Monday, March 23, 2015

Proposal to St. Marys SMCSD BOE


DATE:   11 March 2015 


SUBJ:   Proposal/Contribution

As a byproduct of two recent experiences and some history — working on some generic public school issues now challenging public education, and revisiting recently contemporary material on measuring a public school’s capacity for excellence — I have a request and offer. 

That is, to present this memo, the appended proposal, and appended supporting material to your BOE. The full proposal is documented with the attached pdf files including one for this memo of transmission. Repetitive of that information, but for perspective, what is offered is free consulting — design, execution, analysis, and interpretation, along with personal donation of the dollar costs of any materials or royalties required to execute the proposal to assess SMCSD performance. 

The offer and project are to assess a public system’s capacities for K-12 excellence, including delivery of technology to teachers and students, various teacher and administrator self-assessments, and teachers’ assessments of both the system and its administration and oversight. 

The reason for offering this is timely.  It is clear and documented that the standardized testing approach resulting from NCLB has both failed, and is creating exponentially growing disenchantment among both its target students and teachers, and parents.  When the cracks in the bureaucratic dogmatism supporting these tactics become a chasm, political pushback may quickly diminish that testing. 

The issue is, that in the absence of some new initiatives to maintain assessment of systems, there will be an unacceptable gap.  What should fill that void is some variant of what I am proposing, measurement of system attributes with methods already out there, pretty much pretested, and with results from other schools that offer benchmarks.

I will likely also make this same offer to New Bremen’s BOE, but in spite of the greater number of college degrees represented on that board, there may be a smaller chance of recognition that a BOE serves an area’s children first, and only then some of the other motivations and agendas that can dominate a BOE.  One would have to be intellectually impaired to argue that SMCSD needs no pulls on its bootstraps to crank up its excellence and standing in Ohio.  But it is hardly alone, even where false quality flags have been hoisted to try to shield a system’s learning practices from inspection. 

The place you start with those bootstraps, whether in a business or a school, is with a solid baseline understanding of where you are; using proper social science measurements versus hunch, opinion, squat-and-squint, or too frequently with denial or bias that represents self-serving judgment. 

There is another dimension to this process not expressed, that is, the self-assessment of a BOE and the efficacy of its operations.  A BOE poses a problem. In professional organizational assessment I have been involved in, as both subject and direction, this appears best accomplished out of the business/institutional environment, staged to allow non-competitive and non-confrontational conversation, and takes time and confidentiality.  Obviously this poses a problem for a public body, which is why it doesn’t get accomplished with the same dexterity as in business, and why the public sector can trip over their own feet. Likely the only way to do this with a BOE would be one-on-one sessions that are genuine in-depth interviews.  Would take some guts on the part of a board, and some trust that what is subsequently pieced together represents a true picture.  It’s also very hard work for both subject and the interviewer, and demands introspection, humility, and honesty.  Not recommending this but offer the observations for reflection. 

I would appreciate a timely up or down position on the present offer.  If down, no fault; that puts the issue squarely on the adopted and accepted values of your BOE.  I make no value appraisals of that, and the resolution is between the board member and her/his conscience and respect for the oath taken. 

Lastly, another reason for this offer goes back a ways. What few people know is that 60 years ago the St. Marys’ retail market was the subject of a research effort and my masters thesis at Miami University, made financially possible because a dozen accomplished high school students from SMCS, with a school sign off, expedited with help from The Evening Leader’s editor, became my market research and survey crew, doing a professional job of completing several hundred personal interviews with area households. Even at the time and with the naiveté of optimism in all things, this was over the top and appreciated…(-: 

As you know, my services since being in universities for a quarter century have been in corporate places where you decide, and act, and are accountable.  I know many school systems, and frequently with justification, are snarled in debate because of having diverse stakeholders.  However, as this is a free offer, I count my committed time and assets as subject to hard assessment, hence an answer with minimum delay. 

If you need more than what is appended, obviously don’t hesitate to call. 

Best regards, 

      Ron Willett
      New Bremen


Project for Measurement of Public System Excellence
Dr. Ronald Willett, March 2015. All rights reserved. 


The standardized testing of NCLB has now been shown to have been ineffective, in addition to resulting in misdirection of many classroom and student learning approaches, misuse of time, and distorted learning priorities. The opt out parental choices, and professional educator critiques of the testing are accelerating, with the likely result that there will be political pressure to reduce the testing.  ESEA may even be gutted if even for the wrong reasons. An issue is, that if that action occurs, there will likely be a gap in adopting alternative assessments of public school performance. There are however already out there measures of school performance/properties that can be employed to get a better reading of a system's potential for excellence than present testing. 


To, applied to SMCS, and as a free consulting offer, assemble, provide, administer, and analyze some of the existing social science measurement of factors shaping a school's potential for excellence. 

The factors include:  Selective present school metrics; selective student performance metrics — specifically excluding standardized test results; appraisal of both teaching and administrative human resource backgrounds and subsequent development; what is termed school climate or culture, based on survey instruments; what are termed teacher and administrator beliefs, attitudes, and practices using existing survey tools; and survey of teacher and administrative assessment of technology assets and their application, and any other preferred support assets specific to the system. 


