The MacIver Institute recently covered the equity consulting firm, Integrated Comprehensive Systems for Equity, and discussed why it is so dangerous for students. A passionate, well-informed parent, did a deep dive into the ICS equity handbook. He shares his findings in this article.
September 27, 2021
Guest Perspective By Marc Renault
ICS Equity is a Wisconsin-based consulting company that contracts to school districts in order to create an Integrated Comprehensive System (ICS) for equity. This firm was founded by Elise M. Frattura (Professor Emeritus, School of Education, UW-Milwaukee), and Colleen A. Capper (Professor Emeritus, School of Education, UW-Madison). This firm pushes for the radical restructuring of school districts for equity (forced equality of outcomes not fairness) in all areas – academics, sports, clubs, staff, administration, etc – in the name of Social Justice. The philosophies and methods of ICS Equity are described in the book Leading For Social Justice written by Frattura and Capper (Frattura, Elise and Capper, Colleen. Leading For Social Justice: Transforming Schools for All Learners. Corwin Press, 2007).
The core idea, in the book Leading for Social Justice, which is reiterated ad nauseam, is that heterogeneous settings under the philosophy of Critical Pedagogy (CRT praxis for education) are nonnegotiable, and, when implemented, will create a Utopia (in the Marxist-sense) and socially just school district. The term heterogeneous, in the ICS context, means that in any setting (classroom, club, sports team, etc) all skill levels (gifted, special need, remedial, etc) and targeted identities (race, sex, religion, etc) are proportioned according to the overall levels of the school or district or city or state or country – a clear definition is not provided as normal academic standards of precision and rigor are not applied in this text. This is contrasted with the segregated setting, where students are streamed into appropriate levels based on current skill levels. Fundamentally, ICS means no special education, no gifted or advanced, and no remedial courses. The goal of ICS is not rigor or academic excellence or basic competencies, but rather is to “increase the number of school graduates who feel a sense of belonging to our greater society” (p.xxxii).
ICS proposes a radical, authoritarian restructuring of the education system: “In sum, for deep, second-order change to occur via ICS, the core of the education system has to be completely assessed and realigned to the principles of ICS” (p.215).
The foundations of this text are strongly rooted in Critical Pedagogy (also called Liberation Pedagogy). This is the application of Critical Theories to education – it centers education around notions of Critical Race Theory, Post-Modernism, and other neo-Marxist-based philosophies.
The seminal work of Critical Pedagogy is Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, a devout Marxist. In this text, he does not cite great educational philosophers like Piaget, Montessori, or even the progressive pragmatist Dewey, but rather radical and often violent revolutionaries like Marcuse, Sartre, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro. It is a Utopian political tract concerned about overthrowing the “capitalist hegemony” that is poorly disguised as education theory. In the book, Freire frames education and particularly direct instruction – the classic and proven method of education – within Marxist conflict theory. That is, teachers who explicitly teach skills and knowledge to students are oppressors that are oppressing the students. He focuses on “liberating” (i.e. not teaching skills and knowledge) the students by “raising critical consciousness” for the revolution in order to have “democratic” (in the Marxist-sense) education. He perpetuates classic dehumanizing social constructivist myths wherein humans are completely plastic and have no agency.
From this Marxian foundation, Frattura and Capper develop their ICS Equity framework. In the ICS Handbook on p.xxvii, the authors begin the introduction with a quote from Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
It is in the interest of the oppressor to weaken the oppressed still further, to isolate
them, to create and deepen rifts among them. This is done by varied means, from the
repressive methods of the government bureaucracy to the forms of cultural action with
which they manipulate the people by giving them the impression that they are being
This is followed by the unsubstantiated claim that: “The population of oppressed or dehumanized students in our schools is growing.” (p.xxvii) This work follows the general trend in “Education Science” research, where normal academic standards and methods rooted in the scientific method are eschewed for a mythological, religious belief system – the book contains many professions of belief instead of rigorous studies. Some examples are:
- “Leaders must believe in their core that students learn best when they are educated in heterogeneous educational settings, period. If the leader does not have this belief, then nothing else really matters.” (p.27)
- “The first characteristic of ICS leadership is that leaders must hold a core belief that all students should be educated in heterogeneous settings” (p.30)
- “Regarding [ICS] leadership, we must first believe that we can do it–more than that, we must believe that we have an ethical, moral, legal, and social responsibility to create integrated Comprehensive Services for all learners” (p.195)
- “Social justice work is long-haul work, not for the faint of heart. It requires your clearest mind, strongest body, purest heart, and a calm emotional center.” (p.231)
- “We believe this change [ICS] can only and must only happen through a passion for social justice first and foremost” (p.233)
To better understand the state of Education Schools and “Education Science”, I refer the reader to two recent articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education: How Ed Schools Became a Menace (also published in Quilette), and, How Ed Schools Became a Bastion of Bad Ideas. In Language at the Speed of Sight, Mark Seidenberg, Univerity of Wisconsin-Madison, also covers these issues in the last part of his book, especially, in Chapter 11: The Two Cultures of Science and Education.
