Five candidates are competing for three seats on the Madison school board, with the general election on April 2, 2013.
The political context for the races is explosive, given Gov. Scott Walker's revolutionary proposals for education in Wisconsin: cuts to public school funding, an expansion of the voucher program, and a revamping of teachers' evaluations and bargaining rights.
In Madison, the issues are particularly complex, with the intense disagreements over the district's achievement gap between white and minority students.
In the race for Seat 3, former La Follette High School teacher and low-income housing provider Dean Loumos is running against retired Madison police lieutenant Wayne Strong. The winner will replace retiring school board member Beth Moss.
In this competitive series of elections, there are numerous candidate forums and listening sessions under way, and we thought we'd pose our own questions to candidates.
This week, we ask the candidates about charter schools, whether they'd like to see their expansion in the district, and if so, how they should operate within the district. Another question focuses on teacher evaluation, and how the candidates think it should be conducted with regards to student test scores.
Would you like to see more charter schools in the district? What type of oversight should be in place for these schools?
There is a place for charter schools in our district; indeed, we have three of them already. Charter schools are not the problem, as they were originally designed for public schools to implement alternative programming that could reach students who wanted something different, as opposed to traditional school settings. It's an option that, frankly, I wish existed when I went to school. I have 10 years of experience in teaching in such programs, and I am disturbed to see them being used as a political tool by some to pursue an agenda of privatizing of all public services. These schools must stay under community control for accountability.
I view charter schools as legitimate alternatives that can assist a school district in helping students achieve success when they currently are not, or to simply chose to learn in a different way. By allowing these alternative programs' staff to be much more creative in their approaches, with careful guidance, students could then be offered an option that is more suitable to their interests. From the success of the current programs, they seem to be doing exactly as we intended them to.
The school board is currently set to establish new guidelines for potential new charter proposals that are specific and thorough. They require that only proposals that stay within school district control will be considered: "Express language stating only instrumentality schools will be considered" (p. 10-11), taken from the proposal.
I have three main personal criteria for the establishing of charter schools:
- That current staff is involved in the planning process.
- That community members are involved in the planning process.
- That there are assessment and accountability measures in place.
All of my main concerns seem to be addressed in Appendix E under Section 3.00 COMMUNITY AND PARENT ENGAGEMENT and Section 7 STANDARDS, ASSESSMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY.
Once the application is turned in, I believe the school board will have the information it needs to properly determine if the proposal is viable, and budgetary decisions will have to be made at that point.
I am not opposed to the idea of adding more charters to the district if they are being proposed to address the needs of students and families that our current schools are not meeting.
We currently have charter schools approved by the district that are doing a great job of serving our very diverse student population. I was a former member of the governance council for Badger Rock Middle School, which was approved by the Board of Education as the district's most recent charter school. It is currently serving families in an approach that is focused on issues related to the environment, energy efficiency and conservation.
Charter schools like Nuestro Mundo, a dual language school, effectively addresses the needs of students that speak English as a second language. The school also benefits students that that speak English as their primary language. Dual language programs have shown success in improving academic achievement for students.
James C. Wright completes the set of charter schools that we currently have in the district. This school has also been successful in meeting the needs of students by emphasizing a safe climate, with its emphasis centered on anti-bullying and a harassment-free environment. It successfully serves a population with many special needs students as well.
Each of these schools are great examples of the kind of innovation that we must continue to consider when looking at whether or not to add more charter schools to the district. A factor that should be considered when deciding whether or to add more charters is the need for district oversight. Since public dollars are being used to fund these charters, then there has to be accountability. The way to attain that is by ensuring that there is oversight by the district, and that the school be staffed by union employees.
All proposals should be evaluated on their own individual merit, and what is best for the district as a whole should be taken into full consideration.
What is the proper way to evaluate teachers? Do you believe they should be evaluated on the basis of student test scores?
Much of what will happen with teacher evaluation will be determined by state and federal mandate. Currently, MMSD is piloting the Wisconsin "Educator Effectiveness System" in schools, including Memorial High School and Blackhawk Middle School. The system is based on educator performance (50%) and student outcomes (50%). Obviously, standardized test scores will be important and those tests will correspond to content in the Common Core Curriculum. When I taught, I found standardized tests to be more useful as a skill measuring device as opposed to measuring knowledge.
The Core Curriculum, although being implemented in more than 45 states, has not been field tested. It may be good, it may be bad -- we just don't know yet. Interestingly, a company owned Rupert Murdoch, Amplify, has been awarded $12.5 billion to develop assessments for that curriculum. These assessments are likely to emerge as a critical component in teacher evaluation.
Two questions I have related to standardized tests are: "Exactly what do they measure?" and "Do all students have an equal opportunity for success?"
With respect to the first question, there are examples like my friend's grandson, a Madison middle school student who recently took the EXPLORE test (developed for the ACT) and the WKCE test. His scores were opposite for language arts versus math and science in the two tests. Which test was accurate? What exactly was being measured?
We know that stress impedes performance for some students and enhances performance for others. These tests are given over a span of time, and on any given day a student may experience illness, troubling life experiences, and/or physical and mental exhaustion. Will s/he do well on a standardized test and importantly, is the teacher responsible for the results?
A BOE member must closely monitor these developments, as this is where the Board has to be the conduit to facilitate in-depth discussions among teaching and administrative staff. The Board must also encourage as much flexibility in applying evaluation criteria as possible. Teacher creativity and perspective must be taken into account and respected.
I believe that part of the strategy for properly evaluating teachers and empowering them should be based on student learning gains. How well students are grasping the subject matter being taught by the teacher is critical to the success of the student and the teacher.
The principal plays a key role in this evaluation process as well. While I recognize some of the challenges that principals encounter when it comes to evaluating their staff, we must ensure that principals get the support they need to ensure that these evaluation are being done.
Feedback from parents should also be considered in the evaluation process. Parents should be afforded the opportunity to evaluate the teachers that are providing instruction to their children, in a fair and objective matter. In addition, students should also be allowed to participate in the process as well.
A peer-to-peer review process is another method that should be considered when it comes to evaluating teachers. Peer-to-peer reviews provide teachers with a great opportunity to provide constructive feedback for their colleagues; this will help improve their overall effectiveness.
While test scores play a role in terms of how well teachers are providing instruction, I do not believe that it should be the sole basis on which they are evaluated. Some students are simply not good test takers, and merely looking at test scores as a means to evaluate teachers can be misleading.