Work on education gap lauded

From the Wisconsin State Journal, May 2, 2006
Madison made more progress than any urban area in the country in shrinking the racial achievement gap and managed to raise the performance levels of all racial groups over the past decade, two UW- Madison education experts said Monday in urging local leaders to continue current strategies despite tight budgets.
“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 an interview.
Underwood said 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.”
Among the most striking trends:
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.
Underwood commented after one of her colleagues, Adam Gamoran, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, presented a review of efforts to attack the racial achievement gap to the Schools of Hope Leadership Team meeting at United Way of Dane County.
Gamoran told the 25- member team, comprised of community leaders from the school system, higher education, nonprofit agencies, business and government, 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, who as director of the education-research center oversees 60 research projects, most of which are federally funded. A sociologist who’s worked at UW-Madison since 1984, Gamoran’s research focuses on inequality in education and school reform.
In an interview, Gamoran said 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.
But he warned that those gains are in jeopardy as Wisconsin school districts, including Madison, increasingly resort to cuts and referendums to balance their budgets.
Art Rainwater, Madison schools superintendent, said Gamoran’s analysis affirmed that the district and Schools of Hope, a civic journalism project of the Wisconsin State Journal and WISC-TV (Ch. 3) that grew into a community campaign to combat the racial achievement gap, are using the best known tactics – approaches that need to be preserved as the district makes future cuts.
“The things that we’ve done, which were the right things to do, positively affect not just our educationally neediest students,” Rainwater said. “They help everybody.”
John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union, and Rainwater agree that the progress is fragile.
“The future of it is threatened if we don’t have it adequately funded,” Matthews said.
Leslie Ann Howard, United Way president, whose agency coordinates Schools of Hope, said Gamoran’s analysis will help focus the community’s efforts, which include about 1,000 trained volunteer tutors a year working with 2,000 struggling students on reading and math in grades kindergarten through eight.
The project’s leaders have vowed to continue working until at least 2011 to fight gaps that persist at other grade levels despite the gains among third- graders.
“I think it’s critical for the community to know that all kids benefited from the strategies that have been put in place the last 10 years – the highest achievers, the lowest achievers and everybody in between,” Howard said.
“To be able to say it’s helping everyone, I think is really astonishing.”

7 thoughts on “Work on education gap lauded”

  1. The BOE, administration, teachers and staff all deserve a standing ovation. This is great news and they are the ones who did much that made it happen.
    And for the nay sayers, note that the gap was reduced AND all groups improved.

  2. Of course these data precede the draconian measures being implemented at West so it will be interesting to see what impact there will be on high achieving students. However, in the end, if all we’re talking about is standardized test results, we’re unlikely to see those numbers slide. Those numbers are a floor, not a ceiling.
    Please explain to me how the project benefitted the high achievers? That their scores didn’t slide is seen as a benefit in what way?
    What I’ll be interested in seeing over the years is the four-year college graduation rate and from what universities before I’ll accept that the changes now being forced onto the West community haven’t harmed anyone. Until then, continue to count me skeptical.

  3. We often fret on what these numbers mean, but I don’t want to stop anyone from celebrating that we have “bucked the national trend”. We have to take this seriously – the nation is largely screwed up in terms of providing consistently good public education over racial groups and socioeconomic classes – and there is good evidence that Madison is bucking the trend. There is much more to do at the high level and still much to do about cultural/racial bias in our own schools and larger community , but there is no ceiling – we can always do better. Celebrating successes does not mean ignoring other issues, pitting one group of learners against others. That’s the role of the certain fear-based politicians and certain SIS posters. We don’t have to do that job, too.
    Don’t you think a little good will shared among ourselves, a “cheers” moment, would help us come together a bit more, build some trust that we aren’t always skeptics. If you have been hurt on a given issue, can your glance be placed for some time on the broader services of public education? Where is the collegiality?
    I have my own thoughts on why Madison is bucking the trend. The methods seem very close to accepted best-practice, but I think there is more. It has to do with social networks, teams of supportive teachers working together with administrators, researchers, volunteers, and all those staff that roll up their sleeves everyday without much of a break. It also has to do with the social networks the parents have formed with the schools and their larger communities. Our schools are valuable because we have great people that work together – it’s an operation based on human capital. This capital is expressed and renewed with the day to day delivery of teachers, administrators, and parents – coming together to be on the same page that we want excellent learning environments. And, I’l tell you what, these folks don’t have much time or patience to listen to skeptics – especially those who have not already been implicit supporters of the broader missions of the schools. If you are looking for continued attention from them – there is a much better way to get it.
    Kids spend so much time outside of school – and we have to realize that Dane County has some really outstanding social services – even with the great declines and difficulties meeting budgets. Juan Jose Lopez has championed this idea with great effects. Also, so important is early childhood care. Our delivery in the public school has a greater effect when kids enterring school have had preschool buddies, have had a chance with good nutrition and safe homes, and have had early literacy.
    Could it be we would sell these attributes away for the sake of the high achievers? We on the inclusionary side have to realize that the calls for greater efficiency and greater opportunities/challenge for the accelerated learner can be accepted as fair goals, without threats or damage to inclusive goals. The trick is in the details – and this is where we all argue. However, let’s realize that teachers, administrators, education researchers, budget analysts, schol board members, active community members, and (yes) you – as engaged citizen – are actually on the same page of moving this forward.
    Joan asked how the “project benefitted the high achievers?” Good question, but off point. This was about closing a nasty gap. One way that it helps is that our high achievers is that they are building compassion for each other and understanding the importance of social and community networks for making societies function better. They are becoming articulate and literate together. They will soon enter the larger society from their own grand experiences of MMSD, expanded networks, and their own creativity – so that they may be better citizens than we ever were. They can do this so easily with our steady support, continued analysis, and a steady translation of the world’s problems onto their shoulders. They will realize soon that it will take more than the best and brightest. They will need each other more than they need us.
    – Jerry

  4. It’s hard to comment on the study, since the article just presents conclusions and only hints about what factors were taken into consideration. Is the study on-line?

  5. Well said Jerry. Some folks will always see the glass as 3/4 full, and others will always see the glass as 1/4 empty…There is ALWAYS work to do when it comes to educating kids, we can ALWAYS do a better job, and it’s encouraging to see that MMSD is still fighting that fight when it could have succumbed to the inevitability of a number of factors. No system the size of MMSD is perfect, and it never will be, but the news is encouraging.

  6. Jerry, I asked my question because of this quote:
    “”I think it’s critical for the community to know that all kids benefited from the strategies that have been put in place the last 10 years – the highest achievers, the lowest achievers and everybody in between,” Howard said.”
    How did these strategies, what strategies, in fact, benefit the high achievers exactly?
    Sorry if my cynicism is showing, but I’ve been around this district long enough not to trust sweeping assertions much less the “data” they put out in their publicity releases.
    I would be glad to be persuaded that the gap in minority achievement is closing in a significant and meaningful way. I’m just not sure what that means. Furthermore, based on what measurements are we the top of the class. The devil is often in the details.
    And that doesn’t change the fact that if these data span the past ten years, what will it mean now with the movement to blended high school classes at West coupled with an increasing shift in demographics to a larger percentage of minority students in the district.

  7. It’s hard for me to see how MMSD is helping the high achievers. That has not been our experience at Thoreau. I almost feel like our high achievers are an unwelcome burden and the parents who advocate for them are seen as a selfish nuisance. It’s true we can’t look the other way when kids are doing poorly. On the other hand, we can’t ignore, misuse, or sacrifice kids at the other end. From our experience, I don’t believe for a minute that high achievers’ needs didn’t suffer in the process.

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