Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: A Look at the Educational Histories of the 29 West HS National Merit Semi-Finalists

Earlier this semester, 60 MMSD students — including 29 from West HS — were named 2006 National Merit Semifinalists. In a 10/12/05 press release, MMSD Superintendent Art Rainwater said, “I am proud of the many staff members who taught and guided these students all the way from elementary school, and of this district’s overall guidance and focus that has led to these successes.”
A closer examination of the facts, however, reveals that only 12 (41%) of West High School’s 29 National Merit Semifinalists attended the Madison public schools continuously from first grade on (meaning that 59% received some portion of their K-8 schooling in either private schools or non-MMSD public schools). Here’s the raw data:

NMSF #1: Wingra K-5th; Hamilton
NMSF #2: FranklinRandall K-5th; Wright for 6th; Hamilton 7th-8th
NMSF #3: MidvaleLincoln, K-5th; Cherokee
NMSF #4: Denver public schools (magnet Montessori school) K-6th; Hamilton 7th-8th
NMSF #5: New Orleans parochial school K-8th; New Orleans public high school through 11th
NMSF #6: Libertyville, IL, public schools (“extremely rigorous”) through first semester 10th
NMSF #7: Franklin-Randall, K-5th; Hamilton
NMSF #8: Van Hise, K-5th; Hamilton
NMSF #9: Van Hise, K-5th; Hamilton
NMSF #10: Starkville, MS, public schools K-8th
NMSF #11: Japanese school for K; Glenn Stephens 1st-4th; Van Hise for 5th; Hamilton
NMSF #12: Franklin-Randall, K-5th; Hamilton
NMSF #13: Madison Central Montessori through 3rd; Shorewood 3rd-5th; Hamilton
NMSF #14: Lincoln-Midvale through 4th; Eagle 5th-8th
NMSF #15: Eagle K-8th
NMSF #16: MMSD through 9th; home schooled beginning in 10th
NMSF #17: Leopold though 4th; Eagle 5th-8th
NMSF #18: Lapham K-2nd; Randall 3rd-5th; Hamilton
NMSF #19: California private school through 5th; Hamilton
NMSF #20: Midvale and Van Hise; Hamilton
NMSF #21: Seattle public schools (TAG pullout program) through 7th; Hamilton for 8th
NMSF #22: Unknown private school K-1st; Eagle 2nd-8th
NMSF #23: Lincoln-Midvale K-5th; Cherokee
NMSF #24: Madison Central Montessori through 4th; Eagle 5th-8th
NMSF #25: Shorewood K-5th; Hamilton
NMSF #26: Queen of Peace through 5th; Hamilton
NMSF #27: West Middleton through 4th; Eagle 5th-8th
NMSF #28: Montessori pre-K through 2nd; Shorewood 4th-5th; Eagle 5th-8th
NMSF #29: Shorewood K-5th; Hamilton

Looking at the sample in a little more detail, we find the following:

  • Elementary school (K-5) history: 31% attended private school for three or more years (an additional 21% attended non-MMSD public schools for three or more years — total: 52%).
  • Middle school (6-8) history: 28% attended private school for two or more years (an additional 14% attended non-MMSD public schools for two or more years — total: 42%).
  • K-8 schooling history: 28% attended private school for five or more of their K-8 school years (an additional 17% attended non-MMSD public schools for five or more of their K-8 school years — total: 45%)

Although we do not have K-8 attendance data for the entire class, it seems unlikely to think that almost 30% of current West seniors attended private school for five or more of their pre-high school years. Thus on this single demographic variable, the 29 West National Merit Semifinalists are probably different from their classmates, generally.
Descriptive data like these are certainly interesting, though they often raise more questions than they answer. And of course, they don’t prove anything. Nevertheless, with 45% of the West HS National Merit Semifinalist sample attending non-MMSD schools for over half of their K-8 years, it is recommended that the District temper its sense of pride in and ownership of these very accomplished students.
Many thanks to each of these fine young people for speaking with us on the telephone. Congratulations and good luck to each and every one of them!

