October 21, 2009

RUSD's 12th report card: 'It feels sort of flat-line'

While sitting through the 12th Annual Comparative Analysis of the Racine Unified School District, some advice came to mind:

"If it hurts when you keep banging your head against the wall, stop doing it."

Unfortunately, this year's presentation was exactly like the previous eleven: RUSD's numbers are bad, bad, bad. Worst of the ten peer districts. Again.

"I hate to sound like a broken record, year after year," said Robert Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum as he presented the all-important "outcomes" figures comparing RUSD to peer districts, to a Wingspread room full of Racine leaders, educators and the president of Gateway Technical College and the chancellor of UW-Parkside.
    Here are some of RUSD's most recent outcomes:
    • Racine is worst in attendance
    • Worst in dropouts.
    • Dead last in all reading and math WKCE scores, 3rd grade through 10th
    • There's a huge achievement gap for both African-American and Hispanic students.
    • Ditto a racial gap in high school graduation rates.
And so on.

Carole Johnson, former president of Gateway and director of local and community programs for the Johnson Foundation, said near the end of the program, "We need a much greater sense of urgency. It feels sort of flat-line after 12 years, and that really troubles me. We can't wait another 12 years."

Various reasons were cited, with panelists agreed that poverty is the most powerful; 58% of Unified's students qualify for free and reduced price lunch. RUSD Board Chair Bill Van Atta insisted that poverty is "a community issue that's broader than just the schools." Supt. James Shaw cited some of the district's poverty figures:
  • Residents living in poverty increased from 31.8% in 1999 to 58% in 2009.
  • The adjusted gross income per tax return in Racine has increased by 15.8% over the past 10 years while state income per return has increased 43.6% in the same period.
Meanwhile, for the past 10 years, per pupil expenditures in RUSD have been below the state average.

Johnson cited "the pure, chronic, intense level of stress those kids are bringing to school every day." Poverty is passed from adults to children "who do not know how to deal with that stress. Poverty is not race; poverty is poverty," she said.

Johnson was particularly eloquent on this point, rejecting the notion that RUSD's minority students are the problem. Actually, "minority" is a misnomer here these days: Unified's white students are now the minority for the first time, making up 49.4% of enrollment. African-American students comprise 27%, followed by Hispanics, 21.6% and smaller numbers of Asians and Indians. "Poor does not mean minority," she insisted, adding that Unified officials are not using "a lot of poor kids" as an excuse, either.

Nobody was particularly surprised by the results, and some found a few reasons to be hopeful. Pete Knotek, president of the Racine Education Association, said the district "has recovered" from the 2006-2007 upper management change, when Supt. Tom Hicks was pushed out. Shaw said "there are signs of improvement...signs of growth." He cited positive results at Wadewitz Elementary School, and the work of the district's two magnet high schools, Walden III and the REAL School. Johnson said one of the district's problems is the size of its three comprehensive high schools. "They're too big." REAL and Walden work, she said, because the students are "really engaged with their teachers and each other."

Another problem, cited by Van Atta, is that "we have children in the district with above-average needs, but we have below-average resources." Shaw, former superintendent at Menomonee Falls, added, "Racine needs more money than Menomonee Falls kids." He noted that Madison spends more per student, mostly to provide smaller class sizes. Knotek added that the state's school funding process is "archaic, outmoded and doesn't meet the needs of kids."

Near the end of the 90-minute presentation, the four panelists were asked what they would do with an extra 5% of funding. Here's what they said:
Van Atta: Smaller class sizes.
Johnson: Programs to help kids catch up.
Knotek: Smaller class sizes, and "more robust professional development," newer forms of teaching.
Shaw: Agreed with Knotek, and said: "A great teacher in front of a small class is best; next best is a great teacher in front of a large class."
He summed up: "We have a real chance to make improvements. The community is coming together." The next steps, he said, are to improve teaching, complete collecting data on how students are doing and what is working, and "strategic management of our human resources."

The complete report is online at the Public Policy Forum's website.


  1. If you really care about your kids - send them to a private school - it is worth the sacrifice.

  2. Here are some of RUSD's most recent outcomes:

    * Racine is worst in attendance
    * Worst in dropouts.
    * Dead last in all reading and math WKCE scores, 3rd grade through 10th
    * There's a huge achievement gap for both African-American and Hispanic students.
    * Ditto a racial gap in high school graduation rates.

    So they know RUSD has issues have answers other then we need more money so we can keep doing the same thing but worse?

