Was Carstarphen’s performance an issue at AISD? Here is her performance evaluation – and the “sang the praises” assessment hold up


Last December the Austin Board of Trustees published their statement on the performance of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. Many in the media have questioned her performance and ability to stay in the job based on the fact that the Board did not extend her contract for at least another year to 2016 [added] in a manner consistent with the prior two years.

However, the media it has not mentioned that the Board had until next year to determine whether to further extend – or not extend – her contract. [revised for clarity]

The following are excerpts from the performance evaluation issued by the Board. The entire report can be found here.

  • Overall, the Board is pleased with the progress made by the district under Dr. Carstarphen’s leadership during the past year.

[Accomplishments] 

  • … the Superintendent has assembled a strong, well-respected leadership team. The Board recognizes and appreciates the importance of AISD’s strong leadership team in the face of all this uncertainty so that operationally, our budget remains sound despite major reductions in state funding for public education over the past two years. She has led the work to manage our resources wisely with a strategic, long-term view and, as a result, we have received high bond ratings over the past three years.
  • … we wish to highlight a few significant examples of the five district priorities for school year 2012-2013,…
  • First, in the area of “Whole Child, Every Child,” the Superintendent led a shift in the focus away from a culture of testing—which can be punitive and narrowly focused on test results—to one that emphasizes academic standards of excellence and strengths and interests of the whole child with art programs, athletics, health and wellness initiatives; and Social Emotional Learning.
  • Second, in the area of College-Ready Culture, our four-year federal high school graduation rates for all student groups increased and reached all-time highs with the class of 2012, including minority, poor and special education students.
  • … for the class of 2012, we also saw a decrease in the dropout rate for all student groups except for our white students and our English Language Learners…These are remarkable improvements that have occurred, for the most part, over the past four years.
  • The district… increased and developed a strong focus on literacy and numeracy at all levels, which is reflected in the continued academic improvement of students across the district.
  • In an effort to eliminate the disproportionality in disciplinary actions that have adversely affected some student groups, the district implemented a restructuring of the Alternative Education program in AISD for discretionary removals by handling non-safety removals on campus through the creation of campus-based Learning Support Centers…. This initiative is showing great promise and, most importantly, we are not adversely affecting academic opportunities of these students for minor disciplinary actions.
  • … the Superintendent continued to expand access to rich options in the district through dual language programs, early childhood education and alternative pathways to graduation.
  • … in the area of Human Capital, we were pleased to see the district increase compensation for all staff and expand access to health insurance care to qualifying individuals to meet the diverse needs of our employees and their households.
  • …in the area of Systems, our technology infrastructure improvements like the AISD Cloud and the Parent Cloud are proving to be the source for educational resources and information about other helpful resources.

 [Requested Improvements] 

  • As stated earlier, AISD is a large, complex, highly diverse urban district with numerous challenges. As such, there will always be work to do and areas that can be improved upon. Therefore, there are some areas we have asked the Superintendent to focus on for the remainder of this academic year.
  • … it is important that to remain college-ready in subsequent years, we clearly define and improve our measure of grade-level success consistent with the new college-ready standards. We must also ensure that at each grade all students are performing at or preferably above grade level when they complete that grade, especially in the core academic areas.
  • We must continue the momentum of improvement with our minority, economically disadvantaged, special education and English-language learner student groups so that we continue to close the achievement gap and ensure that all students graduate college-, career- and life-ready.
  • We must continue to invest in and support our campus staff. To be most efficient, this will require greater and greater collaboration between campus and administrative personnel as well as strategic monitoring of the professional development needs of educators and staff on each campus and providing the appropriate support from central office administrative teams.
  • To respond to the competition from private and state charter schools, we must be proactive in our efforts to ensure that every parent’s and student’s experience every day in AISD are positive ones and that the academic and extra-curricular offerings of the vertical teams across the district are of high quality and well publicized within and outside of AISD. Therefore, we must ensure that the environment at every campus and in every facility is welcoming and inviting to our customers and to our visitors. We know that they have choices, and we want them to make AISD their choice.
  • Finally,…we must continually work to develop and enhance the District’s relationship with parents, community groups and the community at-large.