  • Tim Schell

    “Nevertheless, with 45% of the West HS National Merit Semifinalist sample attending non-MMSD schools for over half of their K-8 years, it is recommended that the District temper its sense of pride in and ownership of these very accomplished students.”
    Why? About half of these relocated to Madison. It seems to me that if we are going to put an asterisk next to those students, then we should also be willing to give some credit for any semifinalists that started out in the MMSD elementary schools before relocating out of the district. Unfortunately, that data would be hard to develop, but it is likely that former students went on to be semifinalists.

  • Lucy Mathiak

    Laurie, thank you for taking the time to pull this together. I think I have a slightly different take, Tim. I’m particularly interested in the numbers on students who came out of Eagle School because when I looked at the list, I recognized a number of the names from my son’s 4-7 grade years there. Some had been in Eagle from the beginning, others had moved to Eagle when they moved far enough up the waiting list to get in. [I’d have to go back and look at the list, but suspect that there would be Eagle kids on the list from Memorial; there were fewer kids from the East side]
    If you look closely, you will see that a number of students say Eagle 5-8. That’s because they were in the classes that were admitted when Eagle doubled its size (my son was a 4th grader) and could take a significant number of new students. E.g., they were part of a large group of students and families who bailed from MMSD around that time.
    The parent meetings at Eagle were populated by a significant number of people who, like me, had spent years trying to get the district to take advanced academic programming seriously (including district-organized TAG parent meetings). I knew they looked familiar, but it took me a while to figure out why.
    When our children re-entered the public system, they had already had the equivalent or more of high school English, social studies, foreign languages, and math. They had already taken the SAT (my son took it for the first time in 4th grade), and participated in significant ‘enrichment’ activities here and elsewhere.
    To the extent that MMSD permitted these students to continue to move to the “next level of challenge,” it can and should claim a portion of the NMSF glory. But the district also should be careful about statements that imply that the number of NMSF students solely reflects the high quality of K-12 education available in the district. That simply is not the case.

  • Ed Blume

    Isn’t the National Merit distinction based on one of those horrible standardized tests that experts tell us are meaningless . . . until they want to use standarized test results to prove THEIR point?

  • Lucy Mathiak

    PSAT

  • Jerry Eykholt

    Nice note and congratualtions to those finalists, their parents, and the schools that helped them along the way.
    My count is a bit different. For a total of 29 students and 13 years of education each (K-12), I get 377 total student-years. Of that, 73 student-years were spent in private, parochial, or home schooling. That’s slightly less than 20%.
    I think the public schools can gloat with 80% efficiency!
    Come on now! What matters most is how we continue to challenge and bring resources to all kids to move forward, with passion, to solve problems. We need these and other kids to engage with each other and their communities, and to CARE about solving problems dynamically in an increasingly complex world. Kudos to private and public schools alike for providing our students with good learning environments and real-world complexity.
    Now, let’s move forward!

  • Joan Knoebel

    Thanks, Laurie, for teasing out the fact that a goodly number of these National Merit kids wove their way in and out of public/private schools. (Our family did this, too.) It’s probably safe to say that these students had parents very involved in their educations–choosing to relocate to another school is a tough decision, one we didn’t make lightly. Second, these families likely had the financial ability to make these choices–private school isn’t cheap–or the skills to find the scholarships.
    I’m willing to bet that most if not all of the National Merit kids have parents who care about and are actively involved in their education, by the way.
    I’m tired of the district touting these kids’ accomplishments as though the district deserves all the credit especially at the same time as it acts to make changes that won’t enrich their academic experiences, eg., West’s English 10 and the paucity of AP classes especially in the sciences.