  3. What a sad situation - BUT if the taxpayers throw more money at the schools all will be better!

    It's time we, the funders of the system, look outside the box for corrections. Perhaps Racine should explore the process that Milwaukee is undertaking - having the mayor (and state) take over the system.

    The system is clearly broken and in need of a fix ASAP - before we turn more childern into morons!

  4. We've bee throwing money at RUSD for years and the results are as dismal as ever. I say we don't give them another cent. They need to fix their own problems and money is not the answer. I'll give them the 1st thing they should do. Get rid of the union!

  5. What does the Johnson Foundation have to do with public education in Racine? Shouldn't meetings involving public policy on public schools be held at public facilities?

  6. Regardless of the $/pupil compared to other districts I am not willing to give them more money.
    I am willing to see wage & benefit CUTS from the union.
    I am willing to see more charter school support from the community.
    Why aren't the dozens & dozens of social agencies in town pushing for REAL change in RUSD????

  7. There is absolutely no association between the amount of money that is spent and the level of scholastic achievement. Easy to prove, just take a poor performing school and dump an extra million in and see what happens. Charter schools are funded on the same plane, they just don't have to play the program/bureaucracy/dysfunctional system game. A lot of hot air was blowing at the meeting. The public policy guys don't really analyse anything, they just tabulate data from the data the districts originally provided.

  8. 8:28
    The Johnson's run RUSD I feel nothing can be done without their say so. After all we are a company town.

  9. The Public Policy Forum is privately funded by businesses to target sales opportunitities!

  10. Some schools are having success though. We do not need new teaching techniques. These are not a new species of human. We were all once children in school. Same problems today. We shouldn't over think and come up with unusual expensive solutions.

    One of the problems is not being able to separate the children by progress. If they are reading at a second grade level then they should do second grade work. Until they get it. School should be a series of levels and you don't move forward until you can all by yourself show you have mastered those things that were required. Just pushing the kids through without a thorough understanding causes problems all the way up the line.

    I know these kids are tough. I know the parents are tougher. But if we put all the emphasis on goals that the child needs to achieve and making sure they achieve them before promoting them then we will HAVE results. They are being rushed through without enough practice. This is brushed off because they will get it again next year. It isn't working.

    We can't give them grades or it will hurt their feelings. The parents will yell and scream about the unfair treatment. We need to let the teachers do their jobs. The curriculum's are complicated and cover all sorts of added nonsense. Get back to basics. Simple with lots of practice and real life application.

    That is how I learn. We are making it way too difficult for these children.

  11. Heather in Caledonia10/22/2009 3:04 PM

    Anon 11:34,
    I just wanted to say: I Agree! My son goes to a school where they do not move on to the next topic in a subject until they can show Mastery of the current topic. I think this is a great idea and seems to work well with kids and their different abilities. However, they don't give letter grades until High School - I think they really should. They give "M-Mastered and P - Progressing." They should not move until until their "P" becomes an "M." It would be nice to also have letter grades to help motivate and encourage them to do well.

    How can we throw another 5% at this school district? Doesn't the amount of poor kids in school show that there are a lot of poor families out there?? Who do they expect to pay the extra 5%? These poor families will get hit even if they don't own homes - rent does go up if the property taxes keep increasing. It is just ridiculous that there can be no other option but to throw more money at the problem. Just ridiculous. Does anyone from RUSD admin read this site?? Please listen to the folks who live here and pay your salaries.

    And, just a comment, I am so tired of reading Johnson bashing. Whoever it is - get over it and get a life or move. Geezz.

  12. Many good teachers go to other school districts that pay more. RUSD teachers are not rich, and they often use their own money to pay for materials and other supplies to help their students and often work way beyond 40 hours a week. I believe respect for teachers is desperately needed.

  13. It's interesting to read that the students that consist of the majority are the minority.

    It's time that caucasians are listed as the minority population at RUSD schools.

  14. Bad parents, bad kids. You can throw money at the schools but it won't change a minority culture that doesn't give a rat's ass.

    I have a friend who teaches in one of the Unified high schools and the stories she tells me would blow your mind. Of course, she couldn't tell them here, since she would be accused of being a racist. But she's not. She's simply dealing with the reality of what's going on in there.

    And it's not just the ghetto kids who routinely tell her to F off and that they don't care about society. You should hear what goes on in the administration side. Like, if she fails (F) more than a certain percentage of minority kids in her classes, she gets called in to explain and then is directed to change the grades to be more accomodating.

    I'm not making this up. This is only the experience of ONE teacher. Now multiply this.

    School choice and homeschooling - the only solutions.

  15. RUSD Teachers and Staff. If you can go to another school and get paid more please do. Maybe then the kids will do better and we will not have to hear you whine about you wages and benefits.

