Why Not Have Report Cards for School Board Members?

People often ask me why I got in the race for School Board. Frankly, I saw things that disturbed me. First, the current Board spent close to a quarter of a billion dollars of your tax money without publishing construction bids, naming bid winners, or itemizing expenses.

Second, while bragging about a two-year-old award from a grocery store naming the Humble ISD “the best large district in Texas,” the board somehow overlooked the fact that almost a quarter of our seventh graders can’t read at grade level.

Then when the State’s new A-F rankings showed half of the high schools in the District failing on “career readiness,” the Board lobbied Austin to change the grading system instead of fixing the problem.

Oh, and don’t forget that the current board is waiting until after the school board election to spring the need for more bonds on you. They could total more than a third of a billion dollars at a time when interest rates are headed up and one of our middle schools is more than 40% over capacity!

The School Board currently only gets graded once every four years – at election time. So when the Lake Houston Chamber Magazine asked me, “What factors do you believe the state should consider in their accountability rankings of school districts,” I replied, in part, that Districts should be compared on “Customer-service ratings for school-board members.”

Here is a first solo attempt at creating a “report card” for board members.

Grade School Board Members

Member name:_____________   Grading period:_____________

Financial Transparency     A          B         C         D         F

Champions Reading           A          B         C         D         F

Leadership                           A          B         C         D         F

Listens                                  A          B         C         D         F

Timely response                 A          B         C         D         F

Straight talk                        A          B         C         D         F

Visits campuses                  A          B         C         D         F

Communication                  A          B         C         D         F

Grading Guidelines

Financial Transparency

A = Fights to publish itemized details on construction bids, bid winners, overruns and delays

B = Itemizes architectural and engineering fees, where bond money is being spent, and who land is purchased from

C = Keeps you in the dark while rumors and suspicion grow

D = Charges you to make “open records requests” to see how your money was spent

F = Spends a quarter of a billion dollars of your tax money without publishing details

 

Champions Reading

A = Fights to improve reading scores in early childhood so kids don’t fall behind in other subjects

B = Works to build partnerships with charities, volunteers and other governmental organizations to facilitate early reading intervention

C = Brags about exceeding region and state averages when almost a quarter of Humble ISD seventh graders can’t read at grade level,* and Texas education ranks in bottom quintile of states**

D = Ignores problem

F = Hides failure in “averaged” reading scores for entire District

 

Leadership

A = Fights publicly to improve education for ALL students

B = Makes sure teachers have the time, training and support to do their jobs

C = Goes along to get along; follows the herd

D = “Let’s just give people vouchers and let someone else worry about the problems.”

F = “When does cocktail hour start?”

 

Listens:

A = Listens attentively; accurately understands your concern(s)

B = Appears to listen

C = Looks at watch, yawns or answers emails while you’re addressing the Board

D = Sends you a form letter that never acknowledges your concern, but tells you what a great job s/he is doing

F = Never even bothers to send you a form letter

 

Timely Response:

Replies to your questions, concerns, or inquiries:

A = Within same or next business day

B = A week

C = A month

D = A blue moon

F = When pigs fly

 

Straight Talk:

A = Always gives you straight answers – even when disagreeing with you

B = Answers with a maybe or a “guess so” thrown in

C = Gives “wishy-washy” answers that never tell you where s/he stands

D = Mostly evasive – answers a different question or spouts half-truths

F = Gives inaccurate, or totally false and untruthful answers

 

Visits Campuses to Learn Their Needs:

A = All campuses

B = Half or more

C = A handful

D = Makes symbolic attempt to see one or two

F = Why bother with symbolism?

 

Communication

A = Builds a good case for the way s/he votes, even if you don’t agree

B = Explains pros and cons of possible solutions to controversial issues

C = Discusses issues in private and rubber stamps them in public

D = Avoids discussing expensive bond issues during board election

F = Master of hidden agendas

 

What would you include on such a report card? What grading guidelines would you use? Please share your ideas at: http://rehakforschoolboard.com/your-thoughts/


*TexAcademicPerformanceRptPg12015_16

** http://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/2017/2017-state-education-grades-map.html

In Praise of PTAs and PTOs

The unsung heroes of the Humble ISD are the parent volunteers who donated more than 300,000 hours of their time last year. That’s the equivalent of more than 150 full time District employees – for free! Learn more about what the Council of PTAs, and the PTAs and PTOs themselves do to enhance the quality of education for every student in the District in my latest advertorial.

Rehak_PTA_Ad

How to Rebuild Trust Between the School Board and Community

Last week I talked about the need for more openness on the school board. Here are some things I feel the Board and School District could do to restore trust. They might also help save tax dollars while improving education.