  • Tim Schell

    This is an interesting discussion and I would like to thank Laurie and everyone else.
    I still think it is important to distinguish between students whose non-MMSD K-8 education was due to relocation from those that those that attended Eagle, the parochial schools, etc. in Dane County. The numbers in the latter group are enough to illustrate the phenomenon Lucy and Joan speak to where families are choosing to enroll their children at private schools for at least part of their K-8 years. The school’s role is to provide challenging and high-quality learning experiences for all students, regardless of achievement level. I’m glad that is being discussed on this blog.
    I understand the sensitivity regarding school districts taking credit for the accomplishments of their students, but the MMSD press release did not strike me as extreme. The full Art Rainwater quote was “”The students and their families deserve the most congratulations for this special honor,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater. “Also, I am proud of the many staff members who taught and guided these students all the way from elementary school, and of this district’s overall guidance and focus that has led to these successes.” I don’t interpret that as an attempt to take all credit for the school district, but perhaps that is my bias. Noteworthy student achievements are often a great opportunity for an administrator to offer some positive acknowledgement to staff, which is important. As long as one acknowledges that the greatest credit goes to the students and their families, I’m comfortable with that.
    I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview some of MMSD’s most high achieving students as an alumni interviewer for my alma mater. Without exception, they have benefited greatly from families that were supportive of their aspirations and involved in their education. I’m sure the same applies to all, or almost all, of the semi-finalists.

  • Lucy Mathiak

    Tim, thank you for the notes.
    I can’t speak for others, but I think that my reaction to the numbers and to the quote that you gave from Art, is a sense of dismay. The phrase “all the way from elementary school” was particularly hard to swallow because while there were some staff members who made a huge difference, there were others whose role in his education ranged from apathetic to hostile and in some cases cruel. (ex. the teacher who allowed the other students to ridicule and humiliate my son when he tried to explain the Oxygen cycle in first grade)
    The decision to relocate my child to a private school was deeply painful. Part of me wished that I had done so sooner, part of me felt like we were in exile.
    I don’t blame the teachers or the in-school staff, who tried very hard before we left and who have been SUPER since he returned to public school in 8th grade.
    The problem is that the reluctance to acknowledge difference and the frequent inabilities to provide appropriate instruction for (or at times even be sensitive to) students with advanced abilities often place students at risk. This is why we went into exile.
    I should note that my child is a junior this year so just took the PSAT that is used to create the NMSF list. Whether or not he makes it is not a huge deal for my family, so this is not about “my child” being on the list. At the same time, should there be similar claims about “many staff members who taught and guided these students all the way from elementary school,” I will need to find a barf bag.

  • Tim Schell

    Lucy,
    Thanks. I have always believed that private and parochial schools provide valuable alternatives to families who seek a particular educational experience (religious education, unique or alternative curriculum, boarding, etc.) that public schools cannot provide. But I would feel a personal sense of failure if parents judged that my school was not differentiating to meet student needs or providing a positive learning environment and were opting for private schools as a result.
    I’m a parent, but the career lens is pretty strong. I think there is a difference of inside vs. outside audiences in the interpretation of the phrase “all the way from elementary school.” For a parent who has had to fight battles to obtain the kind of educational experience they feel their child needs, I can see it rankling. In defense of Art Rainwater, however, I think the choice of words was intended for the teaching staff. High school student achievements often stick most closely to the high schools, but are the product of many factors. To the extent to which the educational institution was a contributing factor, the contributions of teachers in the lower grades are often too little acknowledged. I viewed the phrase as a tip of the hat to elementary staff as part of the K-12 school influence on these outstanding young men and women.
    Now, if you are a parent who had a negative experience during their child’s elementary education, I can understand your reaction. I’ll be interested to see how the public affairs office presents this in the future. The wording used this year is very similar to that in 2004, but different formulations have been used in the past that probably would have been better received.
    I benefit as a parent and also as an educator from the perspectives everyone shares on this blog. And I hope that I do not come across as hidebound or insensitive. It’s very easy to stay in our personal echo chambers and I appreciate the opportunity to consider a range of ideas and challenge my assumptions. You, Laurie, Joan, and Ed certainly help with that!

