Event (2.16.2012) The Quest for Educational Opportunity: The History of Madison’s Response to the Academic Achievement Gap (1960-2011)

Kaleem Caire, via email

In 2011 Kaleem Caire, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, reintroduced the topic of the Academic Achievement Gap that exists in theMadison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). As reported, just 48% of African American students and 56% of Latino students graduated on time from MMSD in 2010.
Just as staggering as these statistics is the fact that until the conversation was reintroduced, a large majority of our community was not aware that the academic achievement gap even existed. Why is that? Four more important questions may be: How did we get here?What have we proposed before? Why has this problem persisted? AND – What should we do now? To answer these questions, and many more, the Urban League of Greater Madison would like to invite you to participate in a community forum moderated by Derrell Connor.
6:00 Welcome Derrell Connor
6:05 Introduction of Panel
Milele Chikasa Anana
Dr. Richard Harris
Joseph Hill
Dr. John Odom
Alfonso Studesville
6:15 History of Madison’s Academic Achievement Gap
6:30 Panel
6:45 Q&A from Audience Members

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

13 thoughts on “Event (2.16.2012) The Quest for Educational Opportunity: The History of Madison’s Response to the Academic Achievement Gap (1960-2011)”

  1. Where does the fault lie for the achievement gap? The Madison Prep contingent seems to be asserting the blame lies mostly with the district. That there is a gap is not evidence of district culpability for the problem, however. As I’ve written before here, the district has tried any number of ways over the years to get at this problem.
    One of the statistics MMSD published years ago was comparative performance on state standardized tests by school, broken down by race. The minority kids attending the paired schools did better than their peers in the rest of the system, but the gap between them and their white peers in the same school was the same as the average gap across the district. So they performed better but they continued to lag their classmates by the same percent.
    One of the arguments for pairing was that classroom expectations would be higher for all kids because the paired schools, especially Franklin/Randall, had high performers, the kids who later went on to be National Merit Scholars at West, for instance. Let me just add that it has always irked me the district took credit for the National Merit kids and yet allowed the erosion of TAG opportunities over the years.
    However, the mention of the National Merit students is relevant to my larger point: The district can’t claim most of the credit for the National Merit kids’ achievement but neither does it bear the lion’s share of the blame for the minority achievement gap.
    Intact families and the mother’s educational status are two factors most reliably predictive of a student’s success. Not determinative, notice I didn’t say that, but predictive. How is the school supposed to compensate for a child with a single mom with insufficient education, not to mention poverty. Mr Caire seems to be proposing to act in loco parentis, keep the kids in school year round and most of the day. I still haven’t seen data to support the idea this works, but even if it did, how would that be possible across the entire district, even assuming an unlimited budget.
    Finally, at base what bothers me is the racial segregation inherent in this proposal (Not a fan of the gender segregation but that is less troubling legally.) Long ago we rejected the notion of separate but equal schooling and not just because it didn’t work in practice. We seem to be taking a big step back with the new argument that separate but superior makes racial segregation okay, at least in our public schools.

  2. Would we make the same comments if we were talking about students with disabilities? That it is a problem of poverty, or education, or marital status? Puh-lease.
    Why is it acceptable to point fingers at the people on the losing end of the gap while asserting – with NO evidence from this district or the families represented – that the families were not intact and/or educated. I am sure that the many professionals from two-parent households who have tried to get equal educational opportunities for their children – including teachers and principals in the district, school board members, university faculty, and assistants to state senators, and others – would be just delighted to be characterized in the ways that they are in the above post.
    Let me put this another way, Joan. You are talking about me and you are just plan wrong. Ill informed if you will. And the same applies to many of the other people whose real concerns are dismissed by your unfortunate comments.
    The ease with which the supposedly educated Madison community dismisses the real lived issues involved in being black in this county, is beyond appalling. Particularly when coupled with the outrage that anyone would suggest that MMSD’s strategies have failed or that (gasp!) the efforts have been misguided and/or less than diligent.
    We haven’t solved the achievement gap because we cannot understand or accept that race plays a very negative role in our county (unless it affects us personally, it seems). When we admit we have a problem we will begin to see solutions, but that appears to be a long way off.
    But we will put on one hell of a Black History Month.