Is it CRT?
In a word, yes: ICS is a tool to “create schools of social justice” p.232. It is a change that “can only and must only happen through a passion for social justice first and foremost” p.233. More precisely, ICS does not teach the legal origins of CRT, but through Critical Pedagogy and Cultural Relevant Teaching, it is the “praxis” of CRT. That is the application of CRT to education. Delgado and Stefancic, in Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, p7, subsection 1 of the section: “Spin-Off Movements”:
Although CRT began as a movement in the law, it has rapidly spread beyond that discipline. Today, many scholars in the field of education consider themselves critical race theorists who use CRT’s ideas to understand issues of school discipline and hierarchy, tracking, affirmative action, high-stakes testing, controversies over curriculum and history, bilingual and multicultural education, and alternative and charter schools. (See, e.g., Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education [Edward Taylor, David Gillborn & Gloria Ladson-Billing eds. 2d ed. 2015].)
This connects directly to ICS, where, in the ICS Handbook: “In ICS, the curriculum and instruction are built on a culturally relevant (Ladson-Billings, 1995) [curriculum].” p.21. To further substantiate this CRT connection, Ladson-Billings, in a 1998 paper entitled Just What Is Critical Race Theory And What’s It Doing In A Nice Field Like Education? holds up her work defining Culturally Relevant Teaching (Ladson-Billings, 1995) referenced in the previous citation as an example of CRT instruction.
Moreover, the authors argue that CRT and Culturally Relevant Teaching are the sole criteria for good teaching: “Landson-Billings suggests that we need to reconceptualize good teaching to mean teaching that is composed of culturally relevant instruction… …There is nothing magic or mysterious about culturally relevant instruction–it is just good teaching.” p.117
The process for ICS taking over a school district seems formulaic and has been repeated in Middleton-Cross Plains, New Berlin, Mequon-Thiensville, and Elmbrook (see below for a list of districts connected with ICS).
Based on the experiences of school districts in Wisconsin that are at different stages of implementing ICS, the methodology appears to be:
- It begins with pressuring the school board about racism present in the district. This pressure will come in the form of a letter to the school board referencing an online petition that has been signed by school alumni. The petition and letter(s) will be coordinated via a linktree website. An analysis of the New Berlin signatures revealed that only 18.5% of the 1200 signatures were residents.
- The pressure will lead to an “Equity Audit” which will be performed by ICS Equity. This audit is designed to find any disparities by race, gender, etc. And, the “Equity Audit” always shows that ICS Equity’s help is desperately needed.
- With the disastrous “Equity Audit”, ICS will offer its services by providing a workshop for the school board. The emphasis will be the school board members over the administration of the district as it will typically be the administration that is promoting ICS Equity. Often the administration will have some connection with ICS Equity or the founders, i.e., having done an advanced degree under their supervision. The goal under ICS is to neuter the school board so as to ensure that the board will rubber-stamping all the initiatives of the technocrats in the administration who are pushing the ICS agenda.
- Having tackled the school board, ICS Equity will begin the process of developing the “Equity Non-Negotiables” by forming a team of known “leaders for social justice” from the board, teachers, administration, and the community. The terms are typically extremely vague virtue-signaling statements intended to give cover for the extreme neo-Marxist, and neo-racist transformations that ICS will begin to implement.
- With the “Equity Non-Negotiables”, virtually all professional development will be around the ICS Equity framework and the “Equity Non-Negotiables”. At this point, if parents start questioning the changes in the district and the impact on education, the response will be that: “this is only training for the teachers and will have no impact on the classroom”.
