After reading Superintendent Mohn’s letter to the public addressing the New York Times article about Summit Learning I thought it would be important for you to also be exposed to a number of educational realities in USD 418.

First of all, the letter was very thoughtfully and carefully written.  It might be a worthy endeavor to explore who or what group actually formulated the talking points presented by Mr. Mohn.  

There is no data given to evaluate the quality of the school system.  Simply saying that “Our schools have a tradition that reflects the quality of our community and the quality of life throughout Kansas.” is meaningless and misleading.  Misleading is the word that Mr. Mohn strongly used in his letter of rebuttal.  

A number of years ago the district launched the C3 initiative.  Our students were to be college and career ready as well as great citizens.  To be college ready a 21 composite score on the ACT test is the benchmark.  The 21 won’t bag any scholarship money but the 21 score reflects that a student with a 21 would have a 50% chance of earning a B or better in College Algebra, English Composition, Biology, and a Social Science.  That same score would create a 75 percent chance of receiving a C or better in those same courses.  

The reality is that McPherson’s ACT average has been below the state average from 2013 – 2018, or the past six years.  Never in those six years did McPherson hit the 21 score that make students college ready, on the average.  Of course there were students that did well.  In fact, in 2018 McPherson was at a 19.9 with the state average being 21.6.  I am aware that there will be several reasons given by Mr. Mohn to  possibly justify  the low scores.  And, if those reasons are accurate then the district has created one of the largest achievement gaps in educational history.  To give a comparison, the Salina district’s low score during the past six years was a 20.8.  Haysville has been above a 20.0 score during that same time span.  Gardner Edgerton has never been below a 22.5.  Canton-Galva had a high of 23.7 and a low of 19.9.  Maybe “misleading” is the word of the day.  Keep in mind that the KSDE website does not track private parochial schools.  I’d bet that those scores are higher and Summit Learning is never part of the discussion.  Check out all of the districts scores on the state website.  They are not confidential.  

The next indicator of whether McPherson students are college and career ready is labeled as the Postsecondary Progress Report.  This measurement tool has three components: Graduation Rate, Success Rate, and the Effective Rate.  The Graduation Rate is self-explanatory while the other two become a little dicey.  The Success Rate is measured by tracking if a student earns an industry recognized certificate while in high school, a post-secondary certificate, a post-secondary degree, or enrolled in a post-secondary program in both the first and secondary year after high school graduation.  McPherson’s Five-Year Graduation Rate is 88 percent with the Five-Year Success Rate being 56 percent.  There is also a measured Effective Rate that is calculated by multiplying the Graduation Rate by the Success Rate.  McPherson’s 5-Year Effective Rate is 49 percent.  You be the judge.

The last measurement of college and career ready is the ACT WorkKeys assessments.  This measurement has three assessments:  Applied Math, Graphic Literacy, and Workplace Documents.  There are four levels: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.  McPherson’s Seniors must score a Silver in order to graduate.  This means that they must have a Silver on all three exams with the option of retaking the exams that are not Silver.  This assessment is not secure.  I am embarrassed to say that I fell into the trap the last several years that I taught at McPherson High School.  

Students are placed on a computer based WorkKeys practice site called KeyTrain.  Students would be on the KeyTrain site practicing questions during times in which they should have been taking direct curriculum instruction from a teacher.  I was ordered to drop anything else I might be teaching to get students on the site to practice the WorkKeys assessments.  It really came down to follow the orders and feed my family or find another job because of insubordination.  What a Silver really means is that the student has a 43.3 percent  chance of an effective job rating.  Not so sure I want that kid tightening the lug nuts on my car!

The last C of the C3 initiative is Citizenship.  It is an unmeasurable piece of promoted data, so I am sure that McPherson is at 100%.  I really wonder about the quality of McPherson student’s citizenship skills when the graduation rate is 88 percent.

C3 is very catchy branding but the data would show that the initiative was a failure.  If the KSDE data is correct it is past time for the current board to take action.  What the initiative did was increased district administrators and took great classroom teachers out of the classroom where they became College and Career Advocates.  Not so sure it was money well spent.  If you are watching closely the number of administrators has increased and the amount of classroom teachers is also increasing to support Summit Learning.  Shouldn’t the board have learned?  Maybe “misleading” is again the word of the day!

     It is past time to change all of the district office administrators who have a direct impact on the children of the community.  The finance guy, maintenance guy, bus guy, etc. do not directly affect the achievement of children.  It would be much more effective to take action as a board, now, before school is out than dismiss them in January of 2020 when new board members are seated.  It can be done though.  It seems like precedent has already been set to pay off administrator’s contracts after dismissal.  Regardless of what the State Department of Education says the school board is in charge.  

It is VERY IMPORTANT to make sure that the data that I have described is not fodder to support Summit Learning.  The road to ineptness was paved with extremely poor administrative pedagogical and leadership skills.  What do you think will continue to happen with a platform like Summit Learning that struggles, nationwide, even with possibly good leadership?  380 schools in 38 states doesn’t seem that popular to me. (Stated in Mr. Mohn’s letter).  Even by the poorest of math skills that is only 10 schools per state.  Again, “misleading” is probably the word of the day! 

The superintendent is not in charge of the board.  It is time to protect the communities most valuable resource so we can have the kind of place that Mr. Mohn describes in his letter.  The article that Mr. Mohn references in his letter is very damning and should cause great alarm.  His defense should cause even greater alarm.

There are several questions that community members should get answered by board members: what happened at the rah rah let’s do good on the state assessments meeting at the high school, how much actual teaching experience do individual administrators possess, and what do those that are pushing Summit Learning have to gain professionally?  I found it amusing and really ironic when the KSDE tweeted out “Academic results in schools are sustained by student engagement and school culture, not programs and initiatives.  We have to stop thinking we can just pick a new program, and another, and another.”

In closing,  I must make those who are currently in charge of the district  aware that I will have a granddaughter attending school next year.  It was impossible to speak up as an employee of the district when an injustice occurred, or manipulations were detected.  It is very possible to right every wrong from my current life position.  

 

Rick Reed