  • Joan Knoebel

    Thank you, Tim, for the perspective you offer.
    I think Lucy has articulated well how it hard it is to make these choices for our children–you feel like you’re bailing but your child’s needs are just not getting met.
    One of the things that often gets lost in discussions about TAG kids is that they are just that, kids. They need a curriculum tailored to their skills but they also need their peers. So pulling out, walking away to a better fit academically also often means walking away from a good group of friends
    Our son was a National Merit finalist, so it does rankle me for the district to claim credit for this and other successes both our kids earned and got notice for, knowing how hard we had to fight over the years, including a move to a private school (with tuition as much as we had paid for our college years) we would rather not have had to make.
    At the end of the day, I see it as my responsibility to advocate for my kids, trying to do so in a way that acknowledges the roles and rights of others. I appreciate this site as a way for us to exchange these ideas, reach a better understanding, and, hopefully, impact the direction the district takes in the future.

  • Lucy Mathiak

    Tim,
    thank you so much for your post. It had not occurred to me that the comments about “from elementary…” would be meant to acknowledge the full range of staff. And even though we had to step out for four years, there is a teacher who has been an invaluable advocate at every step of the way, including reality checks and thoughts about the re-entry process.
    Your comments are great food for thought. I work in college relations and am painfully aware of the opportunity to think something through, believe that the message is a good thing, and then discover that an entirely unexpected group of people are furious at what was said. It doesn’t happen often in my experience (thank god), but when it does we are “covered with rue.”
    Thanks for hanging in there long enough to get me to “it’s not all about me.”
    This blog is great – I truly value the opportunity to vet ideas, hear new ones, and engage with other people who are equally passionate about our schools and what they can be.

  • Laurie Frost

    What a lively conversation!
    Jerry, that’s an interesting variable you’ve come up with – “student-years.” Not sure what it’s real world meaning is, and I still think individual student experience may be the more appropriate unit of measurement for this very simple descriptive exercise; but that’s O.K. I’m not going to quibble.
    My greater discomfort with what you’ve done with the data is that you’ve added four high school years per student. First of all, the PSAT/NMSQT is taken during the first semester of junior year, so it would be more accurate to add, say, 2 or 2.5 years to each, not 4. More importantly, since there are very few non-MMSD options at the high school level (Edgewood HS; Madison Country Day, which only goes up to 11th grade this year; boarding school; home schooling), Madison high schoolers are pretty much a captive audience for the District. I think that by adding in high school data, you are taking advantage of that situation. At the very least, let’s see what the student-year percentages are for K-8, shall we?
    For the 29 students, there are 261 (29 X 9) student-years; 145 (55.6%) are MMSD student-years and 116 (44.4%) are non-MMSD student-years. These percentages are very different from what you obtained when you counted 13 years per each of the 29 students.
    Also, friends, the quote by Art is only one small example of the way the District regularly – and reflexively — takes credit for the accomplishments of its highest performing students. Explain this specific comment away, if you will; it still leaves plenty of others, as any of you who have heard Art speak well know. Please try to understand, too, that these students and their parents wouldn’t mind the District taking quite a chunk of credit if they also felt the District took seriously its responsibility to meet the educational needs of its highest performing, highest potential students. (Important note: our sons have also had some absolutely superb teachers along the way, teachers who made them stretch and took delight in their very spirits. We are grateful to each and every one of them and have done our part to make sure they have been recognized with Crystal Apple Awards, MMSD Distinguished Service Awards, etc.) But it doesn’t, and less so with every passing year. It’s more than the pressures of school financing, NCLB, etc. As much as anything, it’s a pervasive problem of attitude. A friend of mine who is close to the Superintendent and certain BOE members tells me they are concerned about “bright flight” and fully determined not to let the Madison public schools become like those in Milwaukee. I tell my friend that’s reassuring to hear, but point out that observable behavior doesn’t reflect the level of concern and determination he says is there.
    Finally, someone mentioned college admissions interviewing. I have also done admissions interviewing for my alma mater for almost 20 years, and likewise have had the privilege of spending time with some of our most accomplished young people, mostly – though not exclusively – west side MMSD students. One of the questions I typically ask my interviewees is to tell me about a challenging intellectual experience they have had. The answers I receive are usually not about a specific class at school. More often, I hear about a summer school experience, a work experience or a specific academic extracurricular activity. Sometimes I hear “I’m not sure I’ve really had one yet.” I also ask them about how they understand their own success in life thus far. To a one, they give praise and thanks to their parents, for all of their support and guidance.
    Laurie
    P.S. I am grateful to those of you who have shared your personal experience – your private agony – over the decision of where to send your children to school. If it helps any of you understand me better, please know that we are currently struggling with this decision in our family. Not in a big way yet, not for next year; but for the year after, when our 7th grader is ready for high school. At this point, we feel pretty confident that his older brother (10th grade) will make it through West just fine. We are not, however, convinced that our younger son will be able to have the same experience there when his turn comes. Guess we’ll see. Meanwhile, we intend to do everything we can – as parents and as citizens – to keep the needs of academically talented students and the District’s responsibility to them on the table and in the news.

