An Update on Madison’s High School Reforms

TJ Mertz:

The issues are the failure of the MMSD Administration to follow basic practices of open inclusive governance and the implementation of segregative policies.
Below (and here) [70K PDF] is an open letter drafted and signed by 18 West High parents on Friday 1/7/2010. Understanding the letter requires some background and context. The background — along with the latest news and some final thoughts -follows.

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More here.

2 thoughts on “An Update on Madison’s High School Reforms”

  1. I may have missed something at the meeting – it was long and my brain was mush by the time I left last Monday. However, I am a puzzled by the e-mails that have started coming in today.
    My recall of the meeting is that the board took no formal votes, and had more questions than there were answers.
    Administration took great pains to stress that the dual path concept is no more. Dead, not sleeping, like the parrot in the Monty Python sketch, no matter what the shop owner says.
    The board did agree that having some common standards for our high school curriculum was a good thing, but that was very informal. That is, I asked if I was correct in understanding that board members could agree that we needed common standards for high school curriculum. No one said I was wrong, so I have assumed that the answer was ‘yes.’
    There were questions late in the meeting, with no conclusion, regarding whether those standards should be ACT or other standards was left hanging.
    We ended on an ambiguous note re. the 9th and 10th grade honors sections for West and Memorial (they are in place at East and LaFollette). Those sections will move forward. I may be missing something, but honors sections for English and social studies at West should be a no harm no foul situation. The students who need and want the option get it, no one is forced to participate if they do not want to, and the overly rigid standards for admission are, I believe, being relaxed. The other options continue as usual.
    Beyond that, the remainder of the proposed plan was left up in the air. There is no blanket approval for anyone to do anything. There is encouragement for administration to better develop the specifics of what is being proposed. There were significant new questions raised during the discussion, but those questions are far from answered.
    The evening ended with commentary on the weakness of the arguments that the plan would close the achievement gap, and commentary on what might happen to actually make a difference toward that end.
    Did I miss something in the evening’s discussions and decisions? The outrage being expressed doesn’t align with where the discussion ended last week.

  2. This will make me very unpopular with some segments here, but I still say that what I find most insulting in all of the denouncing of advanced sections or honors (any sort of “grouping” or “pathways”, or “tracking”) or whatever you want to call it, is the implication that this will further increase the Achievement Gap because minorities are not, and can not be, prepared or motivated to take such sections.
    Wouldn’t this line of reasoning suggest that this will “increase segregation” in MMSD, because students of color (or lower income) could not possibly be academically gifted or motivated? (Clearly, I am stating this as hyperbole of the highest degree.) If “they” could be gifted, then “they” would be flocking to these courses where they are offered, and it would not be all middle class and/or white students. If there is no opportunity for access (and in anything but math, it seems there is none) to gifted and talented academic content before high school, then how could students magically enter high school ready for such content and material?
    By refusing to offer advanced academic content (or even deeper consideration of “the basics”) before high school, MMSD seems to be feeding into the gap, not lessening it. If we cannot encourage intellectual curiosity and academic motivation before high school, it is hard to suddenly start doing so after 9th grade. For the majority of MMSD families, the only ones whose children can get access to advanced academic materials are those who can afford to do so OUTSIDE of MMSD’s offerings. These are the families more likely to be able to afford outside enrichment, and therefore, more likely to be middle class or above, and largely Caucasian (or maybe Southeast Asian). This defines the paradox in MMSD’s loud insistence that they want to address the achievement gap, but simultaneous refusal to admit that access is not open for ALL to academics: at the very least, previous to high school.
    I cannot thank you enough, Lucy, for laying out there what YOU thought “came out of” that meeting the other night. Because those in attendance could not have possibly all been attending the same meeting you did (at least in all three of mind, body and spirit), or such wildly conflicting messages would not have been possible.

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