 [Summary]

  • We believe we are moving in the right direction to achieve this goal and that Dr. Carstarphen, her leadership team, and all of our district’s educators will continue to raise the performance of our students and our district.
  • We thank Dr. Carstarphen and her team for all the efforts and good work we have seen over the past year.

This report was issued publicly on behalf of the entire Board – and I am unable to find that any Board member dissented from the Report.

So I ask – does this evaluation look like one that would lead to a termination? I don’t think so.

Further, now that Carstarphen has announced her resignation, it appears that AISD is looking back with some regret that it engaged in some political gamesmanship last December when it decided to delay considering an extension to her contract to a future time (see here).

The Board played “chicken” and lost a superintendent that had made a number of significant improvements to the system.

Based on all the research I have done to-date, with the addition of Carstarphen as superintendent, Atlanta is the beneficiary of AISD’s fractured and indecisive Board of Trustees.

Also, I commend the AISD for publishing this document. It is a model that I hope APS will adopt.

Unfortunately, when I raised this exact issue with the APS executive who works with the Board Accountability Committee, she indicated that this was a bad idea and should not be done. While I agree that the detailed assessment does not need to be released, an executive summary, consistent with the above, is totally appropriate. By issuing a similar document, the public could then determine if the Board – whose sole employee is the superintendent – is holding him or her accountable for their performance.

Ms. Grant – as Chair of the Accountability Committee – I hope that you will take this suggestion under consideration for the future.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

6 Responses to Was Carstarphen’s performance an issue at AISD? Here is her performance evaluation – and the “sang the praises” assessment hold up

  1. Andrea Knight says:

    Thanks for tracking down all of these resources! I agree that it is inspiring that APS has gained a good fit for the superintendent.

    For me, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Carstarphen’s departure is a loss for AISD. Their numbers and performance are strong with good top level staff. It sounds as if the community wants to shift focus.

    • Andrea – it is clear that in the election in 2012 there were several Board members elected in Austin that were not fans of Carstarphen. However, I am hearing strong rumors that the Board in fact did try to extend her contract in recent months, but she declined to do so. I have requested open records on this from Austin and we will see.

      While I understand that a community might want to “shift focus”, after reading a large number of articles, I have a hard time understanding what the new focus might be. Based on Carstarphen’s recent review, she was focused on improving student outcomes. I would seem to me that a focus on anything else would be misdirected.

      Bob

  2. APS parent, most of the time... says:

    In the fracas over the principals not having their contracts renewed, one board member pointed out that if ABOE was seen as being contentious and not supporting the Supt, it would be very difficult to ever get someone to come work for APS – that no one would ever touch the job.
    I now wonder if that was partly in direct reaction to what was going on in Austin…

  3. Beverly Fraud says:

    There appear to be several red flags here:

    One, a very troubling report from an AISD school district that the Carstarphen administration whitewashed an investigation that students were routinely publicly humiliated as well as subjected to four hours of standardized testing every Friday. Seem the district is more interested in targeting the messenger than INDEPENDENTLY investigating the very serious allegations.

    http://cloakinginequity.com/2013/11/14/children-psychologically-imprisoned-whistleblower-reveals-high-states-testing-preparation/comment-page-1/

    Whitewashed investigations; haven’t we seen THAT before?

    Numerous mentions of her “confrontational style” (not by logical definition a bad thing, but still worth noting) yet apparently loved by the “bidness” community. Haven’t we seen THAT before?

    Praised by Arne Duncan; haven’t we seen THAT before?

    In the Eli Broad sphere of influence apparently; haven’t we seen THAT before?

    No mention at ALL of protecting teachers who dare to speak out (who are in turn ALL too often retaliated against in evaluations) and no mention at ALL of supporting teachers in matters of discipline (instead the focus seems to be on reducing minority discipline reports which all too often turns into “he can’t be suspended, we have targets to meet” regardless of what the student does to disrupt the learning environment)

    No mention of empowering teachers to speak out on unethical behavior, no mention of curbing abuses of the evaluation instrument (a HUGE problem in APS, as it routinely violates state grievance law) no mention of empowering teachers to maintain the sanctity of the learning environment.

