May 17, 2010: "Our children need your immediate and strategic attention to this crisis."

Ten years and one day ago, I wrote the Board of Education of the Madison Metropolitan School District:
May 17, 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen: 
I am deeply concerned about how well our district is teaching our students to read. 
When the Board requested last December (in response to the district's progress report on Reading Recovery) that district administration report back on the district's reading programs, I expected that such a report would be turned around quickly (given the urgent need for such an evaluation, and given the budget cycle) and that it would comprise reports and analyses by the professionals that work with the district's reading programs and the students in them. I did not expect that a "study of how to study reading programs," outsourced to consultants based in Washington, D.C., would be presented five months later, at the 11th hour of budget deliberations, with a recommendation for further study, at a six-figure cost, with conclusions to be available at the second semester of next school year.  
As has been well-reported, the state of Wisconsin bears the unfortunate distinction of having the lowest achievement scores reported for black 4th graders on the 2009 NAEP reading test. Nationally, 52% of black 4th graders scored below "basic" in their NAEP reading level. In Wisconsin, 56% of black 4th graders scored below basic. In this context, the percentages of black 4th graders who scored below "proficient" on the November 2009 WKCE are particularly sobering: statewide, 41.4% of black 4th graders scored below "proficient"; for Milwaukee, the percentage was 45.2%. Madison's percentage is 46.1%. (Similar underperformance is reported for our district's economically disadvantaged 4th and 3rd graders, and black 3rd graders.) 
Many children in our community don't have educators at home to pre-teach or reteach their schoolwork, nor family resources to fund tutoring or supplemental educational enrichment. A quality public education is their only hope for improving their lives and their futures. Every day that goes by without confronting the educational crisis in our district does irremediable damage. If I called 911 because a house with children in it was on fire, I would not expect the fire department to send away for a pamphlet on how to evaluate the comparative effectiveness of firefighting techniques while the house burned. Our children need your immediate and strategic attention to this crisis.  
Thank you for your work.
Today, the third paragraph of that 2010 message could be updated as follows:
Nationally, 52% of black 4th graders scored below "basic" in 2019 NAEP reading . In Wisconsin, 69% of black 4th graders scored below basic. In this context, the percentages of black 4th graders who scored below "proficient" on the 2019 Wisconsin Forward Exam are particularly sobering: statewide, 84.4% of black 4th graders scored below "proficient" (55.8% below basic); for Milwaukee, the percentage was 88.2% (63.6% below basic). Madison's "below proficient" percentage is 82.0% (not including 4.2% non-testers). (Similar underperformance is reported for our district's economically disadvantaged 4th and 3rd graders, and black 3rd graders.) 
More than ten years on, our children still need immediate and strategic attention to this crisis.



The Equity Task Force encourages the Board of Education to seek wide and extensive community input in reviewing this proposed Equity policy, systematically including key community stakeholder groups while reaching out to constituents potentially unlikely to participate in traditional feedback forums.
Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education (BOE) Equity Task Force (2005-2007), Final Report (March 28, 2007).

Equity at the highest level, not simply equity, is something that we should always strive for in education. Every student should have the best opportunities to learn in ways that will help them now and in the future.
George Couros, "Equity At the Highest Level," The Principal of Change blog (July 30, 2017).

Some definitions:

MMSD Board Policy 9001, as adopted June 6, 1994:
"Equity is defined as providing each student with an equal educational opportunity to achieve the District's 100% success objectives." ....
"100% success objectives is defined as students who graduate, students who complete their individual academic program, students who enroll in a post-secondary educational program, or students who are self-sufficient in other endeavors."

MMSD BOE Equity Task Report Final Report, issued March 28, 2007:
"Equity assures full access to opportunities for each MMSD student to achieve educational excellence and social responsibility."

MMSD Board Policy 9001, as adopted June 2, 2008:
"Equity means the deliberate distribution of resources to provide full and meaningful access to comparable educational opportunity to assure that all MMSD students have the academic and interpersonal skills to be successful adults."

MMSD Board Policy 9001, draft revision for proposed adoption by BOE on July 31, 2017:
"A. 'Educational Equity' means an intentional distribution of DISTRICT resources amongst schools, students and staff based on what each needs to achieve universal goals.
B. 'Resources' means money; programs and curriculum; staff time, expertise, skills and experience; information; and, materials and services such as technology and transportation.
C. 'Targeted Universalism' an approach for achieving equity that sets universal goals for all students and identifies targeted means and processes for specific populations depending on how they are situated to opportunity. This approach recognizes that the DISTRICT must respond with necessary resources and multiple paths needed for different school communities and students to thrive.
D. 'Targeted' means the distribution of resources on top of or in addition to universally distributed resources to support a particular subgroup based on unique or specific qualities or established need, such as the provision of the allocation of an assistant principal to only the school whose student enrollment exceeds a specific number or the provision of supplementary math texts and workbooks to students who achieve within an established range on an assessment.
E. 'Universal,' when used in reference to resources, means the distribution of resources to everyone or everything in the established group regardless of any unique or specific qualities or identified needs, such as the allocation of one lead principal to each school building or the provision of a standard mathematics text book to each student. 'Universal,' when used in reference to goals, means published goals fostering all students’ acquisition of the skills and abilities to be successful in college, career and community."

