Payment For Performance? Not At D-64.


It’s a shame Marshall Warren was unsuccessful in seeking a seat on the Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 board in April’s election, because he proposed more meaningful ideas and changes to the way District 64 does business than any of the successful candidates, save for Anthony Borrelli.  

In a letter published in both local newspapers following the election, Warren challenged D-64 to make a number of those changes, including:

  • recording and posting the videos of D-64 board meetings on its website, via YouTube;
  • holding its meetings on evenings other than when the City Council meets;
  • allowing the public to speak on agenda items when those items are being discussed rather than solely at the beginning of meetings;
  • holding meetings in school auditoriums and gymnasiums rather than in D-64’s cramped basement meeting room;
  • posting monthly profit and loss (“P&L”) statements on its website;
  • posting standardized test score performance, along with any changes from the prior reporting period; and
  • posting the salaries of all D-64 employees for the current year and the prior year, showing the inter-year changes. 

You may have noticed that all those points are designed to increase the amount of information going to those Park Ridge residents whose tax dollars have helped D-64 record two dubious achievements: having the 4th highest-paid principals and the 25th highest-paid teachers in the entire state, according to rankings posted in last Tuesday’s (May 31) Chicago Sun-Times.

That’s right, folks: our average teacher and principal salaries – at $72,630 and $155,291, respectively – rank ahead of those paid in much more affluent and better-performing districts like Winnetka ($70,320 & $139,189), Kenilworth ($71,647 & $130,243), Glencoe ($66,973 & $123,500), Wilmette ($67,631 & $137,567), Bannockburn ($71,672 & $146,247), Lake Forest ($63,950 & $131,851) and Deerfield ($70,346 & $129,882); and also ahead of the equally affluent but better-performing districts like Arlington Hts. ($70,958 & $124,413), Northbrook/Glenview ($72,395 & $130,897), Western Springs ($64,614 & $120,010) and Lake Bluff ($66,340 & $149,512). 

Since those rankings were published, we have discovered that even residents who already thought D-64 teachers and principals were “overpaid” when judged by objective student performance measures like standardized test results, nevertheless were surprised to find out that our teachers and principals were that highly-paid. 

But, then again, that’s the kind of information we have come to expect D-64 to affirmatively hide from the taxpayers, considering that it remains the most secretive and least accountable of any of our local governmental bodies.  

Look again at Warren’s seven suggestions, above.  The fact that they were campaign issues in April rather than long-standing, institutionalized D-64 policies and practices shows just how insulated and opaque the current and former D-64 school boards have been for at least the past decade.  D-64’s Culture of Secrecy makes both the Park District’s and the City of Park Ridge’s baby steps toward transparency and accountability look like giant leaps by comparison. 

Go to D-64’s website.  Instead of easy-to-find useful information about things like how the District’s ISAT scores and personnel salaries compare with other districts, you’ll find it filled with what fictional “Col. Sherman Potter” of the M*A*S*H* television series probably would call “mule fritters” or “buffalo bagels.” 

One of our favorite bits of disinformation is an April 25, 2011 “report” on D-64’s “Strategic Plan 2011-12 Implementation” that is loaded with edu-speak jargon – starting with the obligatory “positive changes” and continuing with “authentic service learning,” “civil behavior initiatives,” “all stakeholders in our vital partnership,” “a shared journey,” a “strategy leadership group,” “readiness activities,” “release time,” a “ ‘strategic staffing case’ scenario,” “strategy committees,” “change protocol,” “strategy teams,” and things that are “holistically reviewed” – all of which apparently contribute to “a transformative journey.” 

As “Col. Potter” also was fond of saying: “Horse hockey!” 

We suspect that bit of puffery was orchestrated, if not actually written, by Cambridge Strategic Services – D-64’s strategic-planning/public relations consultant we wrote about back in November 2008 (“Hire A Consultant And Round Up The Usual Suspects,” 11.03.08) and again in May 2009 (“It’s Charade Time At School District 64,” 05.15.09) – if only because Cambridge appears to be claiming a copyright to parts of D-64’s “Strategic Plan”which includes what has been a fictional “parameter” for D-64 so far: 

“Student performance on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISATs) will always compare favorably with other high-achieving districts.”

Unfortunately for both the D-64 students and the taxpayers who are paying to educate them, that particular “parameter” is nowhere close to being achieved, as we can recall only two years over the past decade in which D-64 placed even one of its schools among the greater Chicagoland area’s Top 50 ISAT (and, before that, IGAP) performers in either the elementary or junior high brackets.