  • Donald Pay

    It’s absolutely heartbreaking to me to read these stories that demonstrate that public schools are failing to provide appropriate education for gifted children. Many people on this blog have the means to take their child to a private school. What happens to the gifted kid who happens to be poor, or has a parent who can’t advocate effectively for their gifted children?
    It’s just not happening in Madison. I served on a school board that cut back gifted education while pouring money into special education and remedial classes. (I voted against the budget.) For all the talk about how heterogenous classes are educationally beneficial, the real truth is that these classes are cheaper to operate. These are mainly budget-driven decisions.
    That said I have to state that I’ve switched my position on TAG programming. In far too many districts, TAG programming is an easy target for cuts. Even if the TAG programs continue, they often survive as sops to parents, rather than as real educational experiences. The best thing that could be done for gifted education now is to eliminate TAG and funnel those dollars along with the other dollars that follow the child into separate magnet schools for gifted kids.
    Anyone agree?

  • Jerry Eykholt

    Lauri had some difficulty with my numbers. She’s right, I’ll revise my estimate.
    11.25 years of schooling prior to the PSAT for 29 students = 326.25 student-years.
    Of this, about 71.25 student-years were spent in private, parochial, or home schools. This is 21.8%.
    So, our able administrator and the school board can gloat with 78.2% efficiency (instead of my earlier claim of gloating with 80% efficiency).
    Very sorry about my mistake. Now, I think they overdid it. I mean, if you can’t gloat with a full 80% efficiency, why gloat at all?
    I know this is a serious thread… but I couldn’t help myself. Please forgive me for my silliness. High-performing kids, if you are reading this, please ignore the main point about moving forward in the earlier note and know that we are proud of all of you.
    By the way, the mixed variable of student-years is useful for obtaining weighted averages. The student-years divided by the number of students gives the weighted average number of years.