RehakRebuildTrustAd

New Supreme Court Ruling Empowers Special Ed Parents

Good news for parents of special ed students! Check out this Associated Press story on a new Supreme Court ruling. The ruling will make it easier for parents to insist on services for their children and harder for schools to refuse. The decision was unanimous – a rarity these days.

Performance Report Discussion at School Board Meeting Tuesday Night

The Humble ISD will discuss the District’s annual performance report Tuesday night.

Time: 7PM- 11PM

Date: Tuesday, March 21

Place: Admin Building, 20200 Eastway Village Drive, Humble 77338

Encourage people to come and ask questions. To prepare for the meeting, review these two links:

Annual Performance Report  2015-16

http://humbleisd.net/cms/lib2/TX01001414/Centricity/Domain/15/2015-16%20TAPR%20report%20abstract.pdf

Annual Performance Report Presentation

http://humbleisd.net/cms/lib2/TX01001414/Centricity/Domain/15/Annual%20Performance%20Report%20March%20_21_2017.%20pptx.pdf

Here’s your chance to ask questions about things you find in their reports. And just for perspective, I’m providing links to two other reports:

The 2015-16 A-F Ratings Report to the Legislature explains how the ratings were compiled and what each school in each district scored. Humble ISD schools appear on pages D175 and D176.

2015-16 A-F Ratings Report_fnl_2017 copy

The 2015-2016 Texas Academic Report for the Humble ISD contains breakdowns by grade level for the district as a whole.

HISD Achievement Scores

So Much for Openness!

Last year, many parents criticized the current board for a lack of openness in the way our new superintendent was selected. Well, things haven’t gotten much better. My next ad discusses other issues that need to be debated publicly now, such as alarming new school ratings.

But another big concern is this. Why is the board waiting until AFTER the election to discuss the cost of new school construction and how it will affect other priorities? Consultants have been working on a study for almost a year; surely, they must have some idea of costs by now!

Elections are intended to give YOU a say in how YOUR money will be spent. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with this board.

Read all about it here.

RehakOpennessAd

I’m not the only one talking about openness, especially relating to school bonds. Check out these articles by Watchdog.org, a non-profit journalism group.

Shining a light on Texas’ pile of debt — and shadowy bond votes” by Kenric Ward, September 23, 2016. Some key quotes from the article:

  • “Alarming levels” of local government debt are nudging Texas lawmakers to bring more transparency and accountability to bond elections.
  • Using opaque ballot language, incomplete disclosure and electoral gimmicks like “rolling polling,” local governments – including school districts – have turned an ostensibly democratic process into a rubber-stamping exercise in Texas.
  • The Legislature would do well to reform this practice so that major capital improvements above a certain cost threshold are put before the voters in a separate fashion. This will allow voters to better decide which items are in the community’s best interest instead of being forced to accept a ‘take it or leave it’ approach.

“‘Bonds equal taxes’ message opposed by schools” by Jon Cassidy, August 16, 2016. Key quotes from this article:

  • Texans are swimming in $338 billion of local debt
  • A fiscally illiterate school board turned $1 billion borrowed into $3.3 billion to be repaid [thankfully, not the Humble ISD]
  • The problem…is increasingly that we’ve been allowing…local governments to incur debt without going to the voters

Ideas for Improvement

Ideas

The Word doc in the link above contains a raw list of ideas submitted to date for improving the Humble ISD. They came in via interviews, emails, phone calls, and this web site. I summarized those that came in via phone or interview. Also, where necessary I cleaned them up; I am mindful that students may visit this site.

As a whole, the ideas were exceptionally diverse. However, by tagging them, I could analyze the frequency of the types of comments in a database. Most of the comments clustered into four main areas: Concerns about the Board, Teachers’ Concerns, Educational Disparity, and Cost/Money/Taxes.

For those who want to check the raw data, this Microsoft Excel spreadsheet shows how the ideas were tagged and categorized. It also shows the type of person submitting the comment (parent, teacher, administrator, taxpayer). No comments were received from students.

IdeasTagged

The summary below shows the ideas that comprised the largest categories. I will provide at least one more update before the election; new comments come in every day.

