Friday, August 30, 2013

The New State Report Card

It's out, but what does it mean?  Should we puff up with pride the way we have been able to with our string of "Excellent with Distinction" ratings?  Or should we freak out because there are a couple of "D"s on our new report card?

Two answers:
  1. If the previous state report card evaluation criteria were still being used, we would have achieved an Excellent with Distinction rating for the sixth consecutive year - ever since this the creation of this rating category;
  2. We don't fully understand how to interpret the new report card yet. 
I hope we will spend some time as a Board having Dr. Marschhausen and the curriculum team walk us through this new rating system. For now, perhaps the best I can offer is a comparison with some of the other central Ohio districts: Upper Arlington, Westerville, Worthington, Olentangy, Pickerington, and Dublin (click on each to see their report card).

There is no overall grade yet - that won't be coming until 2015. I imagine that there is still some debate going on as to how each component should be weighted. Perhaps it is also wise to force folks to look at the components individually the first time around, as once the overall grades start being presented, few will bother to look at any more detail - just like most folks didn't look past Excellent with Distinction.

As with the previous report card, this new approach starts with a set of 24 state standards. This is one of those "idiot light" indicators. It's either on or off, okay or not okay - like the dreaded "Check Engine" light on our car's dashboard which can mean one or many things need attention. This set of indicators is mostly about the standardized tests. An "ok" means 80% of the students scored a rating of 'proficient' on the state test. Some feel the bar for being called 'proficient' is set too low, and that's another debate which needs to be had.

On this dimension, Hilliard Schools and all the comparison districts hit 24 of 24 indicators, and therefore received a letter grade of "A" for this component. Good start.

Next is the Performance Index, another component which is carried forward from the prior report card. This one again deals with the standardized test scores, but is an indicator of the distribution of scores. The higher the PI, then the more students who scored at higher levels on the test. All seven of the districts were rated "B" for this component, and none were all that close to getting an "A."

We all got "A"s for Overall Value Added. This is an indicator of whether the students are gaining a year's worth of knowledge in a school year.

Where we are differ is when the Value Added Score is isolated by various subgroups. Hilliard was the only one of these districts to be graded a "D"  for the Gifted students. Worthington was the only one to get an "A" for this subgroup. This one concerns me, and I want to understand more about what it means.

For Gap Closing, or Annual Measurable Objectives, we also received a "D", but so did Worthington and Dublin. Of this group, none received an "A". This measurement dimension seems to follow the philosophy of No Child Left Behind, in that a high grade requires that performance is high not only from a district-wide perspective, but also that each of the defined subgroups of students are progressing as well. In other words, issues in one minority segment of our student population can't be masked by the excellent performance of the majority.

Several things will happen in the coming months. One is that we'll need to continue to analyze what the new report card means, and to figure out what we should be doing in response. Trust that there will also be a political response to this new report card as more of Ohio's school districts find out how their communities react to this new body of information. I'm very glad we don't have a levy on the ballot this fall.

If you haven't already done so, I recommend that you read Dr. Marschhausen's commentary on the new Report Card, as well as the story which appeared in This Week Hilliard. In particular, I appreciated this comment from our Superintendent:
[Marschhausen] said while the report card is "one tool to evaluate" a district, no rating system is perfect, and state report cards "can't tell the complete story of a student's educational experience (or) define the effectiveness of our educators."

I agree.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

One Person - One Dot

I'm a map lover. I'm not sure why exactly, but maps fascinate me.  Google Earth is the coolest app ever, in my opinion.

There are many kinds of maps, of course. Some show roads, and I still have a bunch of road maps in our car even though we use a GPS device almost exclusively these days. Others maps show terrain features, like the topographic maps available online from the US Geological Survey. On my motorcycle I have a map of Ohio that is overlaid with all the major railroad routes, because I'm also a railfan. Bet you didn't know the State of Ohio publishes such a map.