- The impact on the teaching in the school is significant. All advanced, remedial, and special needs programs will be discouraged, diminished, and eventually terminated. All curriculum will be “vertically aligned” to push the extreme social justice views of CRT, promoting divisive identity politics and activism – this social constructivist indoctrination will replace the emphasis on knowledge and development of skills that most people expect from schools. The inevitable decline in competencies and ability will first be masked by eliminating grading and report cards and replace them with a general-purpose summary of what all students are supposed to be learning. The district will begin avoiding and downplaying state-required tests, focusing on “graduation rates” that they can game as compared to tests like the ACTs and the Forward exams. The district will also begin promoting a Portrait of a Graduate (or something similar) which is ICS/Critical Pedagogy’s version of the New Soviet Man. This extreme social constructivist, dehumanizing, anti-individual view of the students will virtue signal about the wondrous “21st Century skills” stamped out by the district as compared to those “useless, old pre-21st century skills” like Math, Science, English, and Social Studies.
- The district will become more and more aggressive in taking over all aspects of the children’s lives and will be invasive in the personal lives of the families. Official communications from the district will start talking about raising the students, e.g., the principal of Middleton High School, Peggy Shoemaker, said in a recent video: “How do we raise compassionate students?” Teachers will attempt to visit homes and will show up at non-school events like hockey games. The intent is to monitor and ensure that the home environment is promoting the proper neo-racist CRT social justice, and, if not, the teacher will attempt to correct for the “poor home environment”.
School Districts Under ICS Equity
No advanced, remedial, or special needs programs:
This heterogenous education setting requires the elimination of all special needs, remedial, and advanced programs. Recall that under ICS, a segregated program is a program where students are separated by ability so advanced, remedial, or special needs programs would be called “segregated” under ICS. This sort of overloading of terms is quite common in Marxist and neo-Marxist works in order to obfuscate, and trick people into agreement by changing the definitions of words essentially doublespeak, the combination of newspeak and doublethink from Orwell’s 1984.
- Moreover, they encourage lying to parents about this: “When educators in a school have made significant progress toward restructuring based on ICS principles, one practical way to avoid placing students in prepackaged programs and to meet individual student needs can take place in IEP meetings. In these meetings, practitioners who are working toward dismantling segregated programs and moving to ICS have found it helpful to assume that no separate programs exist in their schools.” (p.13)
- “With these principles, students do not have to be tracked into high-level classes to receive access to a rich and engaging curriculum.” (p.20)
- “Facilitate the implementation of ICS as a whole–to avoid establishing additional segregated programs in response to low student achievement, to help dismantle the segregated programs already in place” (p.48)
- “Advanced curriculum options such as advanced courses or programs (which would not exist in a full implementation of ICS in the first place)”, and “The entire procedure to assess children to determine their eligibility for specific programs is extremely flawed and often works against the development of Integrated Comprehensive Services” (p.212)
Against academic standards, excellence, and success:
- “At the middle school and high school level, teachers are often faced with students with low reading levels who may need intensive reading instruction… …following ICS principles, students must be allowed to choose to access this [reading assistance] course or class, and should not unilaterally be placed in it.” (p.15) Yes, they argue that a middle schooler should only get reading help if they explicitly ask for help.
- “When we celebrate student success, we sometimes inadvertently define who is part of the norm and who is not, who belongs and who does not.” (p.43)
- “In our first book (Capper et al., 2000), we discussed in detail various ways to assess student learning, and we described the creation and use of electronic student portfolios. These portfolios can also serve as individualized service plans for all learners instead of or along with a grade report card.” (p.128)
- “Alternative grading procedures such as [portfolios] may be applied at the elementary level, though less so at the middle school level, and rarely if ever at the high school level. Given the constraints placed upon high schools from post-secondary entrance procedures and evaluation systems, at this point, we are not interested in tackling alternative grading methods at the secondary level.” (p.128)
Against any student agency: ICS demands an extreme social constructivist view, denying students have any agency.
