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Sutherland for Schools blog

Update on school x school funding differentials

by Ann Sutherland on 02/17/17

I believe the key to credible school management begins with fair budgeting of school allocations.  My earlier post regarding significant variances on school by school budgets was questioned by some readers who pointed out that the TEA report has different data.  The data posted on the "information" page is budgeted data.  A better yardstick uses actual expenditures, as the TEA uses (though their data is always an extra year old).  

Yesterday, CFO Schiro and I had a lengthy discussion of the need to improve equity in funding our schools. 

--She is preparing a chart like the one on the information page of this website which gives data on school enrollment and actual spending, knot just budget.  She will add a column for base spending per enrolled pupil which is not included in the current chart.  I will post it 
--Inequities in school x school funding have existed for years and will take time to rectify.  But "we've always done it this way" is no longer a reason to continue them indefinitely.
--The staffing ratios need to be amplified to include consideration of special needs children (as some of you pointed out).  She will work on this with the Chief of Human Capital Management Rincon.
--Finally, an evaluation is needed of the impact of some programs of choice with very low enrollment.  I am going to consult with the audit committee about this.

While equity in our funding of schools will take time, it is clear to me that there is commitment from senior staff to do this.  Cleaning up an urban school budget is sort of like turning a big ship: it takes time.  But, whether the speed is sufficient or not, we are moving in the right direction.

Dr. Scribner attacks substitute shortage

by Ann Sutherland on 02/16/17

Finally!  Last week the district hired and trained 50 more substitute teachers at its hiring fair.

Now we are going to provide an incentive for our substitutes to work more often.  Between the rollout next week and the end of school substitutes who teach nearly every day will receive additional pay per day as follows:

95% of days  $20 per day
90% of days  $15 per day
85% of days $10 per day

The rewards are significant.  $1300-$1360 extra for 95%, $915-960 for 90% and $580-$600 for those teaching 85% of the days.  The total cost of this proposal would be $330-$660,000, which is available partly because of the additional $800,000 placed in the district substitute budget by the board last June.

At the end of this period, the district will evaluate the proposal as follows:
--did the incentive result in fewer unfilled substitute assignments
--did it result in additional substitutes being hired
--should such an incentive be offered in 2017-18.

The district is still trying to figure out how to have fewer teacher absences, which will reduce the demand for subs.  (How about instituting better district support of out-of-control children?

Bouquets to Dr. Scribner and senior staff for this much-needed move.

My gripe about the Equity project

by Ann Sutherland on 02/15/17

Last night the FWISD board voted 8-0 to provide $1.4 million over five years to improve staff prejudice toward our minority students, which are 90% of our student body.  I voted for it, despite huge reservations.  

Yes, schools make a big difference.  They educate children and also convey a world view which lights a path for struggling children.  In many cases, teachers are the most influential socialization force our children have.

But the Equity project is predicated on the view that the cause of the disparity in the performance of non-Anglo children lies primarily on the attitude and actions of teachers and other staff.  The Equity committee bases this recommendation on data showing a disparity in both student performance and student behavior between racial groups.  (Actually the data on behavior shows that Hispanics have significantly fewer referrals than both Anglos and African-Americans and, in addition, that they perform academically only slightly behind Anglos through elementary school.)

Yet rather than examine global causes of this poor performance, the success of the project will be measured via the reduction of the differences in student behavior and academic performance between racial groups.

As I have written elsewhere, the major causes of this disparity lie in the family and community.*  When the board and community affix the major share of the blame for poor student behavior and academic achievement on staff attitudes, it encourages the community to ignore other, more major causes (i.e., home and community).  In fact, they have the major responsibility.

Programs like My Brother's Keeper and UMOJA deal directly with children and make a big difference.  A global approach as in the Equity project is too diluted to be effective.
The failure to address the real causes leads to classrooms with significant turmoil in our schools.

So clamor grows for charter and voucher schools. 
See, for example, "The Depressing Data on Early Childhood Investment", an interview with Jerome Kagan, at 

ACHIEVE 3000 showing major gains

by Ann Sutherland on 02/15/17

Last night's presentation on student performance as seen by TEA also included a major presentation on our new reading program.  Many kids are working at home --even on Christmas day!--even though many households have no internet access.