  • Laurie Frost

    Jerry,
    Thank you for crunching those numbers. (I knew you would. 🙂 ) You’ve avoided my more substantive point, though, about Madison teens being a captive audience for Madison’s high schools and the possibility that you’re capitalizing on that situation in your analysis. Perhaps you simply think it’s better to take into account all schooling before the first semester of 11th grade? That’s certainly your perogative. I guess I take a more nuanced view of what the reality is and ask the question “Why do these percentages change so drastically from the end of 8th grade to the beginning of 11th grade?”
    There is no doubt in my mind that if there were adequate choices at the high school level (i.e., a couple of established non-parochial private high schools), these numbers would look very different. Let’s say, for example, that Eagle expanded into high school (something it currently has no plans to do). For one thing, many to most of the kids already in attendance there would likely stay for high school. For another, families like ours — for whom this doesn’t become an issue until middle school — wouldn’t say “why bother sending our child there for only a year?” If Eagle went through 12th grade, starting there in 8th grade wouldn’t be a big deal.
    That said, a magnet high school for students of high ability, high potential, and high motivation would be a great thing. In order to insure the diversity of its student body, the District would need to take on the responsibility for the early and ongoing identification of talent (like the pilot project currently going on at Mendota ES), coupled with ongoing efforts to support and retain high performing students from diverse backgrounds (like what’s going on with Project Excel, and what Wendy Johnson is doing with bright African American girls at Toki MS). Lucy said it so well a few days ago: the equation of minority, poor and low achieving is outrageous, damaging, racist and dead wrong! We don’t need District staff saying to parents things like “oh, you just don’t know the minority kids at this school; they could never do what you’re suggesting.” (true story)
    One of the main reasons why the District needs to step up to the plate on all of this is so that none of it is dependent on parental advocacy any longer. Another is to make sure our academically talented students from less advantaged backgrounds get their educational needs met and fulfill their true potential. A District commitment to these efforts is needed in order to insure equal access and participation. Think of the District-wide end-of-fifth-grade math assessment grown very large.

  • Jerry Eykholt

    Lauri,
    No math in this note.
    Thank you for your note. I’m not sure that a magnet high school would be such a great thing. Main reasons – revenue caps, limited public will to fully support high quality public education, and resulting competition within the MMSD budget.
    I was told I was a gifted student, especially in music and mathematics. However, although my family had very limited means, I had a treasure of learning opportunities within the public schools (that were not as good as Madison’s). When I went to college and grad school – I had something greater than AP courses, I had a real interest in what I was learning. When I look at all the resources beyond the public schools (libraries, the web, amazing resource books, foreign exchange opportunities, civic organizations, music groups) I can’t imagine a gifted student feeling stifled. I know it happens, to great grief of parents and schools. But, isn’t some of this boredom a bit of a choice – or does the blame rest squarely on the schools? What constructive measures can we take as a community to solve important academic disconnects?
    What is the experience of our best educators? What is the state of the high-performing student in terms of his or her zeal for an authentic, academic experience? Has this improved with greater parental advocacy?
    When I taught Civil Engineering at UW-Madison (1994-2001), I saw many young adults with near-perfect SAT’s, straight A’s, and lots of other impressive academic credentials. However, increasingly over my few years of teaching, I also saw a lack of awareness of the problems they’d like to help solve. I often saw a lack of passion and direction, and I saw many B-students routinely outperforming the others in true academic involvement (taking greater risks with ideas expressed in the classroom, following through with ideas with me and their classmates after class, and making more connections with world and community dynamics).
    So, from my limited understanding of the other side of high-school and our fear-based educational goals (you better master this now or you’ll get slaughtered in college), I think the real problem is one of engagement. I sense that our high-achieving kids have been disadvantaged to some degree by parental advocacy. They’ve had too much of the goals of someone else. They’ve been sold a faulty guarantee (do well in school, go into computer programming, and you’ll go far). In a sense, they’ve been told that they don’t need to fill a gap expressed by our larger communities – that they can skate above its problems with their excellence. It’s the clearest moral of the “Apprentice” and “Survivor”.
    I believe the plight of gifted kids who happen to belong to a racial minority group can also be shaped with a heightened sense of building economic opportunities that (in too many cases) also narrows social and authentic academic engagement. In some cases, it’s because of the unwanted attention on different poles they get (Wow, that kid can really perform! Why are you trying to act so white?).
    Providing a healthy and diverse learning environment for all learners helps the exceptional learners to a great degree. There are, of course, large changes in social policy and community actions (such as too many kids opting out of public schools) that make it tougher to provide healthy and diverse learning environments. For much of this, we need to look beyond our schools.
    Cornell West believes we can all benefit with the attitudes of a blues people. That means we need to cry together, moan our troubles and our own failings when they cut us, but ultimately do it in a way that celebrates our basic, human connections. We need to do it in a way that builds back hope. How can we do that with the Madison TAG story?
    I’m sad for the students that are sold a pathway that ultimately leads to social disengagement. In too many cases, they will miss the wave that has been proclaimed as their destiny (such as might be typified by a biotech MAGNET school). I worry about the risk that they will ultimately be hardened, not enabled by their education.
    Lauri, I think you missed my point. These kids have been used as trophies for some other battle long enough. It’s time they are released to a real world of dynamic complexity, too many problems that we are leaving for them, and an opportunity for them to form their own generation, through social engagement amidst their learning. I think that release should happen around the 9th grade. After that, they should have enough maturity to know it’s up to them to be their own advocates and leaders for forming their own generation. We can assist, mentor, and guide by example, but it is their journey.
    Paul Tillich said, “Without method, there is no knowledge. But, without passion, there is no method.” I think we have so many tools, road maps, chemistry labs, smart and dedicated volunteers – but we have to love the whole community in order to move academically talented children forward. Last I checked, the school board and administrators are members of our community. Maybe, as a blues people, we can put the focus on education for larger purposes (rather than in the excellence itself) and work towards the same goals. I see the rest as counter-productive.