Dustin Cable of the University of Virginia recently published a map of the US that shows one dot for every person recorded in the 2010 Census. That's a lot of dots - around 300 million. Each dot is coded with a color depicting the race of the individual - Whites in blue, Blacks in green, Asians in red, Hispanics in orange, and all others in brown. It comes out looking like this:

click to enlarge
I expected this map to be shaded mostly with the grey-brown hue that Play-Doh turns into when you inevitably squish all the colors into one lump, but on this map the primary colors are still distinguishable. It's hard to miss the swath of green across the coastal South, indicating that a significant majority of the population there is African-American. Or the shift to orange, red and brown in the Southwest where Native American and Hispanic populations are prominent.

One also notices the high density in the eastern half of the country, and very low numbers of folks in the western half. Having ridden across the continent a couple of times on my Harley, I have experienced these wide open spaces firsthand. It's a beautiful thing.

So what happens when you zoom in a little closer?  Here's Ohio. 
Click to Enlarge
It's easy to pick out the big cities because of the density of dots. But also notice that each city seems to have a blue section and a green section. Let's zoom in more:

Click to Enlarge
Here's central Ohio. The red line is I-71, which seems to have become a dividing wall between the White and Black community. There are those who say that I-71 was built where it was and how it was - on top of an man-made embankment - for exactly that purpose.

How about our community?

Click to Enlarge

The blue-green line represents the approximate boundary of our school district (sorry West Point!). The yellow lines are Hilliard-Rome/Main St/Avery Rd and Roberts, purple is Cemetery Rd, and Green is Alton Darby Rd.

Perhaps the most obvious thing is that nearly all our people live in the eastern half of the school district. I suspect that a lot of people don't know that the school district stretches all the way to Darby Creek, and that Alton-Darby Rd is the midline of the district, not the western frontier. There is nearly as much land left to develop in our school district as there is land that has already been developed. This is why we need to continue to pay attention to the development policies of the leaders of the cities that fall within our district: Hilliard, Columbus and Dublin.  

Because of the stranglehold Columbus has on the regional water/sewer system, as well as the terms of the Win-Win Agreement, the way in which most of that western half develops will be controlled by the City of Columbus, and we have very little political power in that dialog. The big question mark is what will become of the Big Darby Accord - an entity whose creation was driven by the City of Columbus and joined by all the municipalities and townships that make up the Big Darby watershed in Franklin County.

What about the racial distribution in our community?  There seems to be a couple of neighborhoods with non-White concentrations?  Is something going on here?

Here is the map of Greater New York City, with Manhattan at the center:

Click to Enlarge
The clustering of racial groups in that area is striking. But is it a matter of segregation or choice?  Historically, it was the former of course, but today it's mostly a matter of choice. New York remains a city of immigrants. I still chuckle thinking of a billboard I once saw on the FDR expressway on the way to LaGuardia Airport which read: "Come to Hong Kong, where ALL the cab drivers speak English!"  But one of the cool things about going to NYC is that one can get a taste of many cultures just by riding the subway a few stops and emerging to a different neighborhood.

It's true all over the world that immigrant groups often cluster together, mostly to enjoy the company and comfort of people from a familiar culture and language. There are communities of American ex-pats all over the world. We do it too.

So I'm not especially alarmed that we have some racial clustering going on in our community. Central Ohio is also a magnet for immigrants, perhaps not on the scale of New York, Miami, LA or Seattle, but still we are a place where immigrants come, and always have been. And when they first arrive, many will seek the familiarity of neighbors from their homeland, just as did the waves of immigrants over a hundred years ago. It's usually the second and third generations that assimilate into the new country, largely because they end up in public schools, the real melting pot of American society.

There was a time when racial segregation was explicit, but thankfully those days are over. We still have challenges with economic segregation, here and everywhere in America, and we perpetuate this largely through our public school district boundaries. It may at some point call into question whether our way of organizing public schools is still good for America.

I'm glad our three high schools have similar demographics - this is not the case with all school districts in our area (the strips below are extracted from the 2011-2012 State Report Cards). 