And that’s despite having the 4th highest-paid principals and the 25th highest-paid teachers in the entire State of Illinois.

To read or post comments, click on title.

9 comments so far

On the financial transparency issue, I fully agree with you. D64 needs to step up to the plate and disclose more information, especially financial information. I also agree that District meetings need to be improved via webcasts, location, etc..

I disagree with you completely on the test scores. Having a number of friends that are teachers, and many of them in the school districts you identified, a lot of these teachers are terribly frustrated with the standardized testing. They teach to the test. The education that they provide is so that the kids can score well on the test. The incentives for the teachers is on how well the kids test. These teachers know that the kids are not getting a well rounded education, but are learning how to do well on standardized tests.

If you talk to the teachers outside of D64, they will tell you that the kids are better served in the long run if they have a broader education when they are young, and are not focused on test results.

Just for clarification purposes, I am not a teacher. I do have kids enrolled in D64 at Washington school. I am very happy and impressed with the education my kids are getting!!! The educational items that these kids are exposed to are way more advanced from when I was a kid. When I show my teacher friends the items that my kids are working on, they look longingly at what they would love to be teaching. Many of them are impressed with the cirriculum at District 64.

The school scores on standardized testing is a major fallacy in the education system.

You should read the Economist magazine (or and get a better understanding of the problems with standarized testing.

Is it better for District 64 to have high standardized test scores, or is it better for our children to have an excellent education that will lead them to more fulfilling opportunities in the future.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We enjoy The Economist, but it’s just another magazine that publishes a variety of viewpoints, many of which are inconistent and some even conflicting.

We subscribe to the management axiom that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Standardized tests exist because there is no consensus on any better way to objectively and comparatively measure “an excellent education” for students in various places at various grade levels in “real time” – rather than years/decades later when it’s too late to do anything about it. Not surprisingly, teachers, school administrators and teachers unions prefer more warm-and-fuzzy “measurements.”

But like it or not, standardized tests are what our institutions regularly rely on in determining one’s qualifications – which is why there are the SAT and ACT tests for college admission; the DAT for dental school admission; the MCAT for medical school admission; the GMAT for admission to MBA programs; the LSAT for admission to law school; the GRE for admission to grad school; the UCPAE for CPA qualification; the ASVAB for service in our armed forces; and even the Wonderlic test for prospective NFL players.

So parents, teachers, school administrators, teachers union stewards and school board members can wax grandiloquent about a particular student’s “excellent education” until the cows come home, but it won’t make up for a 22 on the ACT or a 130 on the LSAT.

And if that D-64 education is such a “bargain” and so good for our property values, why does it seem like most of the migration into Park Ridge is coming far more from Des Plaines, Harwood Heights, Norridge and Chicago than from Arlington Heights, Glenview, Northbrook, or Wilmette?

As long as we are putting questions out there there are a few I would like to ask?

1. If D64 is as bad as you want to paint them why do these very same students score so well at MS?? Are you claiming that the MS teachers are so good that they are able to overcome those terrible D64 teachers in virtually no time???

2. Why is it that these tests vary so dramatically even within districts? Why, for example, within D207 does MS score so well while ME does not?? Are you claiming that all the teachers at MS are that much better versus those teachers at ME??

I am all for managing by meausrement, but looking at some of the strange results from these tests I would find it hard to use them as a basis for firing decisions. Based on this data a very good teacher at ME might get canned while a not so good teacher at MS might appear to be a hero.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Re-read the post, then re-read our other posts about D-64 and point out where we have accused D-64 of providing a “bad” education. Our criticism has been, and remains, that it doesn’t provide quality commensurate with its costs, especially when compared with equivalently affluent districts.

“Why…does MS score so well while ME does not??” Try demographics, and then you can throw MW into the mix, too. The average kid at MS comes from a significantly more affluent household than do his/her counterparts at ME and MW. Also, MS picks up more of the Park Ridge parochial school kids than does ME, with MW getting none.

I think we will agree to disagree on the topic of standardized testing.

Let me put your standardized entrance scores in some perspective.

1/5 of all doctors and lawyers that graduate, graduated in the bottom 20% of their respective classes. When you think about this statement, it becomes rather obvious.