  16. 10:52 - no private schools are the answer. Home schooled students are misfits in society. They have no socialization skills.

  17. Private schools are the answer, I send 2 boys to private elementary school and pay $3700.00 per year for both. What do taxpayers pay in the public system for each kid,close to $10,000?

  18. 10:17 - I'm sure it is not easy paying that amount, but is sure worth the results and it also provides for a safe environment. More parents should consider this option. I will make one qualification on your comment however. The costs per student are more than you are paying. If the school is associated with a church, the church is subsidizing the difference.

  19. It is a lie that home schooled children are not socialized. They get plenty of correct socialization. They socialize at church, scouts, playing outside etc. They do community service. They are able to socialize with people of all ages and not just their individual age group. They are spared the negative things about being in school, like learning to tell the teacher to F off.

  20. Children can be just as frustrated as the teachers. It is difficult to sit there hour after hour quietly. Especially when you have no idea what you are working on. If we had a mastery program they would not be working above their level. School would have more purpose and they would have more achievements they could see. I would be pissed off too if teachers and schools just passed me up higher and higher even though I couldn't hack it. We all know there are kids graduating who can't read the diploma. Largest part of our failure is the way we are teaching. We would solve a lot of truancy and other issues if kids had individualized goals.

  21. 1:00 - they are misfits and so are the parents that do the home schooling. Your kids can tell you to F off instead of the teachers.

  22. "A great teacher in front of a small class is best; next best is a great teacher in front of a large class."
    I would add that the very best is a teacher that is not "misled" by ineffective programs, incompetent leaders and a corrupt union.

  23. These teachers need to learn how to teach these particular students. Just having the general teaching thing doesn't seem to be enough. Perhaps they need more training with special needs since many of these kids seem to be suffering way too much stress to the point of it seeming to be like post traumatic stress syndrome due to all the violence and poverty.
    They also need to start the kids in kindergarten with very strict behavior rules enforced constantly.
    At least those could be starts that would cost next to nothing.

  24. Heather in Caledonia10/23/2009 4:00 PM

    All of the homeschooled or virtual schooled kids I have meet have been very well behaved and quite well "socialized." (Not to mention, well educated.) I don't know what you're talking about. I suppose Abe Lincoln and all of those other folks who had to learn on their own or from their parents because their nearest school was miles away were misfits, also. Of course, there are people who keep their children isolated from society, but that has nothing to do with the overall type of education. There are strange people who send their children to RUSD, too. :) Anon 1:00 is correct.

  25. You people who bash homescholing are total idiots who want to shill for public schools (likely teachers' union members scared that they will someday become irrelevant.)

    The latest info coming out of ivy league schools is that one of the top 3 demographics they are now looking for in terms of incoming freshmen is "homeschooled." There's a reason for that. Let me know the last time someone from Unifed went on to an ivy league school per hundred kids. Now compare that number to homeschool populations and weep.

    Being socialized to other socio-path kids is not socialization, people. Being socialized to only kids who are the same age as yourself isn't socialization either - it's a prison where you end up bonding with other unwise, limited educated children. Some education that is!

  26. We were worried about the socialization of our homeschooled children, so we set up the following schedule:

    Monday - beat them up
    Tuesday - steal their lunches
    Wednesday - have the neighbor kid come over, steal their lunches and eat them in front of our kids - when our kids complain, we tell them "that they need to learn to share"
    Thursday - make them watch MTV and Oprah all day
    Friday - beat them up again

  27. 7:21 - I could not agree with you more on the schedule listed. But then once again I'll say two things, home schooled children are misfits along with their parents and two if you send your children to a private school you can avoid your schedule listed above and your kids will have a normal life.

  28. To say home schooled children lack anything is speaking without any information on the subject. Go visit a modern home schooling group. Then realize your sadly misinformed.

    To each their own, public, private, virtual or in the home.

    Just because you love private school doesn't mean the next person would. Some people are not Lutheran or Catholic and many private schools have religion attached.

  29. 11:56 - if you are home schooling your children - what are you doing out on this site - get back to work.

  30. Simple...parents need to be held responsible. I have several children in RUSD. Every teacher I have talked to appreciates the discipline and effort of my children for the sole reason in that many other kids show up without clue. This is not the child's fault. Blame lies fully with the parents.
    My kids aren't perfect but they do listen to authority and complete assignments. If most or all the children did this the teachers could do their job.
    Poverty is no excuse. It doesn't cost anything to learn with your children! An education is the only reasonable way out of poverty and every child has an equal chance at it.