BRADLEY - click to enlarge
DARBY - click to enlarge
DAVIDSON - click to enlarge

I hope our community remains one that enjoys cultural diversity, because that too is a learning experience for our kids - something that will serve them well as our world continues to shrink.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Supplemental Material for the August 26, 2013 School Board Meeting

Here are the supplemental materials provided in preparation for the regular meeting of the School Board, to be held Monday August 26, 2013 at 7pm, in the ILC Annex (formerly known as the Central Office Annex).

You might be interested in the opening day enrollment numbers. We start this year with 15,882 students (including JVS students), up slightly from the 15,783 we had last year. In 2011, the opening day number was 15,758. This is a far cry from the explosive growth we had a decade ago, but residential development is starting to pick up again. The earthmoving equipment is onsite and active for the new Heritage Preserve development on Alton-Darby Rd, planned for 687 single-family and multi-family dwellings, with the potential for several hundred new kids in the schools.

On the financial side, we have the Monthly Financial Report for July to approve, but the more important item is the Permanent Appropriations Resolution, a piece of legislation required by state law. It has two purposes: 1) it is the way the Board of Education authorizes the Administration to spend money; and, 2) it authorizes other government authorities, such as the Franklin County Treasurer, to disburse to us the monies that have been collected on our behalf, such as property taxes.

If you take the time to do so - and I have - you can reconcile the numbers in the Appropriations Resolution with the detail disclosed in the FY14 Budget provided by Treasurer. I have always believed that this process of inspecting and approving the Permanent Appropriations Resolution and the supporting Budget is one of the most important duties of the School Board.

I've had a detailed dialog with the Treasurer about several items of interest I found in the Budget, and am satisfied with his answers. Because 86% of our General Fund spending is for Compensation and Benefits, a key number to pay attention to is the change in the Full-Time-Equivalent headcount.

For FY14 (which we are already in), the FTE headcount is projected to be 1,646, compared to 1,633 in FY13 and 1,644 in FY12. The only change of notice is that the FY14 budget has 18 fewer Regular Education teachers, and 11 more Special Education teachers. While I'm interested in this reallocation of resources, the personnel budget as a whole looks appropriate given the relatively flat enrollment numbers.

While the General Fund budget seems reasonable, I'm quite concerned about the Capital Improvement Plan, shown on page 102 of the Budget document.

In 2006, the community voted to enact a 2 mill Permanent Improvements Levy, which generates $4.6 million per year for Capital Improvement - and that money is being spent. However, our Operations Department believes we need to be spending $4.5 million more for at least the next four years, starting next year. This is equivalent to another 2 mills of property taxes ($70/yr for each $100,000 of value).

While the FY14 Capital Improvement plan is covered by the current revenue stream, the FY15-FY18 Capital Improvements plan submitted is a substantial change from the FY13 Budget, and needs to be discussed in depth in the near future.

Lastly, you are probably aware of that the new State Report Card is out. We've been justifiably proud as a community to have earned the highest rating possible - "Excellent with Distinction" - for several years running. Last year, we were #1 in the State of Ohio in terms of the Value Added category.

The new Report Card uses an A to F rating system. It would have been nice to have received all As, but no school district in Ohio received all As. I'm not ready to render an opinion about the new Report Card system yet, but from an engineering perspective, it sounds like we might have a measurement instrument that is better calibrated to the range of data.

The old report card was like the gas gauge in most of our cars - it stays on FULL for a good while after you fill up, even though you know gas has been consumed. With the old Report Card, so many districts were awarded Excellent or Excellent with Distinction ratings that it obscured where we stacked up within that large group.

So if the new Report Card accurately measures what it says it does - and smarter people than me are no doubt going to figure that out - then we should be able to see more clearly where we're doing well, and where we need to do some work.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to read Dr. Marschhausen's comments on the new Report Card.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

It's Official: Candidates Certified for November Election

The Franklin County Board of Elections has posted the certified list of candidates who will be on the ballot for the General Election to be held November 5, 2013. For the Board of Education of Hilliard City Schools, the four candidates for three seats are Andy Teater, Lisa Whiting, Brian Perry and me.