Would you rather have a doctor that scored well on their MCATs, and all of their standardized tests in med school, but fail to be able to diagnosis illnesses in the ‘real’ world; or would you rather have a doctor who got into med school, worked their tail off to understand illnesses and diseases, and are compassionate physicians, but did not ace every standardized test in medical school? It is a rhetorical question.

My point is that providing an education that teaches kids to do well on tests, is not a well rounded education. There has to be something more to an education than being able to ace a standardized test.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Your “perspective” is silly bordering on stupid.

Standardized tests like the MCATs (and the LSATs, GREs, GMATs, etc.) are admissions tests: they are used to determine who who gets INTO grad schools, not what kind of grades they get during grad school. As far as we know, there is no standardized testing for individual grad school subjects.

Did you ever stop to think that maybe “teaching to the test” is just a bunch of teacher/administrator/school board-fabricated b.s. intended to provide an easy excuse for poor teaching and mediocre education that results in poor testing? Did you ever stop to think that maybe the substantial majority of kids who do well on standardized tests do so because they actually have received good, well-rounded educations, rather than simply being pre-programmed taught-to-the-test monkeys?

Why do MS students score so well when they are made up of all of the bad test scores from D64??

EDITOR’S NOTE: Let’s see…

a. D-207 teaches to the tests?
b. D-207 has better teachers?
c. D-207 has parochial elementary school graduates?
d. Private ACT and SAT coaching?
e. All of the above?

Can you please clarify your comment about migration to Park Ridge? Are you insinuating that lower class people are moving into Park Ridge? Are you making a statement about race?

Why is it better that a person moves from Glen View to Park Ridge versus moving from Des Plaines to Park Ridge?

I understand better schools, better property values. You seem to take it to a different vantage point. Please explain…

EDITOR’S NOTE: Race? Did we somehow miss a massive influx of African-Americans and/or Hispanics into the west side of Park Ridge?

It’s not “better” if someone moves to Park Ridge from Glenview. But it appears to us that Park Ridge and its schools are an “upgrade” for people from Chicago and less-affluent suburbs rather than a “lateral” move from equally-affluent areas with high-quality schools.

plus I’d hate to be the patient who presents with symptoms the former D64 student didn’t recognize on the test and therefore won’t recognize in my carcass.
I wish you were wrong about all of this but at least you write so well I’m laughing through my tears…

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t worry…the ISAT’s don’t test on things like the sypmptoms of aortic aneurysms or torn ACLs.

Pre-programmed taught to the test monkeys??? Are you not following the scandals going around the country of how teachers / administrators are changing answers for kids so that the results are higher? Are you not paying attention to the cheating scandals enveloping entire school districts?

You are comparing entrance exam tests in high school / college to the standardized tests being administered in k-8. You can’t compare those types of tests. Do you understand the construction of those types of tests? Who administers them? Who is incentivized for results?

Are you saying that the high scores in some of the poorest areas in Chicago and other places around the country are because they received a well rounded education? B.S. It is because teachers are teaching to the tests, administrators are cheating on grading the tests. That has been proven!

If you pay teachers on standardized test results, guess what, teachers will teach to the tests!

Your perspective is too narrow!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are talking about “standardized tests” – the very thought of which appears to have become the third-rail for teachers and administrators in underperforming districts.

Like it or not, the accepted standard for measuring quality public elementary education when comparing districts is ISAT scores, not a bunch of self-serving anecdotes and alibis from overpaid(?) teachers and administrators. And we’ve been able to find no credible evidence that those districts we identified in this post as achieving as-good-or-better test scores are “teaching to the test” rather than simply providing an overall quality education that produces those scores.

If that perspective is “too narrow,” so be it.

Your migration comment is very troubling to me. I don’t know how you meant this comment, but it sounds like you are saying something about race. What do you mean by property values relating to who migrates into Park Ridge?

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you can find a “race” component to our comments about migration from Harwood Heights, Norridge, et al., you may have other things “troubling” you.

As a regular reader, I’m glad to see attention paid to the biggest item on my property tax bill. Not only the post, but the vigorous discussion.

The original point of the post was that “vigorous discussion” doesn’t really happen in front of the school board. A lot happens under the radar.

I’m glad to see a variety of viewpoints on standardized testing. The one thing we should all be able agree upon is that these discussions should happen mainly at school board meetings.

They don’t, sadly, for all the reasons listed in the original post. It’s time for some glasnost in that most opaque, bureaucratic body, the school board.

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