The improvement is significant, well over month-to-month progress as measured by Lexiles.  The powerpoint wasn't handed out in advance as the board requested but I will get a copy and post it on our information page.  The data should also be available at your school site.

That $1.4 million Racial Equity proposal

by Ann Sutherland on 02/13/17

Here is what a thoughtful school employee who is close to our children says about this proposal:

Agenda and board book are available on the information page

by Ann Sutherland on 02/10/17

The board book is VERY long so you might want to check the agenda first.
The major issues are a rewrite of the discipline rules in the student handbook (pp. 171-184) and the $1.4 million project on equity.
The agenda also features a public hearing of the 2015-16 Texas Academic Performance Report.

School by school expenditures reveal significant inequities

by Ann Sutherland on 02/09/17

We have had some conversation about the equity in our funding and programs.  There are some interesting disparities:

Funding starts with a per-student allocation using general fund dollars and is based upon the student enrollment and by our district's established staffing ratios  (they are also on the information page).  Here are two high schools:

Paschal:       2,460 students $14,008,034 general fund dollars = $5694 per student
South Hills: 2,213 students $10,068,516 = $4549 per student

And then, 
Dunbar:                       883 students, $6,812,503 = $7,715 per student
Diamond-Hill Jarvis:  837 students, $5,827.010 = $6961 per student

The disparities, approaching $1000 per child, are indefensible.  The central office staff is not adhering to the staffing ratios.

In addition to the $519 million supposedly allocated according to the staffing ratios, the district receives an additional $50 million in funding which is allocated to schools for a variety of different purposes.   

*The per-student allocations for the four IR schools do not seem out of line, except for IM Terrell, which is more expensive because it is such a small school:

Maude Logan $6393
Forrest Oak MS $6514
John T White $5461
I M Terrell $9621.

The funding for these campuses also varies; the equity should also be evaluated.

My Star-Telegram letter on our substitute shortage

by Ann Sutherland on 02/09/17

No substitutes

As in all school districts, Fort Worth ISD teachers are absent periodically, either for illness, personal leave or for training.

The standard practice is to provide substitute teachers using a cadre maintained by the central office. Yet every day, dozens of classrooms are left with no assigned substitute.

Last year, there were 10,000 instances of not enough individuals in the substitute pool to fill the requests.

The school board even increased funding last year to eliminate these vacancies. Yet these funds remain unspent, and the number of classes with no substitute continues to grow.

This is not because there are not enough individuals available in our community. It is because the district refuses to advertise and recruit substitute teachers.

This problem is crucial for our four schools that have failed to make the improvement required by law.

One month last fall, the average teacher in these schools was absent two days. There was no assigned substitute in over 25 percent of the classes.

This is part of the reason for our poor test scores and also for historically high annual turnover rate (20 percent) in our teaching staff. It must be addressed.


Read more here:


What matters in our classrooms

by Ann Sutherland on 02/08/17

The New York Review of books for Feb. 9 has a major review of a new book, "The Revenge of Analog:  Real Things and Why They Matter," by David Sax.  Included in this review is Sax's summary of the results of computer-based learning and the fickle assertion that it will "transform" school districts.

1,  Academic studies debunk the idea that one-per-child laptops contribute to student learning around the world.
2.  MOOCs ("massive open online courses) do not improve learning on these courses; most of the students drop out and the remainder seem to perform worse than those who are in regular classes.

These results are because the designers of our classroom activities these days "think of teaching as a delivery system."  He continues,

3.  "Actual teaching isn't about information delivery--it's a relationship.   . . . "It is those independent relationships that is the basis of learning.  Period."

He cites the hands-on and loosely structured activities available at the highly innovative Silicon Valley firms as evidence for the need for individual relationships and the availability of individual investigation. 

Fixing the schools (?)

by Ann Sutherland on 02/04/17

Last week the CIA website posted a screen shot of a lot of links to online training for our elementary teachers.  I have asked for an electronic copy of this as well as the instructions she sent out.  