    Haven’t we seen THAT before?

    She may or may not be qualified, but there seems to be a DECIDED lack of willingness to see how she will empower the classroom teacher (does not “holding teachers accountable” come with an ethical imperative to grant them the authority needed, in terms of maintaining the sanctity of the learning environment?)

    Is short, it seems way too many people want to move WAY too fast to anoint her, without asking, tough, fair and legitimate questions.

    Haven’t we seen THAT before?

    • First, thanks for the comment and I agree that tough questions need to be asked. But if you only stop there, then the job is 10% complete, as it is the answers to the tough questions that are critically important. Let’s take your points one by one.

      The email from the student counselor you cite is troubling and a bit of searching indicates that an internal investigation may have been done. However, the results of the investigation do not appear anywhere – not on the blog that published the allegations or on other blogs that offered to publish it. Why not? Such serious charges would animate a community like Atlanta and parents would be demanding answers. Why are there no such parent outcries in Austin? If conditions were so onerous, parents would be screaming bloody murder – but they didn’t. While the allegations are serious, they also seem to depend heavily on ‘scary’ inferences. So, while I do not discount the allegations, call me skeptical until there is some real evidence that the allegations are true. This is especially the case as there does not appear to be a parent outcry.

      “Loved by the “bidness” community”. This one I just do not understand. The business community has an interest in a strong education system in its community. I do get it that certain leaders in the Atlanta business community screwed up and tried to cover up the Hall cheating scandal. However, other than a veiled statement about the Austin business community, you present no facts to support the idea that this warrants a careful inspection. It is clear that the Atlanta business community messed up – but how does this implicate Austin?

      I am not sure why anyone would even care that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has endorsed Carstarphen. But even if they do, what does it imply? I don’t think it implies anything, but it appears that you do. Can you expand on this?

      The same is the case for Eli Broad. How did his “sphere of influence” negatively impact Austin? Please be specific in your answer.

      I do believe the whole issue of empowering teachers is very important. And you are right that so far the record is not clear. However, I am aware of the statements Carstarphen has made regarding empowering principals, and I believe that her statements likely flow through to teachers. I have not seen any articles on this issue regarding Carstarphen, but if you have them, please forward them.

      Again, I am all for asking tough questions – but I also believe that simply asking questions is not enough. This is especially the case if the asking is simply designed to infer credibility problems or alleged misdeeds. You asked a bunch of questions – the right thing to do is to attempt to answer them with facts and evidence.

      I look forward to your response.

      Bob

      • Beverly Fraud says:

        Bob,

        Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

        Where to begin? I’ll start with this:

        Re: “Such serious charges would animate a community like Atlanta and parents would be demanding answers.”

        I wish this were true, but I don’t believe it is. For example Paul Donsky, back it 2001 wrote an expose` on the CRCT that gave anybody who cared to listen, enough information to know that something was definitely rotten in Denmark.

        It was basically ignored for 8 years, while everyone, including parents, basked in the glow of “the Atlanta miracle.” (Even as teachers called people like Cynthia Tucker of the AJC to let them know cheating was happening, discipline numbers were being falsified, and teacher abuse was rampant, the AJC sat on the story for close to a decade, until their readership dropped so low they decided they had no choice but to do some real investigative reporting)

        The allegations in the AISD case are also there for anybody who is interested. Apparently the APS board, nor the “bidness” community, seem too terribly interested. Again, it doesn’t automatically disqualify her if the Austin bidness community supports her, but the quaint idea that bidness wants “what’s best for kids” makes as much sense as “bidness will always treat the customer right”

        And why isn’t Arne Duncan praising Joyce Murdock Feilke the counselor who all but risked her career to expose what was happening, instead of Meria Carstarphen, the woman who may not have “covered it up” but didn’t seem too, too determined to get to the bottom of it?

        It may seem a little thing in the scheme of things but it’s the “little things” that reveal character, or lack thereof is it not?

        Again to your point of what difference does it make what Duncan and business leaders think? And it’s a good point, if she does the job well. But it could be instructive to understand WHY they think highly of her.

