MMSD Cross-High School Comparison — continued

I recently posted a comparative list of the English courses offered to 9th and 10th graders at Madison’s four high schools. The list showed clearly that West High School does not offer its high achieving and highly motivated 9th and 10th grade students the same appropriately challenging English classes that are offered at East, LaFollette and Memorial.
Here is the yield from a similar comparison for 9th and 10th grade Social Studies and Science.

Social Studies — Ninth Grade
East: U.S. History 9, TAG U.S. History (U.S. History or TAG U.S. History required)
LaFollette: Exploring U.S. History, Challenges of Democracy (a.k.a. Advanced U.S. History) (Exploring U.S. History or Challenges of Democracy required)
Memorial: American Experience 1 and 2, 9th grade elective — .25 credit course “Interdisciplinary TAG” (American History 1 and 2 required)
West: U.S. History (required)
Social Studies — Tenth Grade
East: World History, TAG World History, Ethnic Studies, Social Psychology (consent of instructor required for 10th graders only), American Politics and Government (World History or TAG World History required)
LaFollette: World History, Civilizations (a.k.a. Advanced World History), Challenges of Democracy, American Women’s History, AP European History, AP Psychology (World History or Civilizations required)
Memorial: World History, World History AP, American Politics Today, International Relations and National Security Issues, Women In U.S. History, The Ancient World, Modern European History AP (World History required; World History AP can replace World History)
West: Western Civilization 10, Tools for Success in the Social Sciences (World Civilization 10 required)
Science — Ninth Grade
East: Biology I, Biology 9 for Talented and Gifted (number of sections depends on demand)
LaFollette: General Biology I, Honors Biology I (number of sections sections depends on demand)
Memorial: Integrated Science, 9th grade elective — .25 credit course “Interdisciplinary TAG” (Integrated Science required)
West: Biology (embedded honors option available beginning 2006-07), Accelerated Biology (one section of 24 students, regardless of demand)

Science — Tenth Grade

East: Chemistry, Chemistry for Talented and Gifted, Earth Science 1, Earth Science 2, Biology I, Physical Science Chemistry, Physical Science Physics, Advanced Laboratory Science
LaFollette: General Biology I, Honors Biology I, Practical Biological Science, Biology II, Physical Science, Practical Physical Science, General Physics, Math Physics 1 and 2
Memorial: Earth Science 1, Fundamentals of Biology, Biology, General Physics, Chemistry in the Community, Math Chemistry, Chemistry AP, Aircraft Construction (Biology AP is available to 11th and 12th graders — Biology is not a pre-req for Biology AP)
West: Biology (embedded honors option available beginning 2006-07), Biology II, Earth Science, Chemistry, Chemistry in the Community
I have asked the District and West High School administrations to please explain to me how the more limited course offerings at West fulfill the District’s legal responsibilities to the school’s academically talented and highly motivated 9th and 10th grade students, under the requirements set forth by Wisconsin State Standard t.
I have also asked if the District has plans to “re-design” our four high schools with an eye on equity of educational opportunity, in the same way the District’s eleven middle schools were evaluated this year. I have asked if the plan is to bring West in line with the other three high schools or vice versa.
Stay tuned for more.

20 thoughts on “MMSD Cross-High School Comparison — continued”

  1. Laurie,
    Is West also dropping the one Accelerated Biology it offered this year also?

  2. In 2006-07, there will still be one section of Accelerated Biology. (The screening test is being offered this Wednesday, I believe, as well as again in early May.) At the same time, with the implementation of an “embedded honors” option in regular Biology beginning next year, there is concern that Accelerated Biology will soon disappear.
    I would love to hear from people who have direct experience with the “embedded honors” approach. To me, it just sounds like more work, all of it done independently (i.e., without a teacher and without learning peers). Plus, you still have to sit through all of the “regular” stuff.