  • Janet Mertz

    I favor a TAG magnet high school similar to the one I attended in NYC, The Bronx High School of Science. When I attended it, 80% of the students were admitted based upon an entrance exam, grades, and teacher recommendations. 20% of the slots were reserved for minorities admitted largely upon recommendations from their teachers and school administrators, i.e., students who exhibited high potential, but might not have scored well enough on the entrance exam due to lack of a highly supportive home or school environment. Over the decades this school has done a terrific job of serving the academic and social needs of poor-to-middle class bright students whose families could not afford private schools or to live in the suburbs. Many of these students are ethnic minority immigrants or children of immigrants willing to work hard to excel. Currently, a vast majority of them are students of color. I worked harder at this school than at MIT, loving it because I was surrounded by like-minded soles. Likewise, only 35-40% of MIT’s undergraduate students are white! It IS possible to provide an educational environment that is both academically challenging for gifted students AND ethnically diverse.
    The MMSD likes to take credit for student accomplishments, even when they played only a minimal role in them. For example, my older son attended a private school for grades K-8 and subsequently attended UW-Madison for all of his math and physics courses, never taking a single math or science course in the MMSD. Nevertheless, the MMSD happily counted his numerous accomplishments in math, physics, and the National Merit.

  • Anonymous

    I was a National Merit semifinalist, and I think you might just as well have done an analysis on whether or not semifinalists had come in contact with leather furniture sometime during childhood.
    It would make about as much sense as this public school purity test.
    This analysis, which achieves much the same result, is quite a bit more sophisticated, meant for those among us who scored at least 1400 on the PSAT:
    NMSF#2 — Never ate Graham crackers; cried frequently as an infant; could not wait for marshmellows to dissolve in hot chocolate.
    NMSF#8 — Seemed to stare out the window a lot; fussy with how socks were put on; complained about weight of backpack.
    NMSF#12 — Never still when hair was being brushed; eager to skip when walking would have done just fine; color preferences questionable.
    CONCLUSION: Art Rainwater is doing a rotten job.

  • Donna Astfalk

    I was also a NMSF, and I think that has little to do with the quality of my education (based entirely on PSAT), as I had a less-than-optimal education experience with frequent moving while growing up.
    At the same time, I agree with much of the discussion on this strand about the MMSD’s seeming disregard for the need to provide sufficiently challenging curriculum. My own children are currently at Franklin Elementary School, where they find math too easy such that we are working on Singapore math at home. As well, Franklin school this year eliminated Star Math, a voluntary enrichment program that was entirely run by volunteers through the PTO. One of the stated reasons was that the program, since it differs from the MMSD math curriculum, was too confusing for kids that are not really strong in math and thus made them feel left out or discouraged. Thus, those families with motivated kids that have resources (like mine) continued enrichment through such things as Singapore math. But other kids that were motivated but lack such support or resources in their families now also lack access to a math enrichment program.