This shortcut training is not going to improve our schools.  We need on-site mentors to assist struggling teachers, not impersonal lessons written by people unfamiliar with the scene.

Yesterday I met with an interesting group of people from Leadership Fort Worth who want to make our schools work better.  A worthy, if ambitious, goal.  I also listened to the public comments from our last board meeting, including the one from Mr. Stuart who just resigned his elementary math teaching position at Maude Logan in despair (he was the highest scoring math teacher in the school so it wasn't him).

Community groups (and board members and most administrators) should first assess the causes of poor student performance and what can be done to improve the parts that can be addressed by a school district.  This is never discussed.

I do think Superintendent Scribner's one-on-one reading program is good even if it only provides an adult voice to a child with lots of problems.

But these million-dollar cookie-cutter programs remove what little humanity remains in our schools.  

Agenda and board book available online

by Ann Sutherland on 01/20/17

These docs are available online at

This month's interest:
Focus has an entry on p.79

The item I requested for the resolution on A-F grading is near the end of the Action agenda.  So far there are about 1/3 of all Texas districts in support.  The item is on p. 142.

$1.4 million proposed for Racial Equity.

Also the first reading of the shift in the South Hills HS / Southwest HS attendance zones is an Action item.

District refuses to deal with major student violence

by Ann Sutherland on 01/19/17

There was a major fight yesterday at Southwest High School between four students, a parent of one of the students, and an outside adult. The adults have been arrested. Severe disciplinary action is anticipated for the four girls, especially as it appears this was planned ahead of time.

Principal John Engel has done wonders with the school this year (his 2nd at SHS). But there is little support downtown to remove students from our high schools even when there are many instances of student referrals. 
--To get a picture of the scope of the problem in our schools, I did a study two years ago of the office referrals at Paschal over a six-month referral. The worst TEN students at Paschal had 14% of the referrals. One student was caught with marijuana and, on ahother occasion, set a girl's hair on fire. None of these students was sent away from the school.
--last year I begged for money in the budget to provide additional help at the school sites and got zero in our $700 million budget.

This situation will not change until the public insists or until stronger board members are elected.

REVISED: A-F requirements challenged by many school districts

by Ann Sutherland on 01/13/17

Nearly 300 Texas school districts have called for elimination of the new A-F requirements.  The draft resolution is very strong.  Here is a partial summary, thanks to the Fort Bend ISD board and superintendent:
Our Board of Trustees passed a resolution calling  for state legislators to repeal the new system because the  majority (55%) of the A through F grades will be based on
 a high-stakes, standardized test that does not accurately measure student learning. There are also concerns about how the grades in each domain will be calculated. In short, I
> would say that, on the surface, letter grades seem relatively simple. But the calculations behind them are not
– they are complex and difficult to understand. presents the proposed resolution and a list of all districts that have adopted it.  I think it will be on the board agenda for Tuesday.

What you should expect: typical growth in a Title I elementary school

by Ann Sutherland on 01/12/17

One of the reasons that administrators can "snow" the public with grandiose promises of student growth is that, in general, the public doesn't understand the tremendous range of student performance in the US.  In one of my inner-city Oakland (CA) schools years ago, the eighth grade students were three YEARS behind, ON AVERAGE.ItThis is "average" per a recognized, nationally normed achievement test.

"It is possible for all but 5 to ten percent of children in a classroom to reach grade level but that is with extensive interventions not possible in a regular classroom.

"Usually when this is done . . . there are several hours a week of pull-out tutoring.  This is handled by interventionist teachers generally performed by a master's level teacher."

Board workshop scheduled for TuesdayJan. 17th @ 4:30 PM

by Ann Sutherland on 01/11/17


1.  Call to order in board conference room  (sorry, no video).
2.  Discussion and Review of two-day Lone Star Governmence Board Training
3.  Completion of Board Self-Evaluation and Baseline
4.  Draft preliminary student outcome goals
5.  Adjourn

This workshop was supposed to be on the budget but since we have been ordered by TEA to set achievable goals first, several of us have asked that it be a goal-setting workshop with the budget workshop to follow the goals set.

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