  3. In looking over the course offerings of the four high schools, I notice the liberal use of the terms “honors”, “TAG”, “AP”, and “advanced” in the titles from East, Memorial, and LaFollette, but not West. I believe this is the basis for the assumption that students at West are being shortchanged. This is quite a serious charge and one that needs to be substantiated by a careful examination of the actual course content and some measure of what students actually learn. Frankly, I don’t know of an easy way to compare the course offerings and I won’t even begin to address the hornets’ nest of “who” is in the class. I would like to believe that each school is acting in good faith to offer appropriate courses and would encourage some mechanism other than word-of-mouth to explain to parents the “flavors” of the four schools. At some point, it may well be that supporting four comprehensive high schools would be a burden and one could imagine having specialized programs at each school (such as we now have for Chinese, Japanese, environmental studies, and aerospace). As far as West goes, well, in the 10 years that I’ve been there, I have heard complaints about West’s academic standards which have ranged all the way from the “boring and lack of challenge” to (more often) “the classes are too hard and my kid’s GPA isn’t good enough to get into college X”.
    With respect to the “embedded honors” option, I would hope that students would have to do some “extra work” to earn their honors designation. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think “honors” should be earned by doing the “regular” stuff plus something above and beyond.

  4. I shouldn’t be trying to interpret Laurie’s words for her, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the gist of Laurie’s remarks is not a complaint that the honors option requires extra work. Of course, that is to be expected in honors classes. Rather, the frustration is with the likelihood that this extra work will all be unsupported by teaching within the class. In an honors class, one does the honors level work, which is more difficult, in lieu of the regular work, not in addition to it. The teaching is done at a higher level. And students need enough of their peers in the class to create the synergy that facilitates higher level discussion within the classroom itself. The teacher is trying to get this going all the time, no doubt, but it works much better when one has at least a half-dozen or so like-minded kids in the class, preferably more. If it’s just extra work that is all outside the classroom, it’s not any different from the enrichment I already do at home, except that someone else will be grading it.

  5. Thanks, Celeste, for understanding and articulating so well.
    What I think is noteworthy and important about what’s going on at East, LaFollette and Memorial is that the staff has provided a way for the students to self-select into ability-based classroom groups. Educational choices like this are the hallmark and strength of large, comprehensive high schools. How silly for anyone to throw that power and opportunity away. But that is exactly what is happening at West. Flexibiliy, choice and opportunity in 9th and 10th grade are eroding away, prompting many to say that West is turning the first half of high school into two more years of middle school. (Of course, many would argue that we need this ability-based grouping at the middle school level, too; we do it in middle school math, but that seems to be the only content area where we feel O.K. about it.) It doesn’t matter to me what the different levels of classes are called. Nor does it matter to me if Memorial’s English 10 TAG and LaFollette’s Advanced English 10 are exactly the same curriculum. It’s the clear acknowledgement of — and provision for — the very full range of students in each school, the true honoring of the diversity of the student body, if you will.
    As for embedded honors, my sense is that they typically consist of a requirement to do more work — even if higher level work — on top of the regular classroom work, and that the additional work is independent work, done outside of the classroom. Think of an independent study, but on top of the regular classroom work. Personally, I don’t think this approach is fair to the student interested in a more rigorous learning experience. I also think it’s an approach doomed to failure because most teens will see through it and not choose it. Embedded honors may provide a way to get an honors designation on a transcript (which is NOT the most important point in all of this); but it’s punitive in its structure and certainly does not provide a way for high ability students to learn with similar-ability peers (which IS the most important point in all of this). IMHO, honors students should not have to do all of the regular classroom work and then some. Certainly, they should have to work at a higher (i.e., more advanced, more accelerated) level. That is a fair and reasonable expectation of them. But in return, they should be able to expect to be taught at a higher level, which means an honors curriculum and other honors students in the classroom.

  6. My experience has been kids honor level courses also allow kids discuss topics more indepth than they will in a heterogeneous classrooms. They are allowed to use a larger vocabulary in order to get their points across,while in the heterogeneous classroom, many are afraid of using their vocabulary because they will either have to explain the words, or kids will tease them because of their vocabulary. I have also heard peer editing projects end up where the strong writer corrects the struggling student’s paper, but has no one correcting their papers in order to become even a stronger writer. Everyone has the right to be able to improve.
    Also with a honors level course, trade books usually are at a higher level. I noticed the books that are usually read in 9th grade at West, where trade books that our elementary school had used with higher level readers. Kids will feel the lack of challenge when they have to read trade books that were assigned in 4th and 5th grade with their reading groups.

