West High School Presentation on 10th Grade English: Same Curriculum for All Students

Click to view the Video

MP3 audio only

Barb Schrank, Videographer

Principal Ed Holmes, English department chair Keesia Hyzer, and teacher Mark Nepper presented information on the planned single English curriculum for all 10th graders at West this past Monday evening. Watch the video or listen to the audio by clicking on the links just to the left of this text. Background on this matter:

  • Joan Knoebel

    This post is an excellent example of how the SIS site gives the public access to primary source information. Kudos, Jim and other active participants!
    Watching the video put my teeth on edge. If it wasn’t clear to those in attendance, this is a done deal. You can write letters and go to meetings until your children graduate but these folks are committed social engineers and your children are not the children they are primarily concerned with educating. From their perspective, your children will be fine, already scoring well by all achievement measures. MMSD will gladly take credit for National Merit and other achievements of these talented students, but take no special steps to ensure that they are adequately challenged in their regular school day. Actually benign neglect would be preferable to actively dumbing down their experience which is what we now see happening.
    That West got some grant money for the SLC concept is an especially lame excuse for dismantling what was best about its curriculum, the English department. Here’s the harsh reality: West staff applied for that grant, they actively sought this out, they are making this happen. Do you honestly think they care how you feel? If they did, they would have involved the full community before they made that application. Don’t buy “the grant is making us do this” baloney.
    (The history as I recall it is that the decision to pursue this grant was made by a small group of administrators, teachers and a handful of parents whose children would no longer be at West when the changes took place. Then Principal Rathert announced it in the Regent Reporter as a pilot program much like the one at Memorial, structured to improve social relations between and among students and staff. Next we knew, pretty much over the summer, the language changed to the core curriculum concept and the 9th grade core was quickly implemented.)
    [Waving a red flag] It’s obvious that the needs of the high achieving students will be sacrificed on the altar of closing the minority achievement gap. Furthermore, this sacrifice is being done in the absence of data to prove that the gap will actually shrink (unless of course what happens is that the scores of white students fall.)
    Glancing over some of the earlier posts on MMSD demographics and comparative statistics with other school districts, this fact jumped out at me–white enrollment has plummeted from 17,937 to 13,712 in the past decade.I would like to have seen the data on the correlation between race, test performance and socioeconomic status, by the way. When I’ve looked at the district’s stats in previous years, the correlation between being white/ middle class with high performance was quite strong. Thus, the decreasing enrollment of white students should be putting the district on alert as to why these families are disappearing and what it will mean for the district’s sacred scores. But instead of increasing AP offerings and raising expectations for ALL students, we see high school small learning communities/heterogeneous groupings and watered-down curricula, and in middle school, connected math. (By the way, does anyone else see this incongruity: while it’s perfectly okay to talk about improving minority achievement, which inherently suggests there’s a deficiency of some sort connected to minority status, it’s not okay to talk about the performance of other races even if only in a socioeconomic context, and I fully expect someone to go off on me here. Lucy, are you out there?)
    How will MMSD’s performance stats look in another decade if more families of high achieving students leave because of active efforts like the dumbing down of West? (Or maybe MMSD will get lucky and they’ll just flee to Memorial with its rich AP offerings rather than to Middleton, Verona or private schools.)
    What kept our family committed to West (our youngest having graduated this past spring) was the extraordinary group of TAG peers. West’s SLC concept will spread that group of kids across the four “houses”. In addition, the English honors designation, two lunch hour meetings/week, amounts to punishment for high achievers, extra work and lost opportunity to socialize with their friends at lunch or in clubs. That this is the bone West is tossing to TAG English students proves my earlier point—this is not about meeting the needs of all students, of really improving everyone’s educational experience, but rather of bolstering the stats of just a few, as Ed Blume pointed out, the less than 20% of the school who are functioning just at or below grade level. As I said earlier, you can lessen the minority achievement gap two ways–increasing the bottom or decreasing the top. But whatever the outcome of the scores, to my mind, tending to that gap should not have to be accomplished by diminishing the challenge for the top students, by morphing high school, horrors, into middle school.

  • Ed Blume

    Well said, Joan!
    If the grant seems to be forcing staff to make changes that they don’t want to make, then the MMSD should refuse the money, just as the superintendent refused to take $2 million in federal funding for reading.
    After all the requests for documentation on the impact of core curriculum on academic achievement, has the MMSD produced any studies? (I haven’t been able to watch the video due to technical problems with my computer, so if the MMSD cites some studies, my apologies for asking. I’d be happy to track down any cited studies and post them on the blog.)