  3. Lucy,
    A number of years ago now, then- Hamilton principal gave a talk to the PTO in which he cited a study showing the correlation of mom’s marital and educational status to student success. It was by way of explaining Hamilton’s (then) high performance—85% of students came from intact homes and the moms’ educational status on average was very high.
    Google “percent of African American children born to single mothers” and you’ll find citations to a 2010 US average of 72%
    Perhaps that isn’t the correct number for the students in MMSD; you’d know better than I how to find those stats if I’m way off.
    This isn’t to point fingers, it’s to state a fact. One fact. Poverty is another.
    You suggest I want to blame the victim. Not so. Rather, I’m trying to deflect all the blame and responsibility for this from our schools and teachers. Effective solutions lie in figuring out the cause. Racism isn’t the only explanation. Indeed if it were, all the more reason to find a racially segregated school the wrong choice.

  4. There is no question that poverty is a factor. But poverty alone does not explain what happens to students in our schools. Nor do generalized national studies shed light on the dynamics of the gap as it exists in this district. Rather, they provide convenient excuses for avoiding the very difficult conversations about the role that each of us plays in perpetuating a very unequal system. Taken uncritically, the numbers allow us to write it all of as part of a an overwhelming larger problem that really has no solution.
    I believe that we can do better than that if we are the educated, modern, progressive, community that we claim to be.
    I played no role in planning the presentation that is planned and advertised in the original post. However, as a parent I would hope that the presentation addresses the decades of pleas to redress legitimate grievances – pleas that were made by black parents on behalf of their children, and which were repelled with feel-good programs that have made little difference other than to give the rest of the community an out when it comes to confronting its comfort with a two-tier system that is far more aligned to skin color than it is to family resource.
    That system is at the heart of this debate. It is a system that would be intolerable to families advocating for TAG students, students with disabilities, students in the fine arts, or students who just plain should be prepared to succeed in life after high school. To write it off as poverty ignores the MMSD data that we just saw that very much correlates disproportionate discipline with race – not poverty. To write it off as poverty begs the question of whether a public institution is obligated to educate all students including those living in poverty.
    To write it off as poverty absolutely ignores the very public testimony, and the communications that I have had privately, from middle class, educated, two-parent families whose black children are written off right along with the black kids who do not have those advantages. Poverty cannot explain the very real challenges that any black child faces in the lack of expectation and too often very real barriers to opportunity that they face in Madison’s schools.
    That others have not had these experiences does not negate the reality faced by families of black students; it just means that families of black students have a dramatically different experience with our schools. This is a reality that is uncomfortable to talk about, but yet it is a reality that must be named and understood before we are going to address disparities in achievement in our schools.
    The Madison Prep proposal did not cause the gap. It represented a portion of the community’s attempt to establish a working model of what education could be for black students. That model contained any elements of the specific changes that black families have sought – without success – from this district for well over 40 years. For me, Madison Prep’s proposal is a clear statement that the community wants an opportunity to provide the education that MMSD historically would not or could not provide regardless of state funding. This started a long time before revenue caps.

  5. I feel poor parenting practices are directly related to poor academic and social achievement.Blaming will not help,we need encourage parents of failing students to become responsible by overcoming their addictions and attitudes which impede their childrens performance.

  6. Mr. Rowe, with all due respect I am one of “those parents” whose child struggled in Madison’s schools. It is completely and outrageously offensive to suggest that I am a poor parent, that I was not taking responsibility, that I have addictions (only to coffee and chocolate), was disinterested, or otherwise incapable of engaging with my child’s educational progress.
    For the record, my child was raised in a two-parent upper middle class family, with one parent a software engineer (BS in chemistry) and the other (me) a PhD candidate (in history) and university administrator.
    Your assumptions have everything to do with our inability to close the gap. It is completely pointless to lecture parents who come to school seeking help with their child’s education only to receive pat responses based on ignorance and stereotypes like the ones perpetuated in this thread. Unfortunately, that was my experience on far too many occasions.
    My child graduated, is employed, and is a great father. But that has to do with our family’s privatized version of public education: private diagnoses for a reading disability, private treatment for the disability, and private time and money spent at Sylvan making up for the math and reading deficiencies.
    Why? Because the wrong diagnosis (he had dyslexia, not ADHD), the lectures on reading to your child (he was read to every night and more often from the time he was an infant), and the gratuitous comments about how “it’s OK, some students take longer to learn” and “hey, a ‘D’ is great – you passed!!!” were keeping him below grade level and increasingly disengaged with school. And yes, he attended every day (at least according to the attendance records, which I checked regularly through calls to the school).
    I wish that I could say that this experience was unique to my family. The many hours of testimony that we heard during the debate over Madison Prep show some very similar trends. When we admit there is validity to the testimony of the families who have been on the receiving end of the gap, we will begin to have the information and tools to address the problem. Until then, we will continue fall behind because we are busy doing everything but examining our own practices.