  7. It’s important in this discussion to talk about what is actually happening in West high school classes. For instance, in the embedded honors social studies class my daughter will take as a sophomore, it was clear from paperwork she brought home that although the class will be heterogeneous in nature, the class text for honors will be a college text. In all the differentiated coursework she has done so far, there has been an element tied to the classroom, with additional opportunities added. For instance, while her classmates are reading excerpts from The Odyssey this year in English 9, she has elected to read the entire work unabridged. She still participates in discussions, and has at least 5-6 classmates who are also in advanced coursework outside of the English dept (i.e. honors students). There is virtually no mention made in these “heterogeneous” debates about the fact that nearly half of each of West’s classes makes the honor roll each semester. The school is filled with high-achieving, very bright and motivated students. Every “heterogeneous” class that is truly diverse in nature will have a strong representation of high-ability students in it. I would be more concerned with the clustering of large numbers of struggling or highly-challenged students in certain sections of courses.
    One more correction on West’s English department: every student will NOT take either English 9 or 10. There are at least 3-4 reading/English courses in the syllabus for students who have particular challenges/disabilities in reading. These include Read 180 and some direct reading instruction.
    More important than separate learning environments, in my opinion, is that my daughter is meeting and getting to know a very broad range of students across life experiences at West, and is making friends with students of all backgrounds, interests and abilities. As her parent, that is one of my highest priorities for her. That is one of the most valuable gifts a strong public school education can provide to any student, from my perspective.
    I personally do not accept the position that students need to be surrounded only with similar-ability peers in order to flourish. My daughter doesn’t need unconditional validation all the time in order to enjoy and take advantage of her academic abilities. As her parents, we feel that it’s her responsibility to do her best and that she has the final say in making her own dreams come true. That should be her motivation. If she experiences harassment because of her desire to do well (which so far at West and at Wright Middle School has only amounted to good-natured ribbing from friends that she can dish out as well as she can get back), then it’s her responsiblity to use her self-advocacy skills to deal with the situation, with help and guidance from us as her parents. Quite frankly, the dominant culture at West and all Madison high schools is one of high achievement and high levels of academic competition.
    It is critical to the future of our society and to our future economy that even more students who may not have been deemed “college material” or high-ability be given the opportunities to engage in high-level content. Research from the Education Trust and other institutions studying achievement for students at risk shows that eliminating remedial courses, opening college-level instruction to a wider range of students, and offering supports to those students before and after school, at lunch hours and on weekends is showing the most promise in creating better outcomes for students at risk.

  8. Beth,
    Your statement on Read 180 is terrific, if true: “. . .every student will NOT take either English 9 or 10. There are at least 3-4 reading/English courses in the syllabus for students who have particular challenges/disabilities in reading. These include Read 180 and some direct reading instruction.”
    However, I have not heard the statement made by any MMSD personnel or read it in any document. When pressed about help the district will give non-readers in English 10, the MMSD response has always been “help during lunch,” as best I can remember. Would you mind seeing whether you can get an official statement that non-readers in English 9 and 10 will also participate in Read 180?

  9. Beth,
    Those who ask for excellence in the West curriculum have also loudly proclaimed their support for encouraging more students to participate.
    There is a huge difference, however, between a top-down approach, i.e., hetergeneous, one-size-fits-all in the classroom anyway, and one where students, motivated students, have the chance to opt for more challenging classes.
    I guess I’d prefer my kids went to a school whose mission statement is something broader than, more academically relevant than: What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Strong.

  10. Beth,
    You are correct, there are a number of higher end children where the heterogeneous classes will work great, including one of my children. There are also other children where these classes aren’t right. And there are those who will would are over achievers who will go that extra mile to learn more. As you have stated, there will be english classes at West where kids who are reading at least 5 levels behind will be in. What about the kids who are reading 5 levels ahead?
    There are different levels of gifted as there are in special ed. You wouldn’t expect a child who is “profoundly retarded” to be in the class, why should a child who is “profoundly gifted” have to sit there? They are as far from the “norm” on both sides of the IQ scales. And yes,before someone gets angry these are both terms that used in the professional psychology field.