- “Sources of student failure is the system, hence the system needs to accommodate the student” (p.11)
- “With ICS, the onus of student failure is on the school, and any student failure is viewed as something that is askew in the educational system.” (p.12)
- Like “heterogeneous settings”, statements echoing the notion that the system is the sole and only possible reason for any student ever failing are regularly repeated throughout the text.
Authoritarian, anti-democratic and neuters the school board:
- “In this model, the school board is a support mechanism but does not have top-down authority. It actually is at the bottom of the heap, wrapped around the central office as a support.” (p.34)
- “Leaders for ICS and social justice may need to boldly take the lead–in some ways, to engage in autocratic leadership to move the school out of the quagmire of failure.” (p.35)
- “If, in fact, the legislation is in opposition to ICS, then the legislation must be leveraged or changed in support of ICS” (p.35)
- “Leaders for ICS and social justice understand policies and regulations enough to determine what to circumvent and what to use in support of ICS” (p.38)
- “School leaders cannot wait for this to happen. They must forge ahead with creating new paths at the school and district level and provide examples to state and federal policymakers of how merging federal policies in a comprehensive and seamless manner could occur for the success of all learners” (p.220)
Encourages misappropriation of funds:
- “Educators persistently assume that particular funds or resources cannot be commingled, and this only reinforces the creation of segregated programs.” ( p.21)
- “With ICS, funding sources and policies are merged with a focus on prevention of student struggle. Resource reallocation forms the basis of funding decisions (see Odden & Archibald, 2001). That is, a school leader takes into account sources of funding at the federal, state, district, and school levels (minority student achievement, gifted and talented, alcohol, and other drug abuse, special education, Title I, at-risk, bilingual, special education, and so on) and then combines these funds in a way to best serve students in heterogeneous learning environments. Staff are also viewed as resources–staff skills and expertise are considered when placing students–and staff is assigned to students and classrooms based on ICS core principles.” (p.21) To paraphrase, funds for specialized programs can be diluted (taken away from the students it is intended for and distributed across all students) by working the classrooms and placing a “specialized teacher” in a heterogeneous classroom where they will spend say 10% of their time with students for which the funding is directed, but 100% of their salary plus the additional allocation of funds to the program will be still be wholly attributed to that classroom.
Manipulate data for their own ends:
- Chapter 4 – Data for Consciousness Raising, Decision Making, and Evaluation. The chapter title promotes the activist notion of “Consciousness Raising”, i.e., using data for activism.
- “However, just because data can be produced about a practice to show its supposed effectiveness does not mean that that practice should continue” (p.55)
- “[ICS leaders] know how to arrange the data in easy-to-read graphs and charts that make the equity strengths and areas for improvement quite visible.” (p.56)
- “Continue to collect and use data in ways that can support their efforts” (p.231)
Disdain for parents and overreach of schools into the lives of children:
- “That is, within ICS, rather than attempting to get families involved in schools, we advocate for schools working harder to become involved in the lives of families.” (p.97)
- “The educators make home visits a top priority” (p.98)
- “All students’ homes are visited at least once a year by someone in the school” (p.98)
- “Structuring academic assignments with students in ways that involve their families” (p.100)
- “The best response to any resistance [to ICS] is continued communication and education…Thus, leaders will need to patiently communicate and continue to educate parents who seemingly have plenty of education” (p.106)
Poor and Detrimental Learning Practices
Underlying the learning approach of the ICS Equity program called “Co-Plan to Co-Server to CoLearn Teams” (abbreviate C3 Teams) are multiple education myths that are not just inefficient, but actually detrimental to the learning process. In particular, ICS requires the myth of “learning styles” and the myth of pure discovery-based learning.
For further reading, there is an excellent text: How Learning Happens by Kirschner & Hendrick which provides a great introduction to 28 key works in educational and cognitive psychology, and the implications to education. These disciplines take a scientific approach, and the results are typically ignored by “Education Science” found in the Ed Schools. Hence, the preponderance of educational myths in public schools. In addition to the great works, they also caution against educational myths and the final chapter describes the “Ten Deadly Sins in Education”.
Learning Style Myths: ICS promotes that “The curriculum is based on learning styles, and students aligned in project groups to meet their individual needs” (p.124). Again, this is one of the most damaging myths in education and is central to ICS’ “child-centric” education (Chapter 8). The notions of learning styles were invented by an educator not based on research, but based on his belief in magic, much like the belief that is professed by the adherents of ICS: “But one topic that seemed to hold some magic, some explanatory power, was preferred modes of learning, ’modal preferences.”’
