An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Credit for non MMSD Courses

Dear Superintendent Nerad:
I was rather surprised to learn today from the Wisconsin State Journal that:
“The district and the union also have quarreled over the role of MTI members in online learning for seven years. Under the new agreement, ANY (my emphasis) instruction of district students will be supervised by Madison teachers. The deal doesn’t change existing practice but confirms that that practice will continue.”
You are quite new to the MMSD. I am EXTREMELY disappointed that you would “cave in” to MTI regarding a long-standing quarrel it has had with the MMSD without first taking the time to get input from ALL affected parties, i.e., students and their parents as well as teachers who might not agree with Matthews on this issue. Does this agreement deal only with online learning or ALL non-MMSD courses (e.g., correspondence ones done by mail; UW and MATC courses not taken via the YOP)? Given we have been waiting 7 years to resolve this issue, there was clearly no urgent need for you to do so this rapidly and so soon after coming on board. The reality is that it is an outright LIE that the deal you just struck with MTI is not a change from the practice that existed 7 years ago when MTI first demanded a change in unofficial policy. I have copies of student transcripts that can unequivocally PROVE that some MMSD students used to be able to receive high school credit for courses they took elsewhere even when the MMSD offered a comparable course. These courses include high school biology and history courses taken via UW-Extension, high school chemistry taken via Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, and mathematics, computer science, and history courses taken at UW-Madison outside of the YOP. One of these transcripts shows credit for a course taken as recently as fall, 2005; without this particular 1/2 course credit, this student would have been lacking a course in modern US history, a requirement for a high school diploma from the State of Wisconsin.
The MMSD BOE was well aware that they had never written and approved a clear policy regarding this matter, leaving each school in the district deciding for themselves whether or not to approve for credit non-MMSD courses. They were well aware that Madison West HAD been giving many students credit in the past for non-MMSD courses. The fact is that the BOE voted in January, 2007 to “freeze” policy at whatever each school had been doing until such time as they approved an official policy. Rainwater then chose to ignore this official vote of the BOE, telling the guidance departments to stop giving students credit for such courses regardless of whether they had in the past. The fact is that the BOE was in the process of working to create a uniform policy regarding non-MMSD courses last spring. As an employee of the BOE, you should not have signed an agreement with MTI until AFTER the BOE had determined official MMSD policy on this topic. By doing so, you pre-empted the process.
There exist dozens of students per year in the MMSD whose academic needs are not adequately met to the courses currently offered by MTI teachers, including through the District’s online offerings. These include students with a wide variety of disabilities, medical problems, and other types of special needs as well as academically gifted ones. By taking appropriate online and correspondence courses and non-MMSD courses they can physically access within Madison, these students can work at their own pace or in their own way or at an accessible location that enables them to succeed. “Success for all” must include these students as well. Your deal with MTI will result in dozens of students per year dropping out of school, failing to graduate, or transferring to other schools or school districts that are more willing to better meet their “special” individual needs.
Your rush to resolve this issue sends a VERY bad message to many families in the MMSD. We were hoping you might be different from Rainwater. Unfortunately, it says to them that you don’t really care what they think. It says to them that the demands of Matthews take primarily over the needs of their children. Does the MMSD exist for Matthews or for the children of this District? As you yourself said, the MMSD is at a “tipping point”, with there currently being almost 50% “free and reduced lunch” students. Families were waiting and hoping that you might be different. As they learn that you are not based upon your actions, the exodus of middle class families from the MMSD’s public schools will only accelerate. It will be on your watch as superintendent that the MMSD irreversibly turns into yet another troubled inner city school district. I urge you to take the time to learn more about the MMSD, including getting input from all interested parties, before you act in the future.
VERY disappointingly yours,
Janet Mertz
parent of 2 Madison West graduates
Tamira Madsen has more:

“Tuesday’s agreement also will implement a measure that requires a licensed teacher from the bargaining unit supervise virtual/online classes within the district. The district and union have bickered on-and-off for nearly seven years over the virtual/online education issue. Matthews said the district was violating the collective bargaining contract with development of its virtual school learning program that offered online courses taught by teachers who are not members of MTI.
In the agreement announced Tuesday, there were no program changes made to the current virtual/online curriculum, but requirements outlined in the agreement assure that classes are supervised by district teachers.
During the 2007-08 school year, there were 10 district students and 40 students from across the state who took MMSD online courses.
Though Nerad has been on the job for less than three months, Matthews said he is pleased with his initial dealings and working relationship with the new superintendent.
“This is that foundation we need,” Matthews said. “There was a lot of trust level that was built up here and a lot of learning of each other’s personalities, style and philosophy. All those things are important.
“It’s going to be good for the entire school district if we’re able to do this kind of thing, and we’re already talking about what’s next.”

11 thoughts on “An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Credit for non MMSD Courses”

  1. Great letter.
    This decision, if it is allowed by the board to stand, is one that could affect the way people view the district. Does the board stand with parents and students or with two old men making deals in the back room? Nerad has demonstrated he is way out of touch with students and parents already. Worse, he appears comfortable making backroom deals, rather than engaging the community in these discussions.
    I question the right of Nerad to make this decision on his own. The board needs to slap this down immediately, and send a message to Nerad that “Rainwaterism” is over.

  2. According to the article, the board was involved and informed throughout the process.
    I would like to know, however, what went on at the Board level. I’m sure Nerad, like Rainwater, knows he only needs 4 votes — and given the makeup of the Board — he has at least 4 votes.

  3. The agreement has no effect on MMSD students taking classes at the UW, nor does it establish a policy regarding the conditions under which a student will be authorized to take a non-MMSD class.
    The agreement does not limit the district’s discretion to make on-line or other kinds of non-traditional class offerings available. It addresses the supervisory responsibilities of MMSD teachers when students take advantage of these class offerings. It requires that a “local contact teacher” be assigned to every student who is taking a virtual course, and that the contact teacher be responsible for oversight of the student’s participation in the on-line class.
    I think we need to explore better ways to use technology in delivering instruction, including on-line learning. I believe this view is shared by Superintendent Nerad. This agreement shouldn’t have an adverse impact on our efforts in this direction.
    If there are specific components of the agreement that raise concerns for some individuals, it would be good to know what they are. But condemnation of “two old men making deals in the backroom” doesn’t exactly advance the discussion. (And as one who is about the same age as the superintendent, who you calling old, anyway?)
    Negotiations aimed toward resolving matters in litigation generally aren’t held in the public square. The Board was kept fully informed. If there’s blame to be had, blame us. But please base the blame on the actual terms and consequences of the agreement.

  4. FWIW – the agreement means that someone from MTI serve as proctor for distance learning/virtual classes. It does not proscribe who develops or actually teaches the classes.
    The issue of which distance learning (or off campus classes) students may take for graduation credit is a bigger issue in my mind than who serves as proctor for class and coursework completion.
    Lucy Mathiak

  5. FWIW – the agreement means that someone from MTI serve as proctor for distance learning/virtual classes. It does not proscribe who develops or actually teaches the classes.
    The issue of which distance learning (or off campus classes) students may take for graduation credit is a bigger issue in my mind than who serves as proctor for class and coursework completion.
    Lucy Mathiak

  6. When I read the details of this, I immediately thought about the implications of the agreement on any WCATY Co-ops my middle schooler might enroll in. Ed and Lucy are correct. It only stipulates that an MTI teacher be part of the supervisory chain for each child taking such course. This is a good thing! It will encourage teachers to be involved with their TAG students, and it will open the teachers’ eyes to curriculum outside of their normal lesson plans. I think we owe Dr. Nerad a pat on the back for this one. He diffused an ugly situation and bundled a settlement up with a number of other issues.
    I know everyone is used to knee-jerk reactions, but this one is unwarranted!