        It appears they do so, because she seems to be a by product of what’s been called “the educational-industrial complex.” Again, not “proof” she will be unqualified, but a sign she isn’t willing to be truly trans-formative, in a way that empowers teachers, but more likely to be “reform” minded, in a top-down, heavy handed approach that needlessly burns out the very teachers that it’s claiming to help.

        APS, and most other urban school systems don’t really need yet another “education pope” that’s a by product of the system. What they need is a “Martin Luther” who is willing to tear down the very foundations of systemic thought if need be. A person who can tackle the two elephants in the classroom; lack of support in discipline and retaliation against teachers who attempt to speak up on issues of concern. Is Meria Carstarphen the person to address those things? I doubt it.

        One example: how many times has the term “accountability” been bandied about since she’s been named? By contrast, how many times has the word AUTHORITY been mentioned as a key component of empowering teachers? I’m guessing ZERO. And if she can’t get THAT (as the educational-industrial complex doesn’t get, or doesn’t WANT to get) then aren’t we merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?

        This brings me to another quote from your reply:

        Re: “However, I am aware of the statements Carstarphen has made regarding empowering principals, and I believe that her statements likely flow through to teachers.”

        Sounds good in theory, but I would suggest you talk to classroom teachers and see if that’s how it manifests itself in the real world. I think you’ll find out, in the real world, it merely means principals are given their own little feudal territories to reign over, and it truly does NOT translate to empowering teachers. In fact, just the opposite. And how do principals all too often maintain control?

        You guessed it, the “evaluation” instrument, the very thing the educational-industrial complex keeps saying is so very vital in terms of “accountability.” But when is the last time it’s even been acknowledged that the ABUSE of the evaluation instrument needs to be addressed?

        Dig around and ask if ANY school board member asked this of Carstarphen? If not, why not? How could you NOT ask this, after the “corporate culture” of systemic harassment that by now fully embedded in the APS organism? If teachers knew they could speak out, without retaliation, would the cheating scandal have lead to a decade’s worth of academic genocide? Most likely not.

        Ultimately, as you say, it’s not just the questions, but the answers that matter. And in that light, Carstarphen may not be the problem; the problem may be, as Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.” We aren’t willing to engage in true reform, for it is politically incorrect and might make some people uncomfortable.

        Oh, we are all for making TEACHERS uncomfortable (Bev Hall was found of recommending “Who Moved My Cheese” as a way of justifying her actions.) But what about empowering them, even if it makes others uncomfortable?

        You want true reform? Why not hold principals accountable to a vote of confidence from their staff every year? Too easy to let some malcontent teachers drive out someone who demands excellence you say?

        Fine, make the number ridiculously LOW to pass the vote of confidence. How about 40%? Or even 35%?
        If 65% of your staff has no confidence in you, maybe you aren’t a good fit to lead that school. And how many principals just MIGHT reign in their abuses if that possibility existed? How many MIGHT buck a systemically stupid initiative from central office, if there teachers could point out the emperor had no clothes? And how many teachers, if they felt empowered to speak out, to advocate for what actually works, could actually get better results if they were free to implement what really worked for them, instead of marching lockstep with “pedagogy du jour?”

        Yet has such a proposal as this EVER been put out there by this board? Would this not have the potential to be TRULY trans-formative?

        I could probably go on to the point of losing my sanity with all that is being done wrong in education, so I’ll stop.

        I sum it up as such; when the education-industrial complex loves someone, you might want to ask if that person is really able to “think outside the box” or if they are really trapped into thinking in the “pre-approved” pseudo outside the box endorsed by people like Duncan, and Broad and Gates. (Example: if there “must” be technology in the classroom, why do Silicon Valley executives send their kids to schools with no technology?)

        You might want to ask if they can buck Duncans/Broads/Gates of the world if need be. You might want to ask if integrity comes BEFORE reform.

        The troubling story out of Austin might be of one school, but it does point to one thing: If she DID try to cover it up, I think there is only one other question to ask about the rest of her credentials: Other than THAT, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?

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