Ralph Martire

Candidate for District 200 school board

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Age59

 

Previous elected experienceSchool Board River Forest District 90, eight years

 

Previous community experience: (1) Member of the D200 Culture, Climate and Behavior Committee;  (2) Youth baseball, soccer, basketball and softball coach (7 years)—both boys and girls; (3) former President, Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy; (4) former Member of the Chicago Urban League Education Policy Task Force; (5) Member of the executive committee of the West Cook Division of the Illinois Association of School Boards; (6)former member of advisory board of Jamal Place Inc., a non-profit residential program which provides housing  and social services for preteen and adolescent males with behavior disorders; (6) former board member of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest; and (7) former member of Advisory Board of Catholic Charities, Division of Senior Citizens Social Services.

 

Occupation: Executive Director of the bi-partisan Center For Tax And Budget Accountability, a nonprofit think tank that works across ideological lines to identify evidence based reforms that promote social and economic justice; and Rubloff Professor of  Public Policy at Roosevelt University, Chicago.

 

EducationJ.D from the University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor 1985; B.A. with Highest Honors in History, Indiana University, Bloomington.

 

Do you believe that race is the primary predictor of student outcomes in District 200? Please expound. 

Whether or not race is "the" primary predictor of student outcomes in D200, the data certainly indicate race is one of the primary predictors, along with income level and ethnicity. And while many different indices of student outcomes—such as disciplinary rates, advance placement enrollment, etc., show racially disparate outcomes, I believe the performance of D200 students on the Math portion of the SAT provides a clear illustration of the issue. In 2018, 73 percent of D200's white students met or exceeded SAT standards in Math, thereby demonstrating "proficiency." However, only 21 percent of D200's African American students demonstrated proficiency in Math on the 2018 SAT, creating a performance gap of 51 percent. That's not only significant statistically, but it is also a larger gap in Math proficiency on the SAT than the 45 percent performance gap which existed between D200's non low-income and low-income students in 2018. Indeed, Hispanic students at D200 also outperformed their African American peers in Math on the 2018 SAT by some 24 percent.

Based on that data, it is clear that race is a predictor of at least some student outcomes at D200. This does not make D200 unique, however. I know this because I was appointed to and currently serve on the "Professional Review Panel" or "PRP", which is hosted by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). The PRP was established as part of the legislation which created Illinois' new "Evidence Based School Funding Formula" (the "EBF").

The members of the Professional Review Panel are charged with both monitoring the implementation of the EBF, and making recommendations to the General Assembly on how to improve it over time. As members of the Professional Review Panel, we requested that ISBE run a regression analysis to determine whether race was a predictor of student performance in Illinois—even after controlling for income. ISBE's analysis showed that yes, even after controlling for income, race is a statistically meaningful predictor of student performance statewide in Illinois.

This result confirms that the public educational system in Illinois is flawed, in that it generally lacks the capacity to provide the same level of educational opportunity to African American students, as it does to white students. Unfortunately, most school districts lack the resources needed to build the capacity to create a truly equitable learning environment for all children. This is where D200 is somewhat unique, in that it has adequate resources to both identify and redress its educational systems flaws, and create an equitable learning environment that can produce excellent outcomes for all students.

It is likely that if you're elected to the board, you'll have a hand in drafting the district's racial equity policy. What are your thoughts on a racial equity policy? Do you believe that it is necessary to ensure that race is not a predictor of student outcomes (assuming you believe this is the case)? And if so, how would you ensure that the racial equity policy is effectively implemented? 

Yes, I not only believe that a racial equity policy is necessary, I know that the research clearly shows that implementing a strategic, evidence-based approach to equity is one of the surest ways a school district can create a truly excellent learning environment for all students. The reason for this is simple: In an equitable school system, every student receives the education and related supports she or he needs to succeed academically. Hence in an equitable school system, every learner, from the most gifted to the most challenged, irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender or religious/cultural background, receives an education designed to allow her or him to succeed academically.