Concerns about the School Board

  • Openness 15
  • Transparency 7
  • Trust 3
  • Board 14
  • Not Listening 16
  • Focus 4
  • Responsiveness 3
  • Rudeness 1
  • Communication 1
  • Ignoring people 2
  • Minority representation 1
  • Term Limits 2
  • Handling of new superintendent 6

Total                                   75

Teachers’ Concerns

  • Freedom 9
  • Pay (amount) 2
  • Fairness in pay 1
  • Violence against, fear, conduct 4
  • Calendar 1
  • Fear 1
  • Time to focus on mission 6
  • Training 1
  • Teaching to the test 12
  • Bad classroom environments 6
  • Pushing kids to do too much 2

Total                                   45

Educational Disparity

  • Title One 5
  • Reading problems 3
  • Hunger 1
  • Poverty 1
  • Educational Divide 7
  • Renovation 2
  • Repair 2
  • Replacement 1
  • Construction 2
  • Bad environment 6

Total                                   30

Money/Taxes

  • Choice 6
  • Vouchers 5
  • Costs/Money 7
  • Financial oversight 3
  • Taxes 4
  • Proper balance (aca,soc,phys) 2
  • Bonds 2

Total                                   29

Note 1: The totals above exceed the number of comments because a respondent could discuss multiple ideas within a comment.

Note 2: There were dozens of random comments that did not fit into major clusters, such as those above.

Note 3: This data is directional only. The sample size is too small to make it statistically projectable. Also respondents self-selected; they were not chosen randomly from a base of all voters in the Humble ISD.

 

New Requirements for Language Arts, Reading and Science in Elementary Schools

My last two posts about the need for early intervention in reading touched off another flurry of comments on the Humble ISD Parents Facebook Page. Some people felt kindergarten and first grade were too early to intervene. Others disagreed. But not one person felt that waiting until the 8th grade was a good idea. During the course of this debate, one woman pointed me to the Reading Recovery Council of North America, a group that specializes in first-grade interventions. Their claim: “Reading Recovery is a short-term intervention for first graders having extreme difficulty with early reading and writing. Specially trained teachers work individually with students in daily 30-minute lessons lasting 12 to 20 weeks. After a full series of lessons, about 75% of these formerly lowest students reach grade-level standard.”

Also, during the course of the online conversation, I pointed out that the State of Texas has just adopted new guidelines for Language Arts and Reading, and Science in elementary schools. They apply down to the kindergarten level. I’m posting them here so you don’t have to search for them. School districts must implement these guidelines by this fall for science, and next fall for the language arts and reading. These documents show what the State will expect children to learn.

2017_01_110a ElemLangArtsRdng

2017_01_112a-ElemScience

I would say “Enjoy,” but obviously whoever wrote these needs some tutoring in writing.  🙂

Ask Why Five Times to Find the Root Cause of Problems

The Five Whys is an iterative technique used in manufacturing, systems development, and medicine to find the root cause of quality control problems. According to urban legend, Sakichi Toyoda, the father of the Japanese industrial revolution and founder of Toyota Industries, developed the technique. We should use it in education, too.

The Value of Five Whys

Toyoda believed that you could never get to the root cause of a problem until you asked the question “Why?” at least five times. The number five is an anecdotal average. Sometimes you have to ask the question four times or six times to get to the bottom of problem. But here’s the brilliance of the technique. Once you ask the question enough times, you finally get to the point where you can do something simple to fix the problem and create lasting improvement. Here’s an example:

Why couldn’t Joe find a job?
     He just didn’t have the qualifications.
Why didn’t he have the qualifications?
     He never learned how to read well.
Why couldn’t Joe read well?
     He fell behind in school when he was sick in first grade.
Why couldn’t he catch up?
     There were no tutors available.
Why didn’t the school system dedicate funds for tutors?
     BINGO!

Working Back as You Look Forward

In many ways, the parable of the Five Whys is the opposite of an old allegory called “For Want of a Nail.” This one dates back almost a thousand years, crosses many cultures, and uses a metaphor (the horseshoe) that many kids today might not understand. The saying goes:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the message was lost.

For want of a message the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

Early Correction is Always More Effective

Both identify the small problem that led to huge consequences. However, the Parable of the Five Whys goes backward in time; For Want of a Nail goes forward. The essence of both can be summed up in other proverbs our parents taught us, such as:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

A stitch in time saves nine.

I mention these  because they apply to what we were talking about yesterday – the need for early intervention in reading programs when children start to fall behind.

Reading affects every other subject a student learns. Falling behind early creates a downward-spiraling domino effect that becomes harder and more expensive to reverse over time. It’s much easier to prevent a problem than deal with disaster after the fact.

We Need a School Board that Asks Why

What does all this have to do with the Humble ISD school board? I believe that a good board member should constantly ask “Why?” If you can get to the root cause of a problem, you can save taxpayers huge sums of money down the road.

We found a simple example by looking at reading test scores. David Mandel’s brilliant statistical analysis of the variance between seventh and eighth grade reading scores demonstrated the immense effect of intervention before kids entered high school.

