The presentations were dry. It almost seemed that McMinimee & Morgan were trying to put the public in the Board Room asleep, or drive the live video stream audience to start playing on-line games.
Fortunately, they did not succeed, because the twists they put the good data through was fun watching…if you didn’t care about the students.
Agenda Item 2.01 – Monitoring: Student Achievement.
Despite the fact that JeffCo scores were up. Despite the fact that JeffCo out-performed DougCo. Despite the fact that JeffCo’s average AP score was higher than the rest of the state, the country, and the world’s average. Despite all of this…or maybe because of it, if you went to or watched last night’s BOE meeting, you would be excused if you thought that JeffCo’s performance was the worst in the state…unless you were listening very carefully.
WNW+M² (Witt, Newkirk, Williams and McMinimee/Morgan) tried their best to downplay how well JeffCo did before they came on the scene.
Because it’s the only way they can look better next year.
WNW needs to put your critical thinking to sleep. To do that, they need to give you ‘good news’ about their reforms next year.
Problem: Their reforms, do not work!
All we have to do is look at at DougCo. Their performance has been dropping so much that the District Board is now trying to get out of any meaningful testing that would allow honest benchmarking. Why? Because when compared to other districts, DougCo high schools are not doing as well as the high schools at 27 other districts.
In the U.S. News & World Report High School Rankings released today, JeffCo had seven of the top 45 high schools in the state. Denver had five, Poudre had four, St. Vrain Valley had three Boulder Valley had two, Cherry Creek had two, Lewis-Palmer had two, and Littleton had two. 18 other districts had one. DougCo had none.
Even Telluride, with less than 1,000 students in the whole district, had their only high school ranked 12th. DougCo was unable to get even one of their 13 high schools in the top 45.
So it is highly unlikely that WNW+M²’s actions will result in higher scores for JeffCo either. And their actions show that they know this!
So what can they do?
There is an old business trick. If you can’t show genuine improvement, then make the previous performance look worse than it was. That way when you maintain (or even lower) your actual performance, you can make it look like you improved.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, GE was notorious for doing this. Anytime they had a great year, they would deliberately offset the excess profits by coming up with reasons to increase their reserves. Then when they had poor years, they would release enough reserves to be able to ‘show’ that the company had still performed better than the previous year. They thought of it a being smart.
The shareholders and the SEC thought of it as fraud, and lawsuits were filed, costing them a bunch of money.
Unfortunately for JeffCo students, when WNW+M² do it, the only recourse they will have is remediation in college, try to make it up on their own, or just go on without those skills and knowledge…and have it impact them the rest of their lives.
Another price of having WNW in charge of our children’s education.
Agenda Item 2.02 – Status Update On Assessments
The section on Assessment showed up more the ignorance of WNW, especially Julie Williams, than anything else. Julie Williams simply could not get it through her head that for benchmark tests to be valid, such as TCAP last year or PARCC this year, teachers whose kids have taken the test cannot share the content and results of the test with teachers whose classes have not!
Pretty much everyone agrees that there is too much testing going on. There is also a growing consensus that the results of the tests are being misused, both in evaluation and funding for schools, and evaluation and paying of teachers. At the same time, pretty much everyone agrees that some level of testing is required, otherwise you have no objective method of determining how well students are learning. As with many things, the devil is in the details.
This is something that will not be resolved by WNW’s favorite ‘overly simplified solutions for complex, difficult problems’ approach.
But they will try.
(Personal note: WNW’s approach to educational solutions reminds me of when my younger sister was 11, and she tried to make tapioca pudding while our parents were away. After rattling around in the kitchen, she came and joined the rest of us watching TV. A few minutes later, smelling smoke, I ran into the kitchen and saw flames coming out of the pan! I quickly put a lid on the pot, smothering the flames. When I looked in the pot, I saw a pyramid of burned, dry ingredients. “Penny,” I said, “why didn’t you put in the milk?!” “I didn’t know I needed to,” she said. “Well, how do you think it gets to be like a pudding?” “I thought it just happened!” she exclaimed.
Let’s hope that JeffCo does not get too singed from WNW’s thinking that education improvements ‘just happened’.)
Agenda Item 2.03 – Superintendent Goals 2014-15
This segment of video should be clipped out and sent to every MBA program in the world as a perfect example of how NOT to set management goals.