Target for survey measurement is the end of the present term, but before human resources have scattered for the summer, with results available tentatively, and with some lead time, to the BOE prior to the Fall term. 


Most of the proposed paper and pencil survey tools are in existence, pre-tested, and many have been used enough times to extract some norms. Whether a system is compared with others is largely irrelevant because the results can be used to infer where there are weaknesses to be addressed, or where performance is par or above, or where there may be potentials for innovation in learning objectives or rubrics. 

Some of the instruments may require purchase or royalty payments, and for this single exercise the offer is for the consultant to personally fund those. 

All refinements of, development of, or licensing of measurement instruments from this project would become the exclusive property of the consultant. 

All data subsequently created, and their interpretations would become the sole property of the SMCSD BOE. 


Consistent with best managerial practice, the BOE would be briefed on all aspects of the assessment, provided the instruments to be employed, and the likely analyses of results to be used, all in advance of execution. 

All measurements of individual responses would need to be anonymous, used only when aggregated. 

The consultant would complete a confidentiality agreement with the BOE, assuring that no results or their interpretations could be used in publication or made public without BOE consent. 

The BOE is responsible for determining whether subsequent findings are to be shared with the system's personnel, or with the community; although, as a matter of principle, transparency is advised and favors getting the results out to the stakeholders, including the public, to produce changes in behavior. 

One caveat: Any attempt by the BOE, or any system employee, to manipulate the measurements or results, or to censor data or findings, or to suppress legitimate findings, will result in the immediate cancellation of participation by consultant, and of responsibility for any ongoing work by the consultant, with consultant held harmless for any completed or remaining part of the mission. 

Resource Commitment 

Open as yet; however, a rough estimate is that the total subject survey stages of the process would consume maximally a day of time and focus. Depending on the system's internal data systems, and the quality of metrics already employed to assess both students and teachers, that phase of the project might require administrative coaching and some investment in processing.  TBD. 

Project Extensions 

In some full scale efforts, both students and parents have been included.  This engages a different level of research, including permissions, more preparation, more expenditure, and additional issues of confidentiality and feedback.  There is no question that level of input can inform a system on strategic as well as tactical needs, but it is at much higher cost for both assets needed and human resource hours inputted.  A suggestion is, that may be a project for another day, and after the above core measures can be viewed and digested. 


No firm number on dollars needed subject to assessing the instruments, but a rough guess is that needed tools will require up to $5K investment from the consultant. 

System compliance is required with all necessary requests for school data that is not covered by statutory administrator, teacher, or student confidentiality requirements.  Best efforts to employ needed system data are a condition of both initiating and continuing the project. 


There is a good deal of staff work to prepare for the window described. So prompt decision is needed on whether the project is seen with merit by this BOE. Caveats are that the final measures and instruments are likely not available for complete review without the start-up work, and that considerable effort won't be invested without BOE commitment.

However, again, the process will be open and fully accessible to the BOE. Once dollar expenditures are started by the consultant the project will be considered ongoing and barring the demise of the consultant (-:) will be considered non cancellable.  Depending on the expressions of good faith from your BOE, open whether some incurred cost recovery needs to be built in if system-induced lack of cooperation should sidetrack the project. 

Outcomes and Risk 

With the provisions for non-disclosure except with BOE concurrence, there isn't a high degree of risk in the effort.  Risks that are latent are:  Objections from the teachers' union, that should be addressed by full and honest disclosure and the request for that cooperation; concerns from the teachers who see this as intrusive or a threat, managed by being up front,
with full briefing on the goals, process, and handling of all findings including anonymity; and the technical issue of whether written permissions are necessary from survey recipients to eliminate any liability for either the BOE or the consultant. 

This process goes well beyond the internal assessments used by most small systems, but it also has the potential of giving a school's oversight and administration the awareness to get it right a higher percent of the time in crafting human resource, development, and asset acquisition and deployment strategies. 

One example is something that appears to some vague or theoretical, but is not.  That is what are termed teacher and administrative "beliefs."  Normally you discover these only by accident or when organizational behavior bad stuff hits the fan, as the saying goes. But research has demonstrated that those beliefs are usually not obvious, are complex, are difficult to adjust, but directly influence both behavior in the classroom as well as the management of system resources.  Clearly better understanding beliefs and attitudes about what your school and learning are all about gives you a leg up in carrying out your responsibilities.  This is one case where a pound of good measurement is really worth a ton of ex post remediation. 


Because considerable digging and assessment are required to carry this off, the suggestion is that a decision about going ahead needs to happen by end of March. 

Contingency planning: If roadblocks develop through no fault of the system, or the work needed to pull this off threatens the target window at the end of the term, a low loss alternative would be to reschedule the behavioral measurements for a period just prior to start of the Fall term. 

Rather than running into the legalities of some Ohio BOE meeting requirements, if approved by the BOE, the recommendation is a small working group, less than a BOE majority, be named to coordinate internal needs, be advocates and troubleshoot cooperation issues, and receive the interim briefings on progress on the project. 

RPW, 3/11/2015