  • Laurie Frost

    I am very saddened and distressed to hear that Star Math (which costs the school absolutely nothing) is no more at Franklin. When our sons were at Franklin, Star Math was very clearly intended for students who were good at math, who were really interested in math, and who needed/wanted additional challenge in math. It was never intended for everyone, only for those who needed and wanted something more than what was being taught in the classroom — usually because they already knew what was being taught in the classroom.
    I find myself wanting to say to you and other Franklin parents of highly able and motivated students — in math and any other content area — get used to it or get out. This is the way it is in the MMSD, the way these decisions are being made, right up through high school. (Ed B, would you call this the “Franklin ES Math Curriculum Reduction Plan”?) The concern that some students might feel bad about themselves results in the elimination of what are essential learning opportunities for other students, without any regard for how it makes the latter group of students feel … or even if they will learn anything new! (Can you imagine the District eliminating sports teams because their existence makes non-athletic students feel bad about themselves?)
    The most tragic part of this decision-making strategy is that — in the end — it may actually exacerbate the situation it is intended to ameliorate. That’s because students from families with resources will continue to get their learning needs met (e.g., Singapore Math) while students with those same needs, but from families without resources, will not. In the end, the gap will only get bigger … and those students will feel really bad.
    I am continually struck by how these curriculum decisons are all at once and the same time so well-intentioned, so misguided, so biased … and so doomed to failure (if not backfire).
    But it’s all our District seems able to do.

  • edukation4U

    I agree with you completely Laurie. When my daughter was in elementary school, she became very depressed because she felt the teachers were not understanding who she was and that she was the one demanding more math, not her parents pushing her. We even pulled her out of 4th grade math and I “homeschooled” her during that hour which meant I went to school everyday during this period and taught her higher math. Her 5th grade teacher didn’t do much extra, although she was pulled out once a week to do other math with a group of kids. Finally the last month of school, the teacher (with me pushing now) did offer her and two boys an appropriate math program for my daughter, who sat and helped the boys get through it. No teacher ever looked at what they were doing or helped them. We knew that the middle school was going to be more of the same so we decided we had to go to a private school for proper academics.
    The school system just doesn’t understand that kids can get depressed or turned off by not only stuggling students but students whose needs are not getting met. I understand that the district needs to help the struggling learner, but if they aren’t going to be able to met the needs of the higher end, then they should just admit this. Parents can then decide if they have their children deal with it, or find an alternative.
    Judy

  • Laurie Frost

    Donna and others — In fact, there are three choices: get used to it, get out, or GET ACTIVE!!! There are thousands of kids like yours throughout the District whose high end educational needs are not being met (with anything but disdain). We have been building quite a District-wide coalition in recent years.
    As a start, come share your experiences and views with the candidates for School Board. Ask them the questions you need answers to in order to decide how to cast your votes.
    Madison United for Academic Excellence — BOE Candidates Forum
    Tuesday, January 17
    7:00 p.m.
    Doyle Administration Building, Room 209
    Thanks for telling your friends and neighbors.

  • lucy mathiak

    I would like to add my 2 cents as a mom. I have a son who tested at the high school level at math in second grade, and a son who tested at below kindergarten level in second grade. Neither were well-served in a district that denies difference. (See the concurrent debates on special ed and on heterogeneous grouping.)
    For the life of me, I can’t see how one can teach a child without acknowledging who the child is and what they need/bring. But that is exactly the approach the district touts in its daily practice.
    My sons have learned a lot from each other over the years, and take great pride in each others’ accomplishments. But that is a product of the honest dialogue that we have had at home and the helpful strategies of some talented teachers. It certainly isn’t a product of MMSD educational policy.
    I applaud Laurie and others who have publicly asked important questions and also have helped many parents to consider what TAG eduction is/is not/should be. This is a great service that is a significant advance to where we were when my children were small.