Using goals as a method of measuring and managing performance has a long history. Business practice guru, Peter Drucker helped popularize the approach by describing it as “Managing By Objectives” or MBO in 1954. It has long since become a mainstay of American business practice, despite newer management theories becoming popular.
For it to work, the goals of the individual must be aligned with, but not be the same as the goals of the organization.
There is a very good reason for that separation. When an individual’s goals are the same as the organization, there is no focus for the individual on manner, method, or approach. For example, the Board has a goal of improving 4th grade scores. If McMinimee has that as the same goal, then every idea he has about achieving it the Board has to review and agree to. This means McMinimee has to waste time and energy managing the Board instead of the District, and the Board starts getting into actual management of the District instead of simply setting policy.
How does this happen?
Let’s assume that McMinimee’s goal is the same as the District’s for 4th grade math scores.
McMinimee Goal: Improve 4th grade math scores by X% points.
Now McMinimee has to come up with a plan…and then take it to the Board for review. They will want changes, he makes them and goes back, they want some more, he makes them and goes back. They approve them…and the first trimester is already over. There is very little he can do now to influence the events.
When review time comes, he points this out. The Board, not wanting to seem unfair (okay – a stretch for this Board!), decides to give him credit for trying hard. Or not.
Bottom line though, the District did not benefit by this management technique!
Let’s try it a different way:
The Board tells McMinimee to come up with five specific objectives that will help the District reach its overall goal of improving 4th grade math scores. The parameters for doing this include not increasing teacher workload, nor costing more than $750,000.
McMinimee spends time with his staff over the summer, developing an approach to do that. In August, at the first Board meeting of the school year, he proposes the following objectives for himself:
- increase the amount of classroom time spent on math by 5%;
- reduce classroom sizes for K-4 grades to less than 22 students;
- make sure that 95% of K-4 teachers acquire an additional 4 CE credits in elementary math instruction.
(Please note that the above is meant simply to be example. By no means are we saying this is the way to accomplish it.)
The Board now decides if this is the approach they want to take. If they say, ‘Yes’, he goes ahead. If they say ‘No’, they then provide him with additional feedback on the boundaries for his actions.
In either case, there is no confusion on what McMinimee will be doing, or how it will be measured. The objectives or goals for McMinimee are specific, quantitative, and directly measurable.
Needless to say, this is not what happened.
There was talk about sliding scales. Ranking him from 1-5 then 1-4 on achievement (?). Then averaging the numbers together? There began to be arguments about which Board goals should be assigned to him. You could see the effort dissolving. The goals are just a nebulous and vague as before. McMinimee has no specific direction on what his range of actions can be. And there is nothing measurable that can be used to monitor his progress.
(Note: The following paragraphs were added following two excellent comments on our Facebook link. Hat Tips to Clint Bodine and Gail Baird Kramer!)
There are two other problems with making personal goals identical with the organizational ones.
- If the organizational goals are achieved, how do you know it was due to that person’s efforts? It’s a bit like making an NFL Quarterback’s bonus be based simply on whether the team wins or loses the next game.
– It sounds good up front, but what if the team wins because their defense runs an interception back for a touchdown, while the Quarterback fumbled three times? Does the Quarterback deserve the bonus?
- The other problem is that there will be no valid way of comparing test scores from last year to this year. Last year, the test was TCAP. This year the test will be PARCC. If the scores go up, then McMinimee can take credit. If the scores go down, then McMinimee can blame it on the fact that the new test is different and harder than the old.
– It is like a person flipping a coin while saying, “Heads I win, tails you lose.” Only in this case, it’s JeffCo that’s guaranteed to lose.
We wish we could say that this was all WNW’s fault, but Dahlkemper and Fellman fell into the trap as well. They tried to get more specific, but by agreeing to unify McMinimee’s goals with the District’s goals, it made for a dramatic blurring of the line between policy makers and policy implementers.
The biggest blame, though, lies with Witt.
He touts himself as a highly experienced business person, someone who has ‘run big businesses’ (although which ones and how are vague). Yet he fails in one of the most basic functions of a manager.
One wonders what his subordinates…and superiors really thought of him.
But it is not too late. There is two weeks to the next meeting. McMinimee could understand the false position these goals place him and the District in. Witt could go back and read his Management 101 textbook. Julie Williams might realize that this is not how her goals in her dental office are set. All of this could change.
But it probably won’t.
Mismanagement, WNW style.
Let’s keep fighting, JeffCo. 84,000 students deserve better than this!