  11. Again, I reiterate that it’s most important to know exactly what is going on at West High, rather than relying on assumptions about what may happen or what someone hears is happening.
    The West course catalog lists these courses: Academic Foundations for freshmen (academic skills), Functional Reading, Direct Instruction Reading, Reading Skills (Read 180) for 9th and 10th grade, Composition, Functional Academic Skills. The English Language Learners courses include: Beginning Language Arts Workshop, Beginning Language Arts, Intermediate Language Arts Workshop, Intermediate Language Arts Workshop, Advanced ESL, Literacy Skills (9th and 10th grade), Advanced Literacy Skills (11th, 12th), reading/writing workshop, listening/speaking workshop.
    In addition to embedding honors in 10th grade English, there are seven honors options 10th through 12th graders in the English Department.
    This does not include the individualized supports available to address students’ programs when it is deemed that their educational needs can best be met in the classroom with appropriate accommodations and modifications. Nor does it take into account the current differentiation already occurring to meet many students’ needs for extra challenge.
    To assume that the mere presence of students who have not officially been labeled high-achieving will automatically water down a course’s content or lead to chaos in the classroom is insulting both to those students and to the teaching teams who are working cooperatively to meet all students’ individualized learning needs.

  12. Beth, where did you get the course catalog? I don’t see the new one on the West website yet. The English 10 info document does list which courses will be eliminated, but doesn’t say what the new options will be, I don’t think.

  13. Beth,
    Close, but no cigar, on whether non-readers in English 9 and 10 will be able to take Read 180. The listing might be in the West catalog, but I can find no mention of West having Read 180. I can only find an expenditure of about $300 for Reading 180 at West in the last couple of years: Implementation of Reading 180 costs about $30,000.
    So, my question still stands. Has any MMSD personnel said that students who can’t read at West will be taught to read in Read 180?

  14. Having read through this thread, I have a couple of comments:
    1) Heterogeneous classrooms are not one size fits all.
    2) I would like to think that as adults, our discussion could be civil and constructive. The comment “What doesn’t kill me makes me strong” is sarcastic and spiteful. Is it necessary to get nasty about it?
    3) I hope that people will refrain from using the “r” word. It is offensive to a great many people, not only those in the disability community. The accepted language today is “person with a cognitive disability”. I bring this up because it is what I call a teachable moment.

  15. There will not be 7 honors options available to West 10th graders in English next year. There will be 10 electives available to them — to be taken in addition to English 10 — and none of them are designated “honors” in the 2006-07 course catalogue. I have already listed them by name in a previous post, but here they are again: Writing for Publication; Language, Usage and Grammar; Contemporary Literature; Dramatic Literature; The Bible as Literature; Science Fiction; Film Study; Public Speaking; Theater Arts I; Mass Media. The 7 honors electives are open to 11th and 12th graders only.
    Beth, thanks for fleshing out all of the choices West offers its students who need extra support. Wow! And thanks for adding your voice to the call for higher expectations for all students and increased participation of poor and minority students in “high end” classes. As Joan says, many of us have been making that argument to the Administration and BOE for years. I am glad, too, that your daughter is having a good experience in English 9. A year ago, my son also started to read the Odyssey in full; but he was the only one in his class who was doing so and he fairly quickly tired of doing ten times the amount of reading each night for only one-tenth of the discussion the next day.
    Celeste, any student who’s had to register for next year has been given a 2006-07 course catalogue. I’m sure you can get one in the West office.
    Beth, I am tired of your repeated insinuations that parents who want their children appropriately challenged intellectually don’t care about them getting to know a broad range of others. That is such hog wash! My sons have all different kinds of friends, in terms of ethnicity, race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. The thing is, their diverse friends have one thing very much in common: a desire to be in school and a strong interest in learning and excelling. You seem to be unaware of the huge numbers of West students who don’t give a $%^%$ anymore about school. As a friend of my 10th grader put it to me once, “They sit there and eat their Cheetos and drink their Mountain Dew; and then they get up and leave.” Forgive me if I don’t want my sons to become friends with classmates who behave that way. Forgive me, too, if I have a problem with a school completely reconfiguring itself in order to help those students … and taking away what works for other students along the way. (For readers who are part of the Thoreau ES community, it sounds like that’s a little bit of what’s going on in your school this year: everything’s being changed on the playground for a few real challenging students. Frankly, I’m not sure that’s what’s best for those kids, in the long run.)
    An older friend of mine who has tutored at West for close to two decades recently told me he’s now tutoring adults for their G.E.D., instead. Why? Because he got tired of the West kids not showing up, a problem which he said has gotten much, much worse in the past couple of years. (It has been my 10th grader’s experience with peer tutoring, too. The tutees don’t show up.) So my friend decided to plug in and be helpful elsewhere, somewhere where he’d actually make a difference. This man’s three children went to West. It pains him deeply to see the changes there, by which he means the disengagement and disrespect (for self) amongst the students. You might not believe this, but it pains me, too, to see how we have failed these kids and to contemplate their future. I just don’t believe I should have to sacrifice my own children’s educational needs as some proof to you and others like you that I am a compassionate and open-hearted person who cares about all kinds of people and is raising my children to care about all kinds of people.
    Finally, I understand that you — personally — “do not accept the position that students need to be surrounded only with similar-ability peers in order to flourish.” The thing is, the empirical literature on high achieving students couldn’t be more clear or consistent on this point. In order to thrive, these kids need to learn together a large chunk of each day. We put them at risk for disengagement and a whole slew of academic and psychological difficulties when we don’t give them that. We hurt high achieving poor and minority students, in particular, when we deprive them of appropriate learning experiences. Even Adam Gamoran spoke to this point — both to the BOE and in the WSJ article on ability grouping that appeared recently — that high achieving students are hurt by heterogeneous grouping. That’s why the Superintendent and certain members of the BOE now speak of “their belief” that heterogeneous grouping is the way to go. They’ve been made aware that the data aren’t as they’d hoped.
    Beth, when we make a copy of the articles on high achieving students and grouping that we’ve given others “downtown” for Lucy and Arlene, would you like us to make a copy for you?