  7. Yes, we have yet to learn the details of this agreement between MTI and the MMSD. If it means the students will be required to do the work for their online courses during the regular school day so they can be supervised by an MTI teacher, it may be good for some of the students taking these courses, but very bad for others. Some of the students (e.g., ones with disabilities or illnesses) taking online (or correspondence) courses do so PRIMARILY because they are unable to study the material during regular school hours. If they were to be required to spend 50 minutes or so per day during regular school hours working on the course materials under the supervision of an MTI teacher, the course wouldn’t meet their needs. Bright, hard-working high school students with good time management skills don’t need an MTI teacher supervising their taking online courses. They only need teachers to approve that the courses meet acceptable standards for credit, to proctor their exams in the courses and, possibly, to check in with them for a few minutes per month to answer questions or to discuss their progress in the course. My old son took some UW-Extension correspondence courses. The only supervision he received from MMSD staff was agreement that he could take the courses for high school credit and proctoring his mid-term and final exams in the courses. He did all the work on his own, almost exclusively during weekend hours when teachers would not have been available to supervise.

  8. Any Wisconsin middle schooler can sign up and take a WCATY coop course — — provided the registration fee is paid, of course. The more relevant questions are:
    1) who will pay the registration fee — and how to make these courses equally available to all MMSD students who need them (especially if the District refuses to pay for them);
    2) whether or not the MMSD student enrolling in a WCATY coop course will be allowed to do their online work during regular school hours; and
    3) whether or not the MMSD student will be allowed to use the WCATY coop course as curriculum replacement (versus having to complete all of the regular classroom work in addition to doing the coop coursework — fyi, the coop courses are very demanding).
    Needless to say, these questions are not independent of one another.
    Also, although the MMSD now has a growing line of online courses of its own, as the late Ted Widerski would tell you, it is absolutely crucial to remember that the courses are not appropriate for every student who might need an online (or other non-MMSD classroom) option. Put another way, these courses were not designed with the learning needs of all types of students who might need these options in mind. So please Dr. Nerad, BOE, parents, etc., do not fool yourselves into thinking that the needs of all of the different kinds of students who might benefit from online courses have been met by the MMSD Virtual Campus.
    Finally, can anyone tell me under what circumstances teachers have the right to refuse to supervise their students’ online learning — and what happens when they do? I hope we are not once again pitting adult needs against student needs.

  9. Yeah, well, maybe this old man popped off too quickly on this. I guess we need to see more details on how this policy will be implemented.

  10. Re. the WCATY coop courses:
    My understanding of the agreement is that students would take the courses as part of their school day schedule. The credits would count toward graduation. If this is not being permitted THIS YEAR it would be helpful to let the superintendent know.
    No one, I repeat, no one on the board has said that the MMSD Virtual campus is the only valid distance education option. It is one of several options that can help to expand the range of curricular programs available to our students.

  11. No need to apologize, Donald. On the contrary, there is good reason for our healthy skepticism. Most people do not understand the details and potential consequences of things like this agreement for real live MMSD students.
    Regarding the WCATY District Coop program, for example, fact is, the MMSD was one of the last Wisconsin school districts to allow its students to participate during the school day and for curriculum replacement. And it’s only been a handful of students (perhaps 5 or 6? I can’t recall, exactly) that have been allowed to participate each of the past two years (the coop program is years old), and at only two or three carefully selected MMSD middle schools. It’s been a very limited, almost experimental program, deliberately kept under the radar. I’d encourage parents of middle schoolers who are advanced in language arts and whose educational needs are not being met by their regular middle school curriculum to check out the WCATY coops and to start requesting that their students be allowed to participate in them (during the school day and as curriculum replacement — that’s all key).
    Frankly, I have a very bad feeling about this agreement in the pit of my stomach. I am worried that it will effectively restrict the range of learning opportunities available to our students (note: not just TAG students). But I am trying to withhold judgment until we see more details … and until we get back to a (hopefully) public conversation about the credit policy.

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