Complaint Filed Against Madison Schools, via a kind reader’s email:

News Release, Complaint attached

Fifty Madison School District parents filed a formal complaint on September 20, 2010, with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (“DPI”) against the Madison School District for violating State statutes for gifted education. The complaint targets Madison West High School‘s refusal to provide appropriate programs for students identified as academically gifted.

State statutes mandate that “each school board shall provide access to an appropriate program for pupils identified as gifted and talented.” The DPI stipulates that this programming must be systematic and continuous, from kindergarten through grade 12. Madison schools have been out of compliance with these standards since 1990, the last time the DPI formally audited the District’s gifted educational services.

“Despair over the lack of TAG services has driven Madison families out of the district,” said Lorie Raihala, a parent in the group. “Hundreds have left through open enrollment, and many have cited the desire for better opportunities for gifted students as the reason for moving their children.”

Recognizing this concern, Superintendent Dan Nerad has stated that “while some Madison schools serve gifted students effectively, there needs to be more consistency across the district.”

“At the secondary level, the inconsistencies are glaring,” said Raihala. “There are broad disparities among Madison’s public high schools with regard to the number of honors, advanced/accelerated, and AP courses each one offers. Also, each school imposes different requirements and restrictions on students seeking advanced courses. Surprisingly, Madison’s much touted West High School offers the fewest advanced course options for ninth and tenth graders. While the other schools offer various levels of English, science, and social science, Madison West requires all students to follow a standardized program of academic courses, regardless of their ability. This means that students with SAT/ACT scores already exceeding those of most West seniors (obtained via participation in the Northwestern University Midwest Area Talent Search program) must sit through the same courses as students working at basic and emerging proficiency levels.”


Gayle Worland:Parents file complaint over ‘talented and gifted’ school programming.

7 thoughts on “Complaint Filed Against Madison Schools”

  1. A lot has been botched in the past 24 hours regarding this story. Here’s a much more accurate depiction of what BOE member Marj Passman has said to the press:
    “Marj Passman, school board member, says she doesn’t blame the parents. ‘These are parents who have been trying to stick with Madison public schools. If this is what they need to do to wake up the district, more power to them,’ she said in a phone interview on Tuesday. ‘They’re fighting for their kids just the way the parents of special education students fight for theirs, and we need to respect that. And we need to do something about their concerns so they will stay in our schools. We need them.'”

  2. This is what a current West High TAG student had to say on the Wisconsin State Journal Website. Funny how kids differ from adults in perspective:
    “This is all being blown quite out of proportion. As a West High student (and one who is considered TAG), I see hardly any problems with the way advanced students are taught. Most of the core classes have either and advanced or honors option, and oftentimes both. These give smarter students plenty of opportunities to make the most out of the class. If, in a rare chance, the student isn’t challenged enough by these, there is always the opportunity to move up to the next level or take that subject at the UW. For instance, at West it is extremely commonplace for students to skip ahead in math and English, and one may find a range of grade levels in a single class. But even that isn’t enough of a challenge for one or two students. I am friends with a sophomore who has almost nothing at her grade level, as the classes she takes run from Biology II (for seniors) and Advanced Math Physics (for very smart juniors) to Calculus II (for the crazy). And far from complaining about a deficiency of opportunities, she is incredibly happy about this arrangement. In a school where all the TAG people were simply dumped in the same room (as tends to happen, based on the testimonies of those from other schools), she would not have this chance to excel. Many freshmen and sophomores in advanced classes also make friends with the upperclassmen, something that happens rarely elsewhere. The quality of our education is among the best in the country, and we do not lack opportunities to learn more. Bottom line: At West, if we want to be challenged, we simply take harder classes.”
    Samuel Adams
    Brewer, Patriot

  3. The first thing that is incorrect about your post, Samuel Adams, is that you were never a Brewer. in your time you were sometimes referred to disparagingly as a “maltster”, yes, but you never managed to be a brewer. But that is beside the point here except that your point above also lacks much accuracy.
    The example you give above is an email post from one kid, presuming it really is a kid who wrote it. Both you and I are writing anonymously and can be anyone. And so is the “kid” that you quote. Who knows, maybe it was you!
    The petition that led up to the complaint was signed, along with including their addresses, by nearly 200 people. This is documented. Obviously there is more than a little frustration in the community for that many people to sign. And for those of us who signed the petition, like I did, kids were not allowed to sign because it was intended to be a legal document. Perhaps if you talked with the kids of the approx. 200 signers, you would have a different story to post.

  4. Well at least you do not dispute my patriot status in your personal attack. However, given your logic, literally none of the pro and con testaments by putative students on this testy topic could be considered legitimate as they might just be ghost written. That would leave only the parental statements as gospel. Convenient, eh?

  5. There is much that is factually inaccurate in the student’s post.
    This is not true.
    The complaint focuses solely on 9th and 10th grade English and Social Studies, and Biology. There are no advanced sections of any of those courses (indeed, advanced sections of those courses is precisely what the petition and complaint request), with the lone exception of Accelerated Biology, which some West teachers have tried their darndest to get rid of. This year, as a result of years’ worth of ongoing community effort, including last spring’s petition, there is finally a second section of Accelerated Biology. (Of note, the longtime teacher of Accelerated Biology was “reassigned” to Regular Biology. No one seems to know why.) Importantly and in stark contrast, the comparable advanced biology courses at East and LaFollette adjust the number of sections offered based on student interest and need. (Memorial has a special 9th grade integrated science class, after which advanced students can take AP Biology.)
    There are no embedded honors options in 9th grade English or Social Studies and there never have been. Period.
    There is now an embedded honors option available in Regular Biology. (When it was instituted, it appeared to many people to be part of the plan to get rid of the Accelerated section.)
    Embedded honors options are available in 10th grade English and Social Studies. They were first introduced as part of the English 10 initiative (fall, 2006), in response to the community’s request (rejected) for honors sections of the course. They were expanded to 10th grade Social Studies the following year.
    Embedded honors options are inconsistently implemented. They typically involve more work and independent work, but not necessarily different or appropriate work. And they do not involve opportunities for either instruction (by the teacher) or discussion (with the teacher and similar-ability peers). Students at both West and East have complained about them.
    Embedded honors options are “peculiar” to the MMSD. There is no research to support their use. An attempted MMSD survey last spring was so thoroughly botched from start to finish, the data are absolutely useless. We are supposed to be a data-driven school district.
    Embedded honors are not in keeping with either the NAGC guidelines, the Wisconsin g/t statutes, or the MMSD TAG Plan (which commits itself to alignment with the other two).
    The MMSD Student Senate has gone on record as being against embedded honors because of the divisiveness they can create within the classroom (“honors” students versus “non-honors” students).
    Again, this is not true.
    Yes, there is officially an opportunity to skip over either English 9 or English 10, if the student meets certain criteria. However, the option (which only came about because of sustained community advocacy) is poorly advertised and often discouraged by both teachers and guidance counselors (beginning with the springtime informational meetings with 8th graders). Also, many West teachers and upperclass students resent the younger students’ presence and make that clear.
    There are essentially no opportunities to skip over 9th and 10th grade Social Studies. (Rare counter-examples are the result of serious advocacy in the face of equally serious West resistance.)
    Going to the UW — presumably through the Youth Options Program — is not an option for 9th and 10th graders. YOP is a State-mandated program for high school juniors and seniors only. The MMSD implements it in a very restrictive way.
    Aside from the fact that a student who describes Calculus II students as “crazy” doesn’t sound very respectful of smart students, I’ll just note — again — that the complaint says nothing about 11th and 12th grade classes. It concerns appropriate educational opportunities for advanced students in 9th and 10th grade. It also says nothing about math. It has always been relatively easy to accelerate in math in the MMSD (although a sophomore taking Calculus II is a rarity — fyi, the lone sophomore who was in the class last year has left for an Illinois school that caters to gifted young scientists and mathematicians).
    But again, the complaint is not about math or foreign language. It is only about 9th and 10th grade English, 9th and 10th grade Social Studies and Biology. It is about the inequity of opportunity for advanced students across the four MMSD high schools. It is about the MMSD’s need to honor its commitments, as codified in both the Strategic Plan and the TAG Plan. It is about the MMSD’s ongoing violation of State law.

  6. Laurie, thank you for your clear and factual responses. As a board member, I want to note that individually and collectively, many of the 200 parents who signed the complain have worked hard to try to achieve the changes that would have put West into compliance. Or at least restored options that were available until recently.
    Despite numerous meetings, e-mails, attempts to educate, and otherwise work collaboratively and productively with the district, they have lost not gained ground. At times, their efforts have fallen on unresponsive ears. At others, they are promised progress that never materialized.
    They have had the support of board members in their efforts to achieve change. I do not speak for everyone, I only speak for myself when I say that, as an elected board member, my experience has been only slightly better than that of the parents.
    Sometimes the requests have been as simple as opening enough sections to accommodate the students who are capable of achieving at higher levels and are languishing on waiting lists. I would note that the students need to be enrolled in English, Bioloby, and History no matter what. Why would the district refuse to teach to the ‘next level of challenge’ required by state law, and instead cling to arbitrary limits.
    Parents and students who attempt to secure the ‘next level of challenge,’ even if it means entry into a higher level (10 v. 9) of a subject, are required to go through repeated and arbitrary rituals of “proof” – sometimes more than once for the same required demonstration of capability – only to end up with the same inadequate placement.
    It’s easy to take cheap shots, dismiss experience as “perception,” and to post fictive scenarios for what might happen. The complaint reflects realities that make no sense to me, or to others.
    The parents who initiated and signed this document were doing what parents are supposed to do: advocating for their children. And doing so in ways that ultimately benefit all students by opening opportunities and challenges that are desperately needed.

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