Saving Taxpayers Money

Within the context of the Five Whys, we need to ask ourselves, would the same amount of taxpayer dollars spent in the eighth grade have had a much larger impact had they been spent in elementary school? I believe the answer is yes. They could have reduced the loss of years of learning in other subjects. They could have reduced frustration that most likely led to absenteeism, drop outs, and discipline problems.

Instead of dealing with the negative consequences, teachers could have spent more of their time channeling the creativity and curiosity of young minds. A downward spiral of negative consequences could have been turned into an upward spiral of creativity, productivity, exploration, and a lifelong love of learning. It could also have enabled teachers to focus on true teaching – instead of teaching to tests – one of their biggest gripes.

Yesterday’s post about Reading Scores, Miracle Workers and the Value of Intervention generated dozens of comments and suggestions from readers in several threads on Facebook. One of the most valuable and positive suggestions came from a teacher who said, “Put funds in place specifically for K-1 interventions. If not made specific, most (if not all) intervention goes to testing grade levels. My personal opinion has been this: If we reach the group of kiddos struggling to meet the benchmarks in K-1, I strongly feel the need for intervention will drop drastically in 3rd (when testing begins).” Bingo again!

We Need Fresh Eyes

We need more than experience on the school board; we need people who constantly ask “Why?” We need fresh eyes and energy. And we need a board willing to really listen to people on the front lines of education. Sometimes experience dulls your curiosity and keeps you from asking why – because you think you know the answer already! Or because you are emotionally or politically invested in policies that failed!

As a businessman, I quickly learned to value people who questioned me. The most innovative ideas often come from new people who aren’t blinded by experience and who are not afraid to ask simple questions like “Why?”

 

Reading Scores, Miracle Workers and the Value of Early Intervention

My last post generated quite a lot of buzz on Facebook. I pointed out some statistical anomalies in reading scores in the 2015-16 Texas Academic Performance Report for the Humble ISD. To recap, STAAR scores seemed to vary highly just before students entered middle and high school. For instance, the percentage of African-Americans meeting or exceeding the Satisfactory Standard jumped from 64% to 84% between the 7th and 8th grades. During the same period, Hispanics improved from 71% to 87% and Whites improved from 87% to 95%. I ended the post by saying that statistical anomalies like these always merit investigation. Immediately, concerned parents joined the discussion.

Instant, Intense Debate

Many questioned the test’s validity. But at that moment (about 3 a.m.), I was more concerned about the spikes I was seeing. So I sent the report to a friend’s son, David Mandel, who is finishing up his PhD in mathematics. (BTW, David is a home-grown Humble ISD grad!) I asked him to calculate the likelihood of scores improving that much WITHOUT intervention. Read his report below to see his assumptions and how he made his calculations.

ReadingVarianceReport

Ten Standard Deviations

David found that the average number of standard deviations above the expected number of passing students is 10. Ten standard deviations is a number found almost nowhere in the universe. So I asked David for an analogy that would help people visualize how rare this is.

He offered this. Imagine picking up a single grain of sand on the beach in Galveston. Now imagine placing your grain of sand in a giant jar with all of the sand on Earth. “The jar is shaken (not stirred),” he continues, “until all the grains are randomly distributed. Now imagine reaching in and pulling out your original grain of sand. That would be more likely to occur than a ten standard deviation event (if the event were allowed to occur daily).”

Wow! At that point, I’m thinking that Humble ISD reading teachers are miracle workers. But another mom wrote in to the Humble ISD Parents Facebook page to say that, “The reason more kids pass in the 5th and 8th grades is because … the kids who fail, continue to retest. Usually up to 3 times to get a passing grade. Therefore the kids on the bubble usually pass the second or third time. In the other grades they only have them take it once. They also provide extensive intervention between testing sessions.”

Remember, the task I gave David was to explain the likelihood of such high variance WITHOUT INTERVENTION.

So what did we just prove? Intervention works. Massively. On a cosmic scale!

That leads me to the next logical question, “Why aren’t we getting similar results in earlier grades?” More effective early intervention could be many children’s springboard to lifelong success. Wouldn’t it be much more productive in the long run to provide teacher’s aids, mentors or tutors – as soon as we see kids falling behind? After all, reading is the foundation of every other subject our kids study.

People can and should debate whether STAAR is a valid test or the best test. But I hope we can all agree on the value of early diagnosis and additional effective intervention – especially when it comes to reading.

Thank you, David Mandel, for your excellent analysis. Thank you, teachers, for working so hard. And thank you, parents, for your valuable insights. The smarter we can all make each other, the smarter our kids will be.