Some reporting protocols:

MMSD Board Policy 9001, as adopted June 6, 1994:
"This policy applies to situations that affect students within one school, or between or among several schools, and will be reviewed every three years."

MMSD Board Policy 9001, as adopted June 2, 2008:
"Administration will report on an annual basis to the Board of Education the extent of progress on specific measures in eliminating gaps in access, opportunities and achievement. Administration will develop an annual report that will provide data on the distribution of staff, financial, and programmatic resources across all schools."

MMSD Board Policy 9001, draft revision for proposed adoption by BOE on July 31, 2017:
"The SUPERINTENDENT and his/her designee shall recommend and the BOARD shall adopt a tool and/or method by which the DISTRICT can assess alignment of recommendations with the principles in the Educational Equity Policy (Educational Equity Tool). The Educational Equity Tool shall be available on the DISTRICT's website once approved."....
"Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, the SUPERINTENDENT or his/her designee and BOARD will adopt metrics that will provide data on the distribution of staff, financial, and programmatic resources across all schools, which shall be incorporated into the annually prepared budget documents and/or Human Resources report."

Some relevant resources for district information, past and present:

  • U.S. Department of Education (USED) Civil Rights Data Collection: survey years 2013 (Educational Equity Report, including school-level data for download), 2011, and 2009; although the next biennial CRDC publication occurs in 2018, the district's data for survey year 2015 would have been compiled and submitted earlier this year.
  • Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI): various dashboards with district-only access (from which relevant current data can and should be made available to the public), including: Achievement Gap DashboardMAP Dashboards, PALS DashboardsACCESS Dashboards, and more.
  • Teacher Equitable Access Plan for Wisconsin, submitted by DPI to and approved by USED in 2015, describing "the steps that the [State Educational Agency] will take to ensure that students from low-income families and students of color are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers, and the measures that the agency will use to evaluate and publicly report the progress of the agency with respect to such steps," and the MMSD DPI Final Equity Plan submitted in 2016 pursuant to the state plan (including planned quarterly and annual reviews of progress, and evaluation/monitoring metrics).
  • USED Office for Civil Rights (OCR) December 29, 2016 letter to MMSD, with OCR's analysis of disparities in participation for the district's African-American and Hispanic students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in Advanced Learner programming, including Advanced Placement course participation.





NAEP data above is from the NAEP Data Explorer.
Long Term Goals charts above are from Wisconsin's draft ESSA plan.


The rule of law versus the rule of rank

"I thought individual rights were natural rights," said Ben.
"That's the sort of fiction we call myth," said Hortense. "Useful symbolically. But as a practical matter, society confers or withholds rights. The medieval European Custom of Merchants let the genie of individual rights out of the bottleor opened the Pandora's box of their nuisances and evils, as people who deplore individual rights would have it.
"The contractual law we inherited from those medieval merchants contained radical conceptions. Not only did it apply alike to all individuals, no matter who they were or what their social status might be, but it was available to individuals for no other reason than that they were individuals, making contracts. That second notion is so inseparable from our contractual law that we even have the fiction that a corporation is a person. That's so corporations, like individuals, can make contracts and carry on commercial life under protection of civil law. To realize how radical the Custom of Merchants was, we only need to think about some of the battles to extend the jurisdiction of contractual law.
"For instance, slaves lack rights as individuals. After slaves in the United States were freed, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution theoretically gave them access to all the rights of individuals available under contractual law. But by custom, hierarchical law, the rule of rank, still prevailed, so freedmen and their descendants seldom enjoyed the benefits of contractual law. Every time a black homeowner was driven from his legally purchased home in a white neighborhood he was being treated as if hierarchical law, derived from social status, prevailed. Every time effective barriers were thrown up against black-owned businesses, and they were, more often than not, or against employment of qualified blacks, or they were excluded from labor unions and apprenticeships controlled by unions, it was as if contractual law did not exist for African Americans. As someone has said, even buying a loaf of bread is a contract. So is being served a meal in a restaurant. A bus ticket is a contract, but if you have to stand instead of sit because of your color, that's the rule of rank, not contract. So many of what we call civil rights are actually rights to make contracts as equals." 
Jane Jacobs, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (1992).


Public schools, public choice

No one can know the preferences or values of other persons apart from giving those persons an opportunity to express their preferences or values. If constituencies and collectivities are organized in a way that does not reflect the diversity of interests among different groups of people, then producers of public goods and services will be taking action without information as to the changing preferences of the persons they serve. Expenditures may be made with little reference to consumer utility. Producer efficiency in the absence of consumer utility is without meaning. Large per capita expenditures for educational services which are not conceived by the recipients to enhance their life prospects may be grossly unproductive. Education can be a sound investment in human development only when individuals perceive the effort as enhancing their life prospects.
Vincent Ostrom and Elinor Ostrom, "Public Choice: A Different Approach to the Study of Public Administratration," Public Administration Review, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Mar. - Apr., 1971), 203-216.