  7. So how do we explain the minority students who have been successful in the MMSD? You know, the ones who get into UW-Madison and other UW System schools. Somewhere, someone did something right. I think that if we knew how these students managed to beat the odds, we could replicate that success.

  8. Responding to dadanonymous.
    The explanation is quite obvious and alway true. Randomness.
    There will always be kids beating the odds since the odds are always based on average performance. Almost by definition, about half will beat the odds, and about half will not.
    There is nothing to study. The odds cannot be beaten. It’s just a fair roulette wheel.

  9. That’s an interesting interpretation Larry. If, by definition, about half will beat the odds and half will not, that would suggest that spending extra monies to improve “the odds that cannot be beaten” is really a waste of money. Then again, I rarely if ever gamble. I’ve often wondered, throughout this lengthy fight for equity, if in the big picture, progress will never be made because schools cannot overcome the other genetic and socioeconomic forces that influence the success and failure rates of students.

  10. One changes the odds by shifting the distribution as a whole up and then narrowing the variation around the mean.
    Even after doing that, it is still going to be true that about half will beat the odds, and half will not.
    No matter how you cook it, kids with less resources will tend to do less well — simply they are less likely to get second and third chances to succeed, simply based on demographics and economics.
    We’re talking about that the ubiquitous bell curve (or some other probability distribution). If one plots reasonable measures of success for the three groups of low, medium, high SES levels separately, each will be a bell curve, with the three bell curves overlapping somewhat but the low SES curve will have a lower average score, the medium SES will have a higher average score, and the high SES average score and bell curve will be higher still.
    Education’s goal is to move all three bell curves up the scale, increase the overlap and perhaps narrow each curve’s spread.
    There will always be kids’ with success scores in the extremes of each bell curve, thus my answer to dodanonymous, and therefore there is nothing but the expected randomness that is needed to explain his facts. That is, kids at the upper end of their extreme did beat the odds because they were lucky in many ways, and the luck held out for them.
    I have no doubt that genetics has absolutely no role in the gap between rich and poor or in between. The three overlapping distributions based on SES illustrates that it is people’s very normal reaction to living in increasingly harsh or less harsh environments that causes these three curves to separate.
    With the erosion of the middle SES (the middle-class?), you will invariably see the lower and middle SES curves move down and closer together. I’m willing to guarantee that without hesitation.
    And I am increasingly doubtful that schools can overcome the SES problems for a few reasons. One, for generations the educational establishment has been creating and buying into ineffective and ever-sillier and expensive educational “ideas” — a fruit of the month. Two, the schools themselves are under significant financial constraints and they will not and have not been able to give kids second and third chances to succeed. Three, with the collapse of the middle SES, the number of kids living in increasingly harsh environments will increase substantially, and these kids may have even less skill coping with their new lower status than those with a history in the lower SES, causing increasing school resource constraints.

  11. I am very glad, Lucy, that your family was able to act to create an expectation of success for your son outside of school resources. I am sorry that it had to be outside of school. *sigh* But I am not surprised.
    While all of these arguments about socio-economic realities and the like each have some degree of relation to the complexity of the realities of the academic achievement gap, so does the experience of Lucy’s family in getting a child diagnosed with very real learning disabilities (dyslexia, dysgraphia, other communication and processing disabilities, and so on). While it is inexcusable that a majority of African American male students in our high schools have IEPs (for special education), and most of them for behavioral and/or emotional reasons, it is also not true that “none” of them should. I hear over and over that we have to diagnose fewer Black kids, not more, so “our numbers don;t look ao out of line”. So many schools around here will do everything they can NOT to label an African-American child with any sort of educationally-relevant disability, even if they clearly have a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia. That is outrageous, to apply a very overused term. I get so tired of meeting students in high school who can’t read, who have never gotten extra help they needed based on what WORKS with students with dyslexia (for example). More “whole language” doesn’t work, study after study has shown. But that’s what our “extra reading help” is in MMSD. No one should have to wait until high school or beyond to “discover” that they can’t read because their brain structures are simply different from what is typical, and not because they are “just stupid”, or “have a bad attitude”, or “is clearly ADHD”.

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