Thank you to all the folks who signed my Nominating Petition, and a huge thanks to the several people who helped gather signatures.

I'm sure there will be one or two "Meet the Candidate" events in the coming weeks, and both the League of Women Voters and the Columbus Dispatch will publish voter's guides. I hope these will be useful resources as you decide who you want to represent you in the governance of our school district.

To vote in this election, you must be registered with Board of Elections by 9pm, October 7, 2013. Click here to go to the web page for instructions on how to register.

If you are not sure if you are registered to vote, click here to check online.

If you wish to vote with an absentee ballot, you may apply for one here.

Early, in-person voting will also be available this year. Go here for current information on where you can go for early voting.

I hope that you will grant me the opportunity to represent you on our Board of Education for another four years, and I ask for your vote in November.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Balanced Calendar

One of the blogs I follow is Exponential Impact, written by Trent Bowers, the Assistant Superintendent of Worthington City Schools. He recently wrote an article discussing the change Noblesville (Indiana) Schools has made to its school calendar. The big news is that they have reduced their summer break to about eight weeks, essentially June and July, but have created breaks in October, December and March lasting two weeks.

I am intrigued by this.

The claim is that the educational benefit of doing this is that the kids "backslide" less over the summer. Mr. Bowers cites studies which have shown that students lose two months of math skill over the summer, and lower-income students also lose two months of reading proficiency.

From a family scheduling perspective, I don't sense that restarting the first of August is that big of a deal. If you are around any of our high schools in early August, you know that the fall athletes and marching band members have already started their practices. I suspect that many of the kids in the lower grades are out with their parents getting supplies, and getting eager to get out of the house and be with their friends. So are their parents.

Those two week breaks during the year sound pretty good as well. While the winter break is already two weeks, a two-week October break is something new, and I think adding a second week to Spring break sounds pretty appealing.

A key question is of course, what our teachers and staff would think of such a schedule. Many of our teachers start gearing up in early August for the new year, even though their contract doesn't require them to report back for the new school until a couple of days before the students. How would this change that? Perhaps this kind of schedule could mean less restart effort to the teachers as well.

The facilities folks count on the summer months for performing maintenance projects that they can't do easily while school is in session. You may have noticed that with all the rain this summer, our facilities team is hustling to get all the parking lot and driveway reconstructions completed, and there are double crews working at Alton Darby Elementary to get the roof replacement done. How would they deal with having fewer weeks to complete these tasks?

Then there is the question of what it means to fall sports.  I'd think it wouldn't have much effect on game schedules unless and until other school districts make similar changes to their academic calendars. But if league rules or state law prohibits practices from beginning until a certain number of weeks before the game schedule starts, then athletes and band members wouldn't have the opportunity for the "two-a-day" kind of preseason practice schedule many now employ - because the students would be in class most of the day. Does this give an advantage to school districts who start classes later in August?

In spite of these challenges, we can't ignore the potential benefits to the students. After all, the mission of a school district is academics, not extracurricular programming and facilities maintenance.

What do you think?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Supplemental Material for the August 12, 2013 School Board Meeting

Here are the supplemental material provided to the School Board for the meeting on Monday, August 12, 2013 at 7pm at the Annex of the Innovative Learning Center (the same place that used to be called the Central Office Annex).

We will be hearing a motion to accept the June Financial Report, plus approve a long list of personnel actions recommended by the Superintendent. A few things caught my eye:

  • The retirement of Lisa Galvin effective the end of this school year. Lisa teaches instrumental music at Bradley and is an assistant marching band director. Before Bradley opened, she taught instrumental music at Heritage, and was the band director there. She wrote the Bradley alma mater, and is also a frequent arranger for the the Ohio State Marching Band (TBDBITL), of which she was a member.
  • Nick McIlwain has been named Athletic Director for Darby High School, filling the role vacated by Chad Schulte, who has become an Assistant Principal at Darby.
  • This is when we approve another batch of supplemental contracts and stipends. I was pleased to see Ken Brenneman join the Choral Music team at Darby as a part-time assistant director, working with Director Mike Martin. Ken is a fixture in the Hilliard arts community (as is his wife, Robin), and I'm glad he will once again be working with our students.
  • We send our prayers to the family of John Michaels, who passed away on July 27. John was a member of the custodial team at Washington Elementary.
On Monday of this week, Andy, Lisa and I had the opportunity to participate in the induction of 65 new teachers into our district. Whatever else happens in our district, the core activity is a teacher in a classroom instructing a group of students. I'm pleased to report that our new team members are bright, motivated, and eager to teach our kids.

click to enlarge
Lastly, the Board will be hearing a motion to accept the school bus routing and schedule for the coming school year. I won't pretend that we'll each read all 248 pages of this schedule, and evaluate the appropriateness and efficiency of each route. We have a competent transportation department, headed by Terry Timlin, and entrust them to implement the Board's policies and keep costs reasonable.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Gen X Governing

I recently came across this article from a magazine called Governing, which caters to state and local government leaders. The writer, Rob Gurwitt, observes that Generation Xers are beginning to influence the way government operates, taking the place of the Baby Boomers - my generation.

As a reminder, Gen X is usually defined as those born between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s. In other words, the people who now have children in our school district.

Gurwitt asserts that the Gen Xers are starting to make their voices heard in local government, and they're going at it in a different manner than those before them. In particular, the Gen Xers expect to have easy access to lots of data, and they're using that data to make decisions about how well their local governments are functioning. Gen Xers are hitting the power years of their careers, and they've learned to be data-driven decision makers and leaders. They expect their governments to operate in the same way.

I'm technically a Boomer - born in the 1950s -  but I think that the opportunity I had to be part of CompuServe might give me some Gen X credentials. CompuServe was one of the pioneers in the evolution to the online world, providing access to vast amounts of information to anyone, anywhere. I've had an email account continuously for 40 years - well before most people had even heard of such a thing. And I've been a inside observer of the incredible impact the access to information, and the ability to quickly analyze and communicate information, has had on businesses around the globe.

So I think I understand this Gen X ethos. And those who know me know that I'm a data geek. That's the reason I believe our school district should strive to make every bit of information we can accessible to the public, albeit with great care taken to protect the privacy of our students, teachers and leaders.

We should be able to make plans which include measurable goals and expectations so that we can tell if the decisions we make and the actions we take are bearing fruit. It is getting far too expensive to run a public school district without having meaningful, measurable performance data to guide our decisions, in my opinion.

Such data is being collected, and much of it being loaded into a specialized database system called Performance Matters, which was purchased with some of the Race to the Top federal grant money we received. I'm eager to learn more about this system, as I understand that it will allow us to slice and dice tons of performance data in a way that is sure to yield some pretty interesting information.

I hope that we find a way to make a lot of that information available online for everyone to see -- from a macro perspective, not to assess individual performance of either a student or teacher.

My belief is that as long as public schools exist, and are funded in the manner they are now, our school district is forever going to be periodically asking the voters for more money. I believe that the Gen X voters will increasingly ask for access to data which will enable them to independently assess whether additional funding is warranted, and not just rely on levy campaign rhetoric. The days are over when levy campaigns can be centered on emotional appeals (e.g. "if you love your children, vote for the levy!").

You have hopefully just received the latest edition of Passing Notes, the district newsletter. There's lots of good stuff in this issue, including articles by Dr. Marschhausen and Treasurer Brian Wilson. You'll be seeing a good deal of communications from Dr. Marschhausen and our leadership team going forward, including his blog and a monthly column in the local newspaper, Hilliard This Week.

I also encourage you to take advantage of one of the several informal "Coffee Conversations" Dr. Marschhausen will be hosting in the coming weeks. This was something he did regularly during his tenure at Loveland Schools, and we're pleased that he'll be continuing that practice here.