which will be a primary Barrett attack. (And for good reason – voters by a 66% to 30% margin oppose balancing the budget by cutting aid to local school districts; Which Walker did, but fully paid for by increasing employee health and pension benefit contributions, which voters favor 73% to 23%. So he rectified something voters hate by doing something they love.)
Finally, I think the sample in yesterday’s Marquette poll snagged a lot of Republicans who are somewhat on the fence. According to the numbers, only 83.4% of self-described Republicans say that they would vote for Scott Walker against Tom Barrett. If 17% of Republicans in Wisconsin vote against Scott Walker, I’ll eat my shoe.
You can play the home game of digging through the crosstabulations by downloading this .zip file.
Kathleen Falk today used a closed school as a backdrop for a campaign speech touting her plans to restore school aid cuts if elected governor. The school, Phillis Wheatley Elementary, was recently shut down by the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Last month a candidate running against Milwaukee representative Jason Fields in the 11th Assembly District Democratic primary, Mandela Barnes, kicked off his campaign in front of MPS’ closed Daniel Webster Middle School. Barnes too spoke of restoring funding to public education, arguing that a closed school reflects poorly on a neighborhood:
“We chose this location because this closed school building represents the loss of hope and opportunity. Who would bring jobs to an area that closes schools?
Falk’s appearance and Barnes’ statement highlight a serious byproduct of Milwaukee’s culture of school choice. Schools close frequently in Milwaukee. They do by design.
The final set of reports from the School Choice Demonstration Project found that during the course of their five-year evaluation 36 private Milwaukee Parental Choice Program schools and 40 MPS schools closed their doors. There is evidence those schools were performing lower than schools that remain open, which on its face is a good thing for students.
Similarly, the built-in ability to quickly shut down a school that is not meeting expectations is what I find so appealing about the charter school model. As I have argued before, school reformers have yet to find a way to guarantee a school will be successful but have become adept at identifying those that are not.
However I would be foolish to argue shutting down a school does not have a larger social impact. Temple Geography professor Carolyn Adams put it well at a research presentation I recently attended (I am paraphrasing): People think twice about committing a crime or engaging in other socially undesirable activities if there is a school full of kids across the street. A boarded up schoolhouse provides no such deterrent.
Clearly Adams’ point has an audience in Milwaukee, Falk and Barnes would not be giving campaign speeches at abandoned schools if it did not. There really should be no need to answer the question I pose in the title, schools in Milwaukee (and throughout the state) ought to be education successes and community anchors. The failed neighborhood schools initiative is evidence you cannot have the latter without the former.
The easy first step is giving charter and private schools in Milwaukee better access to shuttered MPS buildings so that a closed school does not automatically make it an abandoned property. The much more difficult second step is getting to a point where having to close a school due to low-performance becomes a rare event.