Obviously, this goal is met when there is no statistically meaningful correlation between a student's race, income, ethnicity or gender identity and projected academic performance.

That said, ensuring the effective implementation of a racial equity policy is challenging, and requires a long-term, strategic approach that will reform D200's entire school system, so that it builds the institutional capacity to provide a truly equitable and excellent educational experience to all students. This is no small challenge. Indeed, one of the most difficult policy tasks that can be undertaken is creating effective system's change that is sustainable over time, especially when that change involves issues of race, ethnicity and/or income class. Indeed, these issues tend to be highly charged emotionally, and most people—including those working in the system itself—typically allow their normative values and ideological world opinions to dictate their views on the need for, and hence implementation of, an equity initiative. This is a problem, because ideological or normative value-based resistance to faithful implementation of even the best designed equity initiative will impair that initiative's effectiveness, generating less than desirable outcomes.

However, I believe my work experience over the last 15 years demonstrates that I can help facilitate the very type of systemic changes needed to address even issues fraught with polarizing emotions—like creating a racially equitable school system.  For example, as executive director of the bi-partisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, I serve as technical advisor on education policy to Illinois State Representative Will Davis. In that capacity I co-drafted the Evidence Based School funding formula ("EBF") which passed into law in August of 2017 as SB1947. This legislation ties education funding to those practices which the evidence shows actually enhance student achievement over time. Crucially, the EBF adjusts the amount of resources a school district gets to implement those evidence based practices, to account for the specific needs of the student population that district serves—i.e. it by design creates a funding mechanism that is both adequate in amount and equitable in distribution. So, under a fully funded EBF, a school district with a significant number of low income students, or English learners, will receive the resources needed to hire more faculty, more tier 2 interventionists, more guidance counselors, etc., than a school district with the same total enrollment, but fewer at risk students. Getting this legislation passed took seven years of effort, in large part because we had to build the political will to do the right thing among decision makers that spanned the ideological spectrum from progressive to conservative.

During the Obama Administration, I served on a federal Commission on Educational Equity and Excellence housed in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Education. We were given access to national and international data on everything from best practices in professional development, to labor market comparisons with other industrialized nations, capacity building through collaboration, and sustainable approaches to creating equitable education systems.  We issued a report-"For Each and Every Child," that identified the best practices for creating a truly equitable education system, as well as noted all the literature which shows investing appropriately in equity is one of the most effective pathways to creating educational excellence for all students.  The role of equity in building educational excellence for all students is rarely highlighted, but focusing on equity's relationship to excellence is one way to help overcome the concerns of families who wrongly believe the implementation of equitable educational practices creates a "zero-sum" game that will take investment away from non-minority students.

As president of the school board for River Forest District 90, I campaigned for and led an equity initiative that has been fully adopted by the board and is being implemented by faculty, staff and the administration. The equity committee I chair for D90—which includes two board members, two faculty members, two administrators and two community members—has focused on making recommendations to the board that were designed to change our educational system over time. These recommendations included: (i) having the administration retain a consultant to recommend ways to improve our hiring practices to create a more diverse work force—since we reformed those practices, 30% of our new hires have been diverse; (ii) having the faculty and administration recommend new pedagogical practices for the district which the evidence showed were effective in reducing racial and other performance gaps over time—after researching this issue, the faculty and administration urged the board to adopt the Universal Design for Learning, which the board unanimously approved and which is being implemented; and (iii) retaining evidence-based professional development to address implicit bias and cultural sensitivity that would be ongoing and be taken not just by the faculty, but by the staff, administration and the board—this has been implemented and I am proud to say that our faculty is now leading the equity effort, and in surveys well over 90 percent of our faculty has indicated strong support for both the provider selected and the equity effort in general. Moreover, the D90 board itself has had four separate implicit bias related trainings, and has embedded the requirement that board members receive such training in our policy. Finally, the equity committee was made a standing committee of the board, charged with monitoring the District's performance on equity to ensure our goals are met over time.

As previously noted, I have been appointed to serve on the Professional Review Panel established as part of the EBF legislation to monitor the implementation of Illinois' new school funding formula. This provides me with access to all state data collected by ISBE on everything involving student performance and/or education finance in Illinois. I will be able to utilize that information when helping design the equity initiatives for D200 and creating rational rubrics for monitoring progress. 

Closer to home I have been serving on D200's Culture, Climate and Behavior Committee since its inception three years ago. This has provided me a rare insight into some of the difficult racial and related issues the district is confronting—and allowed me to hear the viewpoint of everyone from students, to faculty, staff, and community members on the equity challenges the district faces. Hearing both student and faculty voices on these issues has been really valuable, and I have come to see great merit in insights from both that will certainly impact my actions as a board member.

I still serve as technical advisor on education policy to State Representative Will Davis, a former chair of the Black Legislative Caucus, as well as Senator Kim Lightford who still serves as chair of the Black Legislative Caucus. In this role I continually work on issues involving equity in education at the state level. Going forward, this will allow me to provide insights to the D200 board about potential developments in Springfield, as well as gain access to even more data to inform D200's equity initiative.

Finally, I am working as a technical advisor to decision makers on reforming school funding systems in various states such as California and Georgia, in each instance with the goal of creating more equitable systems. This allows me to stay current on different national practices being pursued to move the equity ball forward.

My equity and education policy work has received some recognition, as I have been the recipient of numerous awards related thereto, including: The Champion of Freedom Award given by the Rainbow Push Coalition to an individual who's work embodies the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.; the Ben C. Hubbard Leadership Award given by Illinois State University for leadership that has greatly benefited education in Illinois; and being named Co-Villager of the Year for River Forest by the Wednesday Journal, for the equity work being done at D90.

Do you believe that athletics and PE facilities are critical aspects of the overall student experience at OPRF? 

Of course athletic and PE facilities are critical aspects of the student experience. As are the arts, music and theater. All the research shows that robust enrichment programs help generate better academic outcomes because, among other things, they get students excited about going to school. If the physical facilities for these enrichment programs are substandard, that will absolutely have negative impacts on the student experience.

Moreover, poorly designed or obsolete facilities can have negative consequences when viewed through an equity lens. For instance, if facilities are not designed to ensure all students who have an interest in the underlying activity can participate therein, including students with special needs, then those students will justifiably feel excluded from and less important to the school community. For many students, the cost of higher education can be prohibitive, unless they can attain an athletic, music, or other enrichment activity-based scholarship. Inadequate facilities can obviously impede a D200 student's competitiveness in gaining such scholarships against peers at other schools with modern facilities.

What are your thoughts on the recent Imagine OPRF master facilities plan that the D200 board accepted last year? Do you believe that it adequately addresses students' needs? 

Poorly designed facilities hamper the educational experience, and poorly maintained facilities implicate student safety issues. For these reasons, facilities planning is a fundamental responsibility of a board of education. This is especially so for a board like D200's, which is responsible for overseeing an old, land locked building—but long-term, strategic facilities planning hasn't consistently been on the docket at D200. The board's failure to engage in a strategic, long-term facilities planning process contributed to the pool foofaraw, and ultimately led to the work of the Imagine group. The master facilities plan the Imagine group created is comprehensive and certainly addresses many student needs. That said, its implementation—in part or in whole—should be done subject to a long-term needs and costs analysis, such as that followed in D90.

In D90, the board considers a rolling five and 10 year facilities plan annually. I instituted a policy that required the costs of our long-term facilities plans to be broken down into two categories: (i) maintenance items and or life safety audit issues we know we will have to address in the coming five to 10 year sequence; and (ii) potential facilities upgrades the board, faculty or administration would like to see implemented during that time. We then budget accordingly and do all of the items on the must list, and only those on the want list we can both afford, and which have the greatest potential positive impact on the educational environment.

Do you believe that the D200 school board is a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars? If so, in what ways? If you don't believe this, what changes will you advocate on the board to make it so? 

I cannot speak to the specific decisions made by prior boards over the last 20 years or so, because I do not have the data needed to make a thoughtful, informed critique. However, generally speaking, property taxes are high not just in Oak Park and River Forest, but throughout most of Illinois. The reason for this is clear: our state ranks 50th in the nation in the portion of K-12 funding paid for with state-based tax revenue, and first in the country in reliance on local property taxes to fund schools. Hence to a very large extent, all Illinois school boards have had to over-burden their local property tax payers to make up for the state's consistent failure. That said, D200 has the 15th greatest total resources per pupil of the 97 high school districts in Illinois, and had per-pupil operational expenditures of $23,966 last year, which is also relatively high. D200 has also accumulated a significant reserve without apparently having a specific purpose or purposes therefor. So, while no district can move forward without any tax increases—indeed inflation alone causes costs to increase annually, D200, with its significant, as of yet non-purposed reserves, and high levels of both resources and operational expenditures, should be able to keep any future tax increases to a minimum, while still enhancing its educational environment.

Do you believe that the D200 board adequately incorporates the voices of people most likely to be impacted by its decisions (i.e., students, teachers, faculty and staff) into its decision-making process? If not, what are some ways that the board can more adequately incorporate these voices into its decision-making process? 

I do believe the D200 board has taken some important steps to become more open to input from students, teachers, faculty, staff, parents, guardians, and community stakeholders in general. The advent of the Culture, Climate, and Behavior Committee is a great example of how the D200 board has made the commitment to solicit input from all stakeholders. However, questions of transparency and comprehensive stakeholder engagement are always challenging for school boards, given the volunteer nature of the position and the difficulty in reaching all stakeholders across the spectrum. Indeed getting the perspective of say, disaffected students is a challenge because they are so alienated they are disinclined to engage with the board.

Going forward, there are a number of avenues D200 should explore to enhance stakeholder input into its decision making process. For instance, D200 will have to take full advantage of social media as one way to connect with stakeholders and gain input. Moving beyond the virtual world, it is crucial to recognize that one of the most important "abilities" anyone can bring to the board is "availability." With that in mind, as president of River Forest School District 90, I have made myself available to meet directly with any individual stakeholder or community group that has indicated a desire to weigh in on or express concerns about district policy.

The work of the Culture, Climate, and Behavior Committee of the D200 board could also be expanded to cover more general issues of inclusivity—and have that effort informed by a much broader representation of stakeholders—much in the way my current board at D90 is informed by our Inclusivity Advisory Board. D90's Inclusivity Advisory Board includes over 60 stakeholders comprised of parents, faculty, staff, concerned community members, and increasingly students. It solicits their insights to help inform D90's decision making.

Moreover, I initiated two other reforms at D90—which have been implemented—designed to enhance both transparency and engagement, that hold promise for more fully engaging stakeholders, and informing board level decision making at D200. First, D90 holds 3-4 board meetings every year in a "town hall" format—where there is no time limit on questions from stakeholders, and board members, or when appropriate administrators, staff, and faculty, respond to inquiries raised. These town hall styled board meetings have solicited input on everything from testing and our equity initiative, to a general gripe session where faculty, students, staff, and community members were invited to raise their concerns on any district issue. Second, I developed a user-friendly financial report, which explains D90's finances in simple terms, uses pictures, provides comparables, and covers changes in spending, salaries, etc. over time, and is just 5-6 pages long, as opposed to a typical district budget which is literally hundreds of pages long. Obviously, a reform that works well for one school board may not be appropriate or efficacious, in whole or in part, at another. That said, I will always try to inform my board positions by referring to either evidence-based best practices, or initiatives which have been successful—or not—for other boards.

1.       Do you believe that race is the primary predictor of student outcomes in District 200? Please expound. 

 

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