To understand the myth, Chapter 29 from How Learning Happens goes into detail. Prior to Chapter 29, they succinctly say on p.46: “LEARNING STYLES: Bogus theory claiming learners learn best in a preferred style.” and “These so-called learning styles have been exposed as nonsense in research time after time.” This is the second of the “Ten Deadly Sins in Education” of How Learning Happens (Kirschner, Paul, and Hendrick, Carl. How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice. Routledge, 2020).
To learn more about the Learning Style Myth, there is a well-done YouTube video by Veritasium, and the references therein.
Pure Discovery-Based Learning: Again, ICS promotes that “The curriculum is based on learning styles, and students aligned in project groups to meet their individual needs” (ICS Handbook, p.124). The second part of the statement of “project groups” references their promotion of pure discovery-based learning which is another education myth promoted by educators with anti-science biases.
This myth is discussed well in the following: Mayer RE. Should There Be a Three-Strikes Rule Against Pure Discovery Learning? The Case For Guided Methods of Instruction. Am Psychol. 2004 Jan;59(1):14-9, and Chapter 19 of How Learning Happens. This is the seventh of the “Ten Deadly Sins in Education” of How Learning Happens.
Whole Language Reading: Whole Language Reading is the discovery-based approach to reading, and is alluded to in the ICS Handbook, in particular, in Chapter 10. This approach is based on the wholly erroneous idea that humans learn to read in the same way that they learn to talk. It was thoroughly discredited over 30 years ago.
It is typically sold under the moniker of “balanced reading” or “balanced literature”. It is important to note that not all “balanced literature” programs are whole language approaches.
One example of a whole language approach is the very popular Lucy Calkins. A recent review of Lucy Calkins by Achieve the Core and reported on by APM Reports notes its deficiencies. A particularly salient quote is:
For students who come from homes where they’re exposed to sophisticated oral language
and who acquire knowledge from well-educated parents, the lack of explicit instruction
in these areas [referring to knowledge-building and language development] might not
be a problem. But other students may be left behind, according to reviewer Marilyn
Adams, a prominent reading researcher who is a visiting scholar at Brown University.
“Students who enter school having had fewer opportunities to grow academic knowledge
and vocabulary depends critically on such opportunities to catch up and move forward,”
Anti-science and Pro-activist Science Standards: While not explicitly endorsed in the ICS handbook, they call for all teaching to be aligned with the CRT social justice viewpoint as this is the only “good teaching”. As such, an ICS district will likely switch to the Next Generation Science Standards. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has published a comprehensive report on this anti-science, anti-reason, and anti-rigor, “science” standard.
From the NAS report: “The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have done more to degrade American K-12 science education than any other ‘education reform’ in the last generation.” and “Education ‘reformers’ who dislike rigor and rich content dislike any proper science education—because scientific reasoning cannot be taught without rigor and rich content.”
School Districts that have been Linked with ICS Equity:
• Cedarburg School District
• DeForest Area School District
• Elmbrook School District
• Fond du Lac School District
• Greendale School District
• Greenfield, School District of
• Glendale-River Hills District
• Hudson School District
• Mequon-Thiensville School District
• Middleton-Cross Plains School District
• Milwaukee Public Schools
• Monona Grove School District
• Northland Pines School District
• Oshkosh School District
• Shorewood School District
• South Milwaukee, School District of
• Stoughton Area School District
• Verona Area School District
• Wauwatosa School District
• West Allis-West Milwaukee School District
• Whitefish Bay School District
**UPDATE: The School District of New Berlin was removed from the list of schools linked with ICS Equity, as it appears the board was considering working with the group but in the end voted against it.
Marc Renault, PhD, is a computer scientist and a father of two boys. Originally from Canada, Marc spent many years in Paris where he got his PhD in Algorithms (Theoretical Computer Science) with a teaching mission. After his doctorate, he held research and teaching positions in both France and Canada before coming to Wisconsin, where his principal focus is on proven, science-based teaching of undergraduate Computer Science courses. Marc is also the co-Chapter Leader for the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR) Dane County (https://www.fairforall.org/dane-county/)