  16. I got the information from the 2006-2007 course catalog…my daughter is at West. The catalog for this year is not on-line yet, but a paper version is available. And I actually know kids signed up next year for Read 180, as well as kids who have taken it at West. Their names are confidential.

  17. Helen,
    I apologize if you read my comments as sarcastic. I was trying to be brief in response to someone suggesting that having to tough out peer pressure for being smart and motivated was a positive. But as one who values civility, I will take your comments to heart.

  18. While some on this list point to research indicating that high-achieving children learn best when they are in classes of all-like peers, I have read and have provided the board with different (some of which are more recent) studies indicating that it is possible to elevate outcomes for struggling learners without harming high-achieving students. The American Association of School Psychologists points to some of this research in their position paper denouncing ability-grouping and rigid tracking of high-ability students.
    Likewise, today’s WSJ quotes two UW Education professor, including Adam Gamoran, as praising MMSD’s specific strategies for elevating outcomes for students of color, while maintaining high achievement among white and middle-income students.
    “I’ve seen districts around the United States, and it really is remarkable that the Madison School District is raising the achievement levels for all students, and at the same time they’re closing the gaps,” Julie Underwood, dean of the UW- Madison School of Education, said in the article.
    Underwood went on to say she’s heard of no other urban district that reduced the gap so significantly without letting the test scores of white students stagnate or slide closer to the levels of lower-achieving black, Hispanic or Southeast Asian students.
    “The way that it’s happened in Madison,” she said, “is truly the best scenario. . . . We haven’t done it at the expense of white students.”
    The article goes on to outline these trends in MMSD:
    –Disparities between the portions of white and minority students attaining the lowest ranking on the state Third Grade Reading Test have essentially been eliminated.
    — Increasing shares of students of all racial groups are scoring at the top levels – proficient and advanced – on the Third Grade Reading Test.
    — Graduation rates have improved significantly for students in every racial group.
    The article quotes Prof. Gamoran as saying that Madison’s strategy parallels national research documenting the most effective approaches – one-to-one tutoring, particularly from certified teachers; smaller class sizes; and improved training of teachers.
    “My conclusion is that the strategies the Madison school system has put in place to reduce the racial achievement gap have paid off very well and my hope is that the strategies will continue,” said Gamoran. He also said in the article that Madison “bucked the national trend” by beginning to shrink the racial achievement during the late 1990s, while it was growing in most of America’s urban school districts.
    So, while Prof. Gamoran did testify to the MMSD Board that oftentimes achievement for struggling students is at the expense of high-ability students, he is specifically saying that the Madison schools are successfully educating all ends of the spectrum with impressive results.

  19. Beth, I posted this earlier, but maybe you just haven’t gotten around to answering it yet:
    Close, but no cigar, on whether non-readers in English 9 and 10 will be able to take Read 180. The listing might be in the West catalog, but I can find no mention of West having Read 180. I can only find an expenditure of about $300 for Reading 180 at West in the last couple of years: Implementation of Reading 180 costs about $30,000.
    So, my question still stands. Have any MMSD personnel said that students who can’t read